You’ve seen it before: the parent clutching a crying child while trying to make sense of the homeopathic remedies lining the shelf before her. And you might be seeing it more as parents are increasingly turning to homeopathy to boost their kids’ immunity and treat their illnesses. The remedies are easy to administer—mostly sweet-tasting, chewable tablets—and a safe alternative to conventional medicine, particularly for conditions that drag on, like teething or colic.
“More and more people have learned how to use [homeopathy] for minor acutes, things like insect bites, sprains, sore throats,” says Peter Gold, a homeopath and communications director for the National Center for Homeopathy, a nonprofit organizing body for homeopathy in Alexandria, Va.
Parents also are drawn to homeopathy because of warnings from pediatricians and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration against the use of certain conventional medications, most recently for cough and cold medicines for kids age 2 and younger. In general, the medical community worries about misdosing small children with conventional drugs.
Homeopathy dosing, however, isn’t body-mass dependent. “Our over-the-counter cough, cold and flu medicines have no known risks associated with them,” says John Durkin, vice president of sales and marketing for Newtown Square, Pa.-based Boiron USA, a maker of homeopathic medicines.
Finding the right formula
The trick with homeopathy is in selecting the right formula for the malady—especially for the parent navigating hundreds of small bottles in the supplements aisle.
“Homeopathy works almost 100 percent of the time, but we don’t always choose the right remedy,” says Dr. Lauren Feder, a family physician and homeopath in Los Angeles.
In classical homeopathy, a homeopath recommends treatment based on each individual—his or her symptoms, genetics, mental and physical health and other characteristics. Some practitioners argue this is the only way homeopathy is truly effective.
Still, many off-the-shelf blends are gaining popularity for treating common childhood illnesses. Among them is the ever-popular Hyland’s Teething Tablets, composed of Calcarea phosphorica, Chamomilla, Coffea cruda and Belladonna.
Feder recommends parents check a homeopathy guidebook to match their kids’ symptoms to the right remedy, and consult with a physician on more serious illnesses or those that don’t improve after several days with treatment.
How homeopathy works
Based on the “law of similars,” in homeopathy, like cures like: Whatever syndrome of symptoms a substance causes in overdose in healthy people will elicit a healing response when given in specially prepared small doses, according to Dana Ullman, author of The Homeopathy Revolution (North Atlantic Books, 2007). The substance can be derived from plant, animal or mineral sources. For example, in moderate-to-large doses, arsenic causes upset stomach, but in minute doses it can treat an upset stomach. Homeopaths believe the remedies work by stimulating the body’s immune system, rather than by suppressing it.
This theory is discounted by some scientists and doctors who insist any perceived benefit from homeopathy is a placebo effect. However, homeopathy is gaining traction in the mainstream as more M.D.s and parents believe it works at least some of the time.
Feder notes that some patients are concerned about the toxicity of homeopathic remedies. For instance, belladonna is highly toxic in large quantities, and kids can get sick by eating just a few berries. But she says, “Things that are toxic in nature, when diluted and prepared homeopathically, bring out the healing properties.” (However, Feder cautions against pregnant women using certain homeopathic formulas.)
Homeopathy is growing
U.S. sales of homeopathic remedies are estimated at nearly $500 million, and have been growing by 40 percent annually in the last three years, according to manufacturer sales data, says Gold of the National Center for Homeopathy. “Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens—all the big chains—have started selling homeopathic products, so you’re starting to sell at a much greater volume than years ago,” he says. “We believe 54 million Americans have used homeopathy recently.”
That’s another form of competition for natural products retailers. But mass chains typically offer just a small selection of homeopathic remedies. And natural products retailers have the staff on hand to direct customers to the right products.
Kelly Pate Dwyer is a Denver-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 7/p. 30,32