The Integrative Approach: Restore Your Child's Innate Healing Power
Our bodies are able to heal themselves, and this is especially true of the growing bodies of our children. We all have innate capacities to restore balance, repair damaged cells and recover from illness. Problems arise when these natural healing abilities are blocked, either by stress, poor diet or a lifestyle that demands too much of us. Conventional medicine is good at treating the symptoms of illness but is less effective at helping to stimulate our own natural healing abilities.
Integrative medicine, on the other hand, recognizes that we are more than the cells, molecules and atoms that make up our bodies. We all have something else—something that won't show up on an x-ray or CT scan. We can call this our life force, soul, spirit, energy or many other names. But whatever we call it, it is this intangible 'energy' that gives us the power to recover and repair our bodies from the stress, bacteria, viruses, pollution, injuries and other onslaughts that most of us deal with every day. The suggestions in this book are designed to help you work with your health care provider to give your children the resilience they need to live, grow and flourish at home and at school.
To make the book easy to navigate, we have divided up the chapters according to health problems as they appear in different areas of the body. There are also chapters discussing overall problems, such as pain, stress and insomnia. We have included 'A Closer Look' sections to describe some alternative therapies that merit attention and 'What's the Evidence?' sections to let you know about therapies that research has found to be effective.
A Guide to the Integrative Approach: When to Question Your Pediatrician
Many parents are faced with medical advice from their pediatricians that they might want to question, but have a hard time doing so. I encourage you to ask questions about the wisdom of conventional treatments and the value of alternative methods. If you feel your pediatrician might not respond well to being questioned, you might phrase it this way: 'I've heard that antibiotics, especially for first-time ear infections, may not be the best treatment, and that homeopathy is effective and safe. What do you think about that?' or 'I've heard that biofeedback for migraines and asthma (or osteopathy for digestive problems) may be treatment options to consider. What's your opinion?'
You might also want to check, in a nonthreatening way, to make sure your pediatrician is keeping up with the latest literature on both conventional and integrative medicine. ('Have you heard about the latest recommendations about keeping to a normal diet for diarrhea? Aren't they interesting?') Trust your instincts about what is best. No one knows your child better than you!
Medical Recommendations to Be Wary Of
Here are some 'red flags' that should encourage you to seek out other opinions and more information:
• Automatic prescription of antibiotics, especially strong ones. For first-time ear infections, the integrative approach is 'watchful waiting,' along with the nonmedication practices described in Chapter 3, 'Earaches and Ear Infections.' If you and your pediatrician agree to use an antibiotic for recurrent ear infections, amoxicillin is still the antibiotic of choice. Stronger antibiotics, such as Ciprofloxacin, should never be given to children under fifteen without a very good reason.
• Ear tubes. These should be used as a last resort, after all conventional and alternative methods have failed for recurrent or persistent ear infections with documented hearing loss.
• Food restrictions for diarrhea. The latest research supports the idea of giving children a regular diet, even through diarrheal illness. The older approach of clear liquids and the 'BRAT' (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) diet is found to be less desirable and may actually prolong the illness.
• Cow's milk, cheese and butter. As you will see in Chapters 2 and 3, cow's milk and other dairy products may exacerbate inflammation in the airways and other parts of the body. My approach, and that of most other integrative physicians, is to limit or eliminate cow's milk, cheese and butter from the diets of children with chronic medical problems, especially because so many children (and adults) have trouble digesting it (lactose intolerance). There are other sources of calcium, vitamins and protein, despite what the dairy industry would have us believe. These include green, leafy vegetables; nuts; calcium-fortified juices and cereals; legumes and beans.
• Immediate treatment of low-grade fever. Fever is the body's way of slowing and even killing viruses and bacteria, and I would not rush to acetaminophen or ibuprofen right away. There are many other ways to make a child comfortable described in Chapter 6, 'Colds and Fever.' Of course, call your doctor if your child has a persistent high fever (over 103 degrees) or for any fever in an infant under two months.
Family Health Care with Integrative Medicine: A Positive Example
Maureen and Walter live in a large Victorian house that is filled with books on homeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine. 'For the past ten years we have used the best family medicine from both the conventional and alternative worlds,' says Maureen. This health strategy has helped the family cope not only with serious problems—such as the failure to thrive of their youngest child, Emmett, when he was an infant—but also with the everyday problems of childhood illnesses for all three children.
It was Maureen's experiences with Emmett, when he was diagnosed as 'failing to thrive,' that led her to integrative medicine. After fourteen months of almost constant vomiting, Emmett was finally diagnosed (after lengthy testing and food analyses) with an inability to digest fruit sugars. He was treated in a collaboration between his conventional doctors and a homeopathic physician whom Maureen finally consulted. 'We always made sure that every health professional, whether conventional or alternative, knew everything that we were doing with Emmett,' says Maureen. Today Emmett is a happy, curious high-school student with a great sense of humor. He is doing well in school and enjoys acting, singing and soccer. 'He understands very well the connection between fruit products and his digestion and has learned to read labels and ask questions before he eats anything that might contain fruit by-products,' says Maureen.
Emmett's failure-to-thrive condition left him with a somewhat compromised immune system, according to Maureen. 'Although he is healthy now, he has less stamina than other kids, and is more prone to colds and bronchitis,' she says. 'When he was nine, he had viral meningitis and mononucleosis. We found that combining alternative and complementary treatments with his conventional health care has helped him overcome illnesses fairly quickly.' Looking back on their experiences with Emmett, Maureen comments, 'His digestion problem took fourteen months to diagnose and showed us both the strengths and weaknesses of allopathic [conventional] medicine. We feel that Emmett would not be who he is today without the interventions of conventional medical science together with homeopathy, acupuncture and other complementary treatments.'
Maureen also found that a Japanese style of acupuncture that includes magnet therapy is often helpful when the children feel run down. 'I learned to put the magnets on them at home, and it seems to help when they think they are coming down with something. Sometimes we can ward it off,' she says. 'Another preventive treatment is a constitutional remedy that our homeopathic physician has developed specifically for Emmett's personal characteristics. He takes this a few times a year.' Maureen also keeps a homeopathic remedy kit at home. 'There are remedies for all kinds of acute ailments, including colds, coughs, flu, stomach problems and ear infections, and I have learned so much about using them through reading and consulting with our homeopathic physician, who is also our pediatrician and primary care family practitioner,' she says. 'We have all benefited.'
Maureen used an additional complementary therapy for her daughter. 'When Emileigh was in kindergarten, she fell and hit her head on a rock,' says Maureen. 'There was no concussion, but she needed stitches. We put ice on it and didn't think much more about it. But she soon began having headaches and reading problems, so we had her vision tested and found out that she needed glasses.' Emileigh wore the glasses until second grade, but then Maureen decided once more to look beyond conventional medical treatment.
'The glasses did not seem to be alleviating all of her headaches and reading complaints, so I took her to a craniosacral practitioner,' says Maureen. (See 'A Closer Look at Osteopathy and Craniosacral Therapy.') 'Cradling Emileigh's head, the practitioner gently made tiny adjustments in the connections, called 'sutures,' that join the bones of the skull, particularly in the area that affects vision. We think that the fall knocked something out of alignment. After two sessions, her headaches were gone; and at her next vision checkup she no longer needed glasses.' Emileigh, now an athletic college freshman, has not worn glasses since.
©2007. John D. Mark, M.D. and Roanne Weisman. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Own Your Health : Your Sick Child - Fever, Allergies, Ear Infections, Colds and More. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.