Natural Children's Health

As parents become more educated about the benefits of healthy living, they are learning that their children, also, should learn the value of exercise, nutrition and disease prevention. The single most important factor for improving child and adolescent health is nutrition. Following closely behind it is exercise. Natural treatments for ADD, otitis media and vaccination are also beginning to surface as viable alternatives to standard protocols.

Diet and Exercise

It is important to develop diet guidelines that are specific for children. They are not "little adults"; rather, children have dietary needs that cannot be extrapolated from the extensive data on adult healthy diets. Children watch TV, they need more food, and their exercise requirements vary considerably from those of adults. For example, a study of 1500 German children, aged 5 to 7 years, revealed that 23 percent were either overweight or obese. Low levels of physical activity, measured by time of TV viewing, were associated with increased body mass index and obesity, whereas children who watched less than one hour of television per day were shown to consume lower amounts of fast food, sweets, chips and pizza. This healthier group was also found to consume more fruits and vegetables.

Nutrition

Calcium, iron and fiber, three of the most important nutrients for school age children, can be garnered from fruits and vegetables. Portions vary for age groups, but children 4 to 8, typically need 800 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily, whereas children between ages 9 and 18 need as much as 1,300 mg of calcium. The teen and pre-teen years are the most important, because peak bone mass and calcium content of the skeleton is reached during these years. Calcium appears to be the best mineral to strengthen bones and it begins to decrease in young adulthood. Child diet should be rich in calcium. Dairy products, including skim milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese etc., are good sources of calcium. Leafy green vegetables, calcium-fortified juices and canned sardines and salmon also provide an excellent source of calcium. Together with good food, however, weight-bearing exercises, like walking and jogging, are necessary to build better bones. Alternatively, intense weight or sports training may not be useful. It may cause damage such as stress fractures (easily repaired) or amenorrhea (which may or may not impact bone balance).

Iron is radically important for teens, especially girls, and is an essential nutrient for younger children. Infants need from 6 to 10 mg daily; children need from 10 to 15 mg; children over 10 need at least 15 mg each day. Teen boys need extra iron to support rapid growth, and teenage girls need enough to replace the iron that is lost when they begin menstruation. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, irritability and headaches. Children and teens should eat foods rich in iron, including fish and shellfish, red meats, fortified cereals and leafy green vegetables.

Fiber may reduce risk of heart disease and it does promote bowel regularity. Physicians consider chronic constipation or diarrhea to be a contributing factor to many childhood complaints. Children should be properly hydrated—they should drink water and/or herbal tea that is 1/3 of the child’s weight in fluid ounces per day. Fiber foods include those with oat or wheat bran and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.

ADD and ADHD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have confused scientists and researchers for some time. Recently, however, results from electrophysiology, genetics, and other studies have suggested that ADD may be caused by underactivity in certain parts of the brain. This may clarify why the stimulant Ritalin works, but it also indicates a place for alternative treatments, like biofeedback. Biofeedback--a technique that monitors effects of relaxation or mental effort with auditory or other mechanical equipment—is used during various activities, like homework, reading and listening. Positive reinforcement, like a tone, occurs when a proper concentration level is achieved. Students are constantly encouraged to focus their attention. In one psychologist’s office, proper concentration causes a computer graphic of a column to rise. A study of children, with ADD, showed that those using biofeedback made considerable progress in their schoolwork. Improper, out of seat, behavior was also reduced. A follow up of these children, nearly 10 years later, revealed that many of the disease characteristics that had disappeared previously were still absent. Students were still able to complete assignments on schedule and had retained their ability to concentrate.

Otitis Media

Acute bacterial otitis and acute nonbacterial otitis—ear infections-- are common afflictions of young children. Allopathic physicians typically treat them with antibiotics, or in severe cases, with surgery. Increasingly however, allopaths and parents, alike, have turned to natural means to treat this disease. What mainstream therapies often overlook is the importance of treating the whole child’s body’s, including the immune system. Ear oils in natural application are often used in glycerin suspensions to treat the earache directly. Some of the more common medicinal herbs used, in oils, to treat otitis media include mullein (Verbascum thapsus), which is useful for relief of pain and spasm, and Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s wort) which has retroviral actions useful for bacterial otitis. Echinacea and related species stimulate the immune system and can also reduce painful swelling in the ear. Echinacea is also a powerful preventive medicine for respiratory ailments, often the precursors of otitis media.

Vaccination

Homeopathic remedies have offered an alternative to vaccination. Homeopathic nosodes, used to guard against childhood disease, are typically prepared with body fluids of individuals with that illness. For example, a pertussin (whooping cough) nosode is prepared using the sputum of a person with pertussin. It then undergoes several consecutive dilutions in a water and alcohol (or glycerin) mixture at doses of 1:10 or 1:100. The nosode is given to a child to prevent episodes of pertussin. The mixture is then shaken vigorously to activate the remedy. Physicians that use homeopathics in their practices may not recommend childhood disease vaccinations—measles, mumps and rubella or other childhood diseases. They leave the final decision, however, to the parents. Those physicians that do not vaccinate with the standard solutions, use the diluted homeopathic form. The homeopathic remedy appears to have no long term side effects and provides adequate protection against disease. Research is underway to determine whether the gentle homeopathic remedies are as effective as vaccines, thereby rendering much of the expense of large-scale vaccination unnecessary. Homeopathics and traditional vaccines notwithstanding, many natural medicine physicians feel that nutrition may be all that is necessary for preventing disease.