Despite recent questions concerning the efficacy of homeopathic medicine, it continues to be one of the most popular forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in use today. Jackie Bishop of the Children of the 90s study looks at the use of homeopathic products in the early years of life.
Beginning in 1991, the Children of the 90s study has gathered data regarding many aspects of the participating families' health, well being, social, demographic and environmental features to the current time. Questionnaires completed by the mother at regular time points during pregnancy and throughout the life of the child have provided a valuable information source of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use including use during pregnancy and over time by the children (now aged 16-17 years) and their parents.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is still popular these days and homeopathic medicine continues to be one of the most widely used forms of CAMs.. Little is still known about how and why children use it as previous studies have tended to concentrate on researching homeopathy for specific conditions such as childhood diarrhoea, upper respiratory tract infections, otitis media and attention deficit disorder.
This research collected data from the child's birth to age eight and a half and analysed how frequently children used homeopathic products, what childhood conditions were treated with homeopathic products, who had prescribed those products and how the products were confused with other forms of complementary medicines.
The number of children using homeopathic products varied across time
The research team found that 11.8 per cent of the children had used a homeopathic product at least once up to 8.5 years of age. The most commonly used products throughout that time were Chamomilla (a remedy traditionally used for teething), Arnica (in either tablet or cream form traditionally used for soft tissue bruising), Belladonna (most commonly used for high fevers), Calendula (usually administered as a cream for healing cuts and scrapes), and Pulsatilla (most commonly used for ear complaints, coughs and colds).
The number of children using homeopathic products varied across time with the greatest use at 18 months of age (n=891; 8 per cent) and the lowest use at 78 months of age (n=444; 5 per cent). The greatest use at 18 months reflected the fact that children were given homeopathic products to treat teething complaints. At all later time points children were most likely to be treated for injuries and first aid type conditions.
When the child was 81 months of age the mothers were asked who had prescribed the homeopathic product to the child. The results show that the parents were most likely to select a homeopathic product for their child themselves (46.3 per cent of all users). A qualified homeopath prescribed for 14.8 per cent of children, a specialist homeopathic doctor for 12 per cent of children, a GP for 10.1 per cent, a family, friend or neighbour for 7.3 per cent and a chemist for 6.3 per cent. Mothers also took advice about homeopathic products from a Health Food Store, a Dermatologist, a homeopathic seminar/talk, a newspaper/magazine article and a school nurse.
Homeopathic products were sometimes mistaken for other products
The parents were most likely to treat their child's first aid type, self-limiting complaints themselves such as injuries, bruising, coughs and colds, whereas they were more likely to consult a qualified homeopath or specialist homeopathic doctor for their child's on-going, chronic complaints of eczema or asthma.
Homeopathic products can sometimes be mistaken for other products, and the team found that as many as 7 per cent of the descriptions given as homeopathic were in fact herbal products. The herbal products most likely to be confused as homeopathic ones were Matricaria (or German Chamomile, most popularly used as an ingredient in herbal teething products) and Echinacea (or Purple Coneflower, most popularly used as a preventative treatment to ward off infections). Quite a high number also confused Aromatherapy oils as being homeopathic.
It is hoped that the knowledge and understanding of the extent of homeopathic product use in childhood in a general population, why it is used, what it is used for and the influences around the choices of homeopathic products will give valuable insight into the planning, direction and focus of future homeopathic research projects.
This project was funded by the homeopathic charity, the Blackie Foundation Trust.