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Supplements such as melatonin are marketed to parents, but not tested by the FDA.
Children and teens are turning to alternative medicines in soaring numbers, and the trend has pediatricians worried.
Children’s use of herbal products and nutritional supplements nearly doubled between 2003 and 2014, a study published Monday by the Journal of the American Medical Association found. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed national health surveys of more than 4,400 young people and found that 6.7% took alternative medicines in 2014, compared to 3.7% in 2003. Some 33.2% of children and teens took a dietary supplement of some kind in 2014, including multivitamins.
Though they’re marketed as cures for a range of ailments, alternative supplements and medicines often end up on store shelves without oversight or approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration, the researchers noted. The surge in use was driven by 13 to 18-year-olds using omega 3 fatty acids — which are often sold as a way to boost mental focus — and melatonin, which is marketed as a sleep aid for kids, researchers found.
“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,” said study co-author Dima Qato, assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy at the UIC College of Pharmacy.
“Many dietary supplements have also been implicated in adverse drug events, especially cardiovascular, which is a safety concern,” Qato said.
The findings come as America’s $3 trillion “wellness” industry is booming as consumers seek out alternatives to traditional Western medicine.