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Alternative Perspectives:
Caring For Children
By Dr. Mitchell Ghen

Caregivers of children, more often than not, will look for alternative means of treatment, especially if conventional modalities are creating side effects, or they are failing. Pediatric oncologists have admitted to me that many of their patients are involved in some sort of alternative care. Current studies suggest that the percentage is greater than 70%.

The oncologists also informed me that caregivers are often uncomfortable in telling them about the alternative problems. Unfortunately it is easy to understand why pediatric guardians feel so uneasy about discussing these issues. Many conventional physicians have little if any training in nutrition, herbal or other complementary disciplines. Pediatric patients who are not eating well are often told by their physicians to eat practically anything from cola to candy as a means of getting some calories. Data suggests that 40% of cancer patients died from malnutrition. Empty calorie replacement with refined flours and sugars will worsen the malnourished childís state and hasten their demise.

It used to be thought, and still is, by the majority of physicians, that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are related to an overt specific syndrome. For example, the continued deficiency of Vitamin C will lead to a disease called Scurvy. A lack of iodine is likely to result in a thyroid goiter. Associations like the American Dietetic Association, American Institute of Nutrition, American Society of Clinical Nutrition and the National Counsel Against Health Fraud, still recommend supplementing according to the recommended daily allowances (RDA). They also state that beyond the RDA levels, vitamin replacement is medically unnecessary, and is not supported by the data.

What these organizations fail to recognize is that marginal deficiencies of these nutrients will also cause less than optimal functioning of the cells and therefore, compromises the immune state of the individual. Current eating habits of Americans and children, in particular, have widened the gap of optimal nutrition. Sub-groups, including the chronically ill, often have multiple marginal micronutrient deficiencies. These deficiencies will eventually cause biochemical and physiological changes that will translate into significant physical consequences.

What this means to the caregiver is that each child has an individual set of circumstances which need to be addressed. Often, diet alone cannot correct the problems, and supplementation is required. Occasionally, doses of nutrients may have to be given in dosages well in excess of the RDA. These pharmacological doses, in general, have a much greater risk than taking the suggested RDA levels. Interactions of one vitamin or mineral with another may actually cause a nutritional deficiency. An example is the common combination of supplements of Vitamin C and Folic acid. Folic acid is considered the most deficient vitamin in the American population. Interestingly the presence of large quantities of Vitamin C taken at the same time as Folic acid will significantly impair its absorption. Another example is the use of zinc to improve the immune system. This mineral will also interfere with iron absorption.

Herbs are chemicals and, even though they often boast of safety, large doses or even moderate doses in small sick children, can prove to have more risk than benefit. Issues such as dose, manufacturer, type of vitamin and mineral preparation, fillers, additives, time of day, intestinal acidity, season or lack thereof, concurrent medicines, and overall nutritional state must be considered when prescribing for these individuals. Chronically ill children are especially susceptible to toxic reactions of micronutrients due to size and body mass factors. Treat these substances as you would any form of medication and check with your childís physician before adding or deleting them from their diet.

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