Infants getting herbal remedies, despite questions

Reuters Health 3 May 2011

Parents commonly give infants teas or herbal supplements said to soothe “fussiness,” even though there’s no good evidence that the products work, a U.S. government study finds. There are a number of teas and botanical products with ingredients like chamomile, ginger and fennel that are marketed for easing infants’ tummy troubles, fussiness and sleep issues. The problem is there is little evidence that they work, or that they are completely safe. In the new study published Monday, Dr. Yuanting Zhang and colleagues at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wanted to find out how common it is for parents to give infants tea or herbal products. Surveying more than 2,600 U.S. mothers, they found that 9 percent had given their baby at least one of those products in the first year of life. The products included teas with chamomile or other herbs said to soothe; gripe water, a botanical marketed for easing colic that includes ingredients like ginger and fennel; and “teething tablets,” which may contain ingredients like calcium and chamomile.

…Because dietary supplements are not regulated in the same way drugs are, they do not have to be proven safe and effective before they go on store shelves. They may also contain contaminants, like heavy metals, that could be particularly unsafe for infants, according to the FDA researchers. There have been cases, they note, in which infants and adults have been poisoned by contaminants in alternative-medicine products, including traditional Indian Ayurvedic remedies tainted with lead. And even if the products are safe, Zhang’s team writes, experts generally recommend that babies receive only breast milk or infant formula for the first 4 to 6 months of life. Giving babies tea or other liquids may dampen their desire for the nutrient-rich milk that they need.