Can herbal remedies help kids’ GI problems?

Gastrointestinal disorders, or GI complaints, affect many children and adolescents on a daily basis. Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, functional abdominal pain, constipation, infantile colic, and gastroenteritis can wreak havoc on children as well as their parents physically, mentally, and sometimes even financially.  More importantly, with a vague variety of symptoms and many various treatments for these conditions, management of these patients is often difficult and parents often turn to alternative types of medicine. 

With this in mind, an analysis from Pediatrics released online today reviews studies concerning the effectiveness herbal medicines for gastrointestinal disorders in children and adolescents.  In this article, 14 articles were examined with data totaling 1,927 participants, in an attempt to provide statistically significant evidence concerning the use of herbal medicine in treating some gastrointestinal disorders.   

The researchers did find some interesting results. After analyzing multiple studies some evidence shows that:

  • Potentilla erecta, carob bean juice, and an herbal compound including M chamomilla and apple pectin did show to significantly reduce the duration of symptoms in children suffering from diarrhea.
  • Peppermint oil can decrease duration, frequency, and severity of pain in children suffering from undifferentiated functional pain.
  • Different fennel preparations did aid in treating children with infantile colic. 

However, one must take these findings with some caution. Many of the studies that were analyzed to produce these results were often very small which could alter their statistical strength or impact.  Likewise, many of these studies revealed no adverse events or side effects which calls into question the way this data was collected and recorded.  Also, the manufacturers of these herbal preparations are not held to the same strict guidelines as other medication producers. This often causes batch-to-batch and label-to-label differences.

So in the end, what does this mean for you and your children? In short, the answer is to have an open discussion with your healthcare provider. These herbs might be a viable option for your child, especially when they are not responding to conventional treatment.

But more robust studies are first needed before true guidelines can be set for efficacy and safety of these treatments. Although, these herbs do not appear to do any harm, they are still entering and affecting your child, so to be safe, both you and your health care provider should talk and be on the same page prior to starting any treatment.