Alternative medicine can harm and kill, experts say

Alternative remedies can be dangerous for children and could even kill, experts warn.

Some parents believe "more natural" remedies have fewer side-effects than conventional drugs. But experts, writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood warn otherwise.

They analysed monthly data from the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit between 2001 and 2003. During this period, there were 39 incidents of side-effects linked with complementary medicine, including four deaths. The children ranged from babies to 16-year-olds, and issues ranged from mild to severe. All four deaths resulted from a failure to use conventional treatments.

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One death involved an eight-month-old baby admitted to hospital "with malnutrition and septic shock following naturopathic treatment with a rice milk diet from the age of three months for 'congestion'".

Some children were given echinacea, said to stunt growth. The experts, from the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, said: "Many of the adverse events associated with failure to use conventional medicine resulted from the belief in complementary and alternative medicine and determination to use it despite medical advice."