Complementary Health Approaches For Kids
Charlotte Parent|January 2020
Everywhere we look these days, dietary supplements, home remedies, or mind and body practices claim to be the next best thing to cure ailments and improve wellness.
Liz Rothaus Bertrand

According to the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the number of adults and kids using at least some complementary health approach is on the rise. Between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of children practicing yoga more than doubled, and the rate of children practicing meditation increased from 0.6 percent to 5.4 percent.

From bone broths to yoga, here’s a look at a variety of complementary health approaches with expert advice on their safety and effectiveness.

Defining Complementary Health

More people are using complementary health approaches, but what are they, exactly?

“Complementary health approaches are using the body’s immune system and strengthening the body’s own resources to fight illness rather than (using) medication,” says Dr. Maria-Ana Temple of Integrative Health Carolinas. As a pediatrician trained in both conventional and functional medicine, she focuses on nutrition and lifestyle with an emphasis on prevention. “We begin with a complementary approach from birth.”

Integrative medicine uses the best of both worlds, explains Dr. Sheila Kilbane of Infinite Health. After finishing her medical residency, she grew frustrated as she repeatedly prescribed antacids for 3-month-old babies, steroids for eczema, or saw patients with recurrent bouts of colic, sinus infections, and constipation. “I knew I was just putting a Band-Aid on this stuff and I knew that I had to look deeper,” she says.

Patients started telling her things, too— like a breast-feeding mom who noticed her child’s eczema disappeared when she cut dairy from her diet. Once she saw how certain nutritional changes reduced or eliminated many chronic childhood ailments, Kilbane turned to friends who specialized in naturopathy to learn more about natural and nutritional therapies. “(I) started to understand that there were these triggers for inflammation and the answer wasn’t always to give asteroid,” says Kilbane, who later completed a fellowship under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Weil, widely known as the “Father of Integrative Medicine.”

While our bodies need a certain amount of inflammation to heal properly, an overabundance makes us more susceptible to illness. Food, environmental allergies, environmental toxins, infectious diseases, and stress can all trigger excess inflammation. “We’re never going to eliminate all these things,” Kilbane says. But improved nutrition paired with certain complementary health approaches can help improve our overall health.

Supplements for Immune Health

Good nutrition is a vital component of wellness, but experts say most Americans eat too much sugar, fast food, and highly processed food. Are dietary supplements the answer?

Widely available and purporting all sorts of health benefits, dietary supplements are not actually regulated by the FDA before going on the market. That means you’re taking the manufacturer’s word that the product is safe and effective. “Honestly, it’s like the wild, wild west out there,” Temple says. “(Supplements are) the first thing that people think of when they think of complementary medicine, and it’s really a very wrong way of thinking. You’re supposed to take supplements as you’re changing your nutrition and lifestyle.”

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