Doctors at St Bartholomew’s Hospital have warned of the dangers of giving children complementary therapies.
A four-year-old boy was rushed to hospital after his parents gave him ‘alternative medicines’ in an attempt to cure his autism.
He had been taking 12 different holistic supplements from a naturopath (natural health practitioner). The supplements included vitamin D, camel’s milk, silver and Epsom bath salts.
The boy had been suffering from symptoms for three weeks including vomiting, weight loss and excessive thirst. He had lost 6.6lbs (3kg) in weight in three weeks and was very dehydrated.
He was treated with hyperhydration and medications to reduce his calcium level and made a full recovery in two weeks.
Dr Catriona Boyd and Dr Abdul Moodambail, writing in the British Medical Journal Case Reports, said it was not until the boy had been in the London hospital for several days that his mother told them about the holistic supplements, which he had been taking for a number of months.
They said the parents were “devastated that something they had given to their son with good intent had made him so unwell”.
At first, the parents didn’t mention that they had been giving their child alternative therapies- only because they didn’t realise that it was these treatments that were responsible.
Dr Moodambail said: “Often the parents think that these supplements are natural, safe and do not cause any side effects or adverse effects, but this is not true in many cases like this.”
He said they often saw parents turning to alternative remedies to treat children with long-term conditions.
“This is a common situation because there is no definite curative treatment in some of these long-term conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“When some complementary and alternative therapies are suggesting they can cure these situations, these parents get a hope – which is probably a false hope.”
The report’s authors recommend that gathering information about any alternative treatments should become routine practice for all patients.
Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said the case showed how “desperately difficult life can get for families affected by autism especially just before and after receiving diagnoses”.
She added: “It’s crucial that doctors and healthcare professionals take the concerns of families seriously and are able to talk through the potential risks of alternative therapies, even when they might seem harmless.”