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U.S. Teens Embracing Alternative Meds. Is That a Healthy Trend?

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Jun 18th 2018

new article illustration

MONDAY, June 18, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Alternative medicines -- such as herbal products and so-called nutraceuticals -- have soared in popularity among American youth, a new report shows.

Between 2003 and 2014, the use of alternative medicines doubled, driven largely by increased use of omega-3 fatty acids and melatonin among teens.

The findings are cause for concern, according to study author Dima Qato, an assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Dietary supplements are not required to go through the same U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations and approval process as prescription drugs. As a result, we know very little about their safety and effectiveness, especially in children," Qato said in a university news release.

"Many dietary supplements have also been implicated in adverse drug events, especially cardiovascular, which is a safety concern," she noted.

"We simply do not know if there are any benefits to children that outweigh the potential harms, and this study suggests supplement use is widespread and therefore an important, yet often ignored, public health issue," Qato said.

Qato explained that teens are using supplements to treat common health conditions or adverse effects of prescription drugs.

"For example, we've seen an increase in use of melatonin, which is promoted as having cognitive and sleep benefits. At the same time, other studies have shown an increase in the use of ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] medications, which we know are associated with a risk for insomnia."

The study also found that use of vitamin B products and folic acid -- marketed as beneficial against depression -- were most common among teen girls. Among boys, the use of omega-3 fatty acids -- marketed as boosting thinking abilities -- and body building supplements were popular.

"This suggests that supplement use among children may be targeting specific ailments, but the fact remains that common use of these products in otherwise healthy kids is potentially dangerous," Qato said.

"Parents should be aware of the dangers, especially as many may be purchasing the supplements for their children. Health care providers working with children, especially pediatricians and pharmacists, should also take note of the prevalence of supplement use in this age group and ask patients and parents about such use regularly," Qato concluded.

The findings were published June 18 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has more on dietary supplements and children.