When your child’s sick or in pain but you’re wary of conventional meds, you might wish there were something to give him that falls somewhere between a kiss on the forehead and a tablet of Tylenol. Fortunately, there is: a homeopathic remedy.
Developed in Germany in the late 1700s, homeopathy is based on the principle that“like cures like.” The idea is to treat pain or other symptoms with an extremely diluted version of the same kind of substance that can cause that reaction. For instance, if you were stung by a bee, your skin would burn, swell, and turn pink. So, if you have a skin rash (from a bee or not) with those symptoms, a practitioner trained in homeopathy might use an ultra-diluted dose of bee venom to treat you, causing your body to react to the tiny amount of venom and trigger its natural healing process. Other homeopathic remedies come from plants and minerals, and they’re all repeatedly diluted (usually with water) so that only the tiniest amount of the original substance is left. A homeopath then prescribes tablets, gels, or liquid mixtures containing these natural extracts.
But do they actually work? And are they safe for kids? Skeptics say that the extracts are too diluted to be effective, and any healing is the result of a placebo effect. Homeopaths and some other doctors disagree: They say that even the most diluted solutions have enough particles of the original substance left for your body to recognize it and trigger the healing system. Plus, their watered-down form makes them perfectly safe for people of all ages, says Steven Olsen, a homeopathic doctor and author of Homeopathy—Nature’s Way to Better Health. “Used in the right way, homeopathy is very, very safe.”
If you want to give homeopathy a try, treating one of these common kid health issues might be a good place to start:
Allergies: Because allergy symptoms can vary widely (sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion), it’s tricky to recommend just one remedy. Start with Boiron’s Children’s Sabadil ($11 for 160 tablets, boironusa.com), pellets that contain a variety of plant extracts, including ambrosia artemisiifolia (derived from ragweed) for coughing, and allium cepa (derived from red onions) to relieve runny noses, says Heather Jeney, M.D., who is certified in clinical homeopathy. If your child’s not feeling better after 24 hours, it’s probably best to see a homeopath who can recommend a more specific remedy. For instance, she may prescribe drops of solidago virgaurea, a wild herb, to help with congestion, or euphrasia officinalis, from the herb eyebright, to relieve irritated eyes.
Aches and pains: Arnica, made from the arnica montana plant, has anti-inflammatory properties when diluted for homeopathic treatments; it’s the most common homeopathic medicine for relief from everyday aches and pains. Arnica can be used as a topical gel on a leg sore (but not an open wound) from a long soccer practice, for example, or taken by mouth in tablet form for bruising and swelling from a fall. If you can, treat your child’s injury within an hour of when the pain begins, Olsen says, to stimulate her body’s healing system as quickly as possible. Try Hyland’s Bumps ‘n Bruises ($8.29 for 125 tablets, hylands.com), or Newton Homeopathics for Kids Bangs and Scrapes ($14 for one ounce), newtonlabs.net.
Motion sickness: Before you choose a treatment for nausea, find out more about what makes your child feel ill (or better). If his upset stomach is further aggravated by the sight or smell of food, Jeney recommends trying cocculus, like Heel BHI Lightheaded ($14.50 for 100 tablets, heelusa.com) from the cocculus indicus plant, which works to counteract the effect of food on nausea in particular. If he feels better in fresh air, try a remedy containing tobacum, derived from the tobacco plant (but safe and not addictive). Instead of making him nauseated—the way a cigarette might!—it encourages his body to fight the nausea. Try Hyland’s Motion Sickness ($7.69 for 50 tablets, hylands.com).
Colic: Colic can be one of the more difficult ailments to treat, since a baby can’t tell you what exactly hurts. Olsen suggests looking at how your child is handling the pain: If he’s bending forward, try a medicine that uses colocynthis, like Boiron’s Cocyntal ($6.59 for 20 unit-doses, boironusa.com). Derived from the fruit citrullus colocynthis, colocynthis works to ease the digestive tract spasms. If she won’t stop crying and can’t be comforted, try a chamomilla-based remedy, like Hyland’s Colic Tablets ($10 for 125 tablets, hylands.com). Chamomile is known for its calming effects, and is particularly helpful with restlessness and irritability.