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Colic: Not much help found in alternative therapies

March 28, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • Fennel extract may help babies with colic, a study suggests.
Fennel extract may help babies with colic, a study suggests. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles…)

Colic is a nightmare -- for baby and parents. The condition, in which an infant cries inconsolably, is poorly understood and there is no surefire treatment. That's why parents often turn to complementary and alternative medicines for help. But a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics finds evidence is lacking that CAM therapies are effective.

Researchers in England pooled the results of 15 studies that looked at CAM therapies for colic. All of the studies were randomized, controlled trials, but all also had flaws in design or methodology.

Overall, the studies suggested that some therapies may help soothe colicky babies. These include fennel extract, mixed herbal tea (containing chamomile, vervain, licorice, fennel and balm-mint) and sugar solutions. But, the authors of the paper said, "all trials have major limitations" that make it hard to verify benefits.

There was no convincing evidence that remedies such as probiotics, soy formula, massage therapy, mechanical crib vibrator, and reflexology were helpful.

Much more research needs to be done before CAM remedies for colic can be recommended, the authors said, citing the poor quality of the research. For example, they noted, none of the studies that involved herbal remedies met standards for extraction and preparation of the herbs to ensure quality and consistency.

Fennel might be worth more research. Studies in animals suggest that it soothes intestinal spasms. Sugar water is thought to work because it acts as a painkiller.

The researchers note the impact of colic on young parents. "Without symptom relief, [colic] can lead to unnecessary medical intervention (including hospitalization), can affect the parent-child bonding process and, in rare cases, lead to child abuse."

Related: Alternative medicine a prickly subject

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