More Canadian kids are receiving alternative medicine: Is this a problem?

Lia Grainger
Shine On

A new Canadian study has found that a high percentage of children with chronic health conditions are receiving complementary or alternative medicines treatments (CAM) in addition to conventional medical treatments.

The study surveyed five specialty clinics in Edmonton and Ottawa, and found that CAM use was highest in the west: 71 per cent of children visiting the Edmonton clinics received CAM, compared to 42 per cent in Ottawa.

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The authors say physicians should be more inquisitive as to how each child is being treated outside the doctor’s office to avoid potentially harmful interactions, reports the CBC.

"A lot of people are using [CAM],” lead author Dr. James King tells CTV. "I think we need to recognize that and we just need to build it into our care plan."

For the most part, parents reported that the treatments were helpful, and the majority said they felt comfortable discussing their child’s CAM use with their doctors. Of the 926 children receiving CAM, there were 80 reports of adverse side effects, with 69 per cent of those reports being minor in nature. There were six reports that were deemed severe.

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Among physical therapies, the most common was massage followed by chiropractic and relaxation therapies. About 29 per cent of the children were receiving herbals, and 37 per cent were receiving homeopathics.

The widespread use of herbals, vitamins and other alternative therapies is nothing new. In the United States, there are more annual visits to CAM providers than primary care providers. Yet this study is the first to pinpoint such a high prevalence of CAM use among young Canadians with chronic health problems.

For some, these results are raising alarm bells. Clinical herbologist Robert Rogers spoke with the CBC and warned that interactions between drugs and herbal products could be “very dangerous.” The authors of the study are urging physicians to ask patients about CAM use in a non-judgemental way.