Herbal Combination Relieves Colic in Babies

Herbal Combination Relieves Colic in Babies

Healthnotes Newswire (September 15, 2005)—An herbal combination can reduce crying in babies who suffer from colic, according to Phytotherapy Research (2005;19:335–40).

A common problem affecting as many as 30% of newborns, colic is characterized by prolonged and excessive crying, as well as other expressions of distress, such as holding the body rigid, clenching fists, and grimacing. The cause of colic is not known, but abdominal discomfort is believed to play a role. Typical treatments include feeding on demand, having nursing mothers avoid gas-producing foods (broccoli, onions, etc.), and sometimes giving medicines that quiet the nervous system. Food allergies and sensitivities have also been suggested to cause colic in some babies. Formula-fed infants with colic sometimes improve with a change from cows’ milk formula to ones made from soy or hydrolyzed proteins. Breast-fed babies with colic were found in some studies to improve when their mothers eliminated allergenic foods from their diets. The most common food in the mother’s diet that causes symptoms in the baby is cows’ milk.

Herbal medicines that are calming and reduce gas in the digestive tract have long been used to treat colicky babies. Herbal teas made from combinations of chamomile, mint, vervain, fennel, licorice, lemon balm, yarrow, and cardamom have demonstrated some effectiveness at relieving colic; however, teas can be filling and some babies do not feed well after consuming herbal teas.

In the current study, 88 healthy breast-fed babies with colic were randomly assigned to receive an herbal treatment or placebo twice a day for seven days. They were given 2 ml per kilogram (about 0.9 ml per pound) each day of a liquid prepared from powdered extracts of chamomile (Matricaria recutita), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Prior to beginning treatment, parents recorded the length of time their babies cried for 3 days, then again during the 7 days of treatment, and for 15 days after stopping treatment.

The daily average crying time was the same at the beginning of the study for babies in both groups; however, after 7 days of treatment the babies receiving herbs cried an average of 77 minutes per day while the babies receiving placebo cried an average of 170 minutes per day, a difference of 93 minutes. More than 85% of the babies receiving the herbal treatment had a 50% or greater drop in daily crying time, but only 49% of those in the placebo group had similar improvement. Crying time remained significantly lower in those treated with the herbs than in those given the placebo (82 versus 165 minutes per day) 15 days after the end of treatment. No negative side effects were reported.

The results of this study suggest that small quantities of a preparation containing chamomile, fennel, and lemon balm can effectively and safely relieve colic symptoms in babies. Dietary changes might still need to be explored, particularly if the symptoms persist or if other signs of food sensitivities, such as eczema, appear.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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