CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

CAM is practiced by parents on their children in many ways. It may be as simple as giving extra vitamin C for a cold (which I don't recommend) or more complicated, like giving toxic herbs as a last resort to a child who is dying from cancer (which I definitely don't recommend).

In general CAM is considered to be a treatment which has no scientifically proven benefit. There is always the hope that science will eventually prove that it DOES work, but that is a rare event for the thousands of CAM treatments that are currently used in this country.

My concern with CAM treatments is that a child could be damaged by unknown toxic effects from the treatment, while the chance for a cure or even minor improvement in the child's illness is very minimal.

Some examples of CAM

Some people give mint tea to babies for colic or colds. However some species of mint are toxic, and there have been reports of seizures and even death from using mint tea in babies.

Sometimes even doctors are guilty of using “CAM” (treatment with no scientific benefit). Giving antibiotics for viral infections (colds, bronchitis and sore throats) has no effect at all on the virus, but this practice has led to large numbers of adverse reactions to the medicine. A recent study showed that 142,000 ER visits a year were the result of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. A child can die from an allergic reaction to antibiotics. Even worse, this practice is leading to antibiotic resistance, where antibiotics may soon become useless for bacterial infections (see Antibiotics).

Some CAM treatments are relatively benign, and have been shown to help many patients, probably by placebo effect. An example would be yoga, acupuncture, many mild herbs, and chiropractic treatments. In the case of yoga, chiropractic and other fitness-based treatments, there is a real health advantage in maintaining proper fitness, so the treatments do accomplish improvement in health.

Most CAM is Unregulated

Unfortunately herbs are not regulated like pharmaceutical medicines are. A dose of herbs could deliver no active ingredient at all, or the same dose might deliver a huge overdose of the active ingredient to a child. You never know what you are getting.

CAM therapies are offered by the thousands on the internet and in every drugstore. They are touted as "scientifically proven" in ads on TV and every other media. There is no standard of truthfulness in advertising in this country, so most of what you hear in a TV ad is bold-faced lies. Unfortunately, many viewers tend to believe what they see and hear on TV or on the internet.

One widely used form of CAM is "homeopathy". The vast majority of people who use homeopathic treatments don't even know that they are  practicing homeopathy. They just buy the stuff at the drugstore thinking that it is an effective therapy. Homeopathic medicine is tiny traces of medication that are in such small doses that it cannot possibly have any effect on the body. In other words, it is merely an expensive placebo or "sugar pill". A very large number of OTC medicines that you see on the shelf are homeopathic. Just look on the label for the word "homeopathic", or look for the little box on the label that says "active ingredients" (you won't find one!).

Where can we find reliable information about CAM?

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [part of National Institutes for Health (NIH)] has a web page full of good information:

Another source of information is the Cochrane Reviews:


© Rick Voakes 1999, Health-bytes LOGO  by Rie Cramer