Community Psychiatric Centers
Monroeville, Greensburg, Monessen, and Wilkinsburg Pittsburgh

August 6, 2013

“Natural” Remedies and Supplements: Better than Prescribed Meds? | August 8, 2013

Written by Dr. John Carosso

“Natural” is better?

I often hear from parents a preference for “natural” alternatives to their child’s emotional or behavioral issues. Examples include Omega III and tyrosine for ADHD, melatonin for sleep, valerian for anxiety. The idea is that these supplements are naturally occurring substances and not artificially manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. Consequently, they are “better” and healthier for their child.

Are they healthier?

By and large it would seem that there are less side effects and, in general, most supplements could be described as “healthier” given they are “natural”. In that respect, most prescribed medication has no inherent nutritional value especially compared to something like the Omega III’s. However, are they ‘better’ for you or your child? The truth is that we often don’t know about long-term effects and the possibility of adverse reactions of herbals and supplements. For example, I know of parents relying on caffeine to address their child’s attention deficit and hyperactivity; caffeine is definitely ‘natural’ but do you think it’s the best option? Not that caffeine hasn’t been shown to be somewhat effective, but how much should you give based on your child’s weight, how many hours will it last, and what to after your child ‘crashes’ and thereafter feels worse? Also, how often do we hear today of something being “healthy” only to hear otherwise tomorrow. Just the other day I read of a link between Omega III and prostate cancer. Say it ain’t so; Omega III, the wonder supplement that is known for all things good, may have some nefarious long-term effects? To add salt to the wound (no pun intended) and cause more confusion, there has been plenty of subsequent analysis suggesting that study, suggesting such a link, was flawed and the headline very misleading. In fact, there is a lot of research to suggest just the opposite; that Omega’s reduce the chance of cancer. Yes, research results can be very confusing and headlines can be quite over-blown.

What’s the real problem?

The big problem is that we often don’t have quality clinical studies to help us determine what type, and at what dose, to prescribe of any given supplement, especially for kids. Also, each brand may have different amounts and purities of any given active ingredient. Consequently, it tends to be somewhat of a crap-shoot. We also lack information about long-term side effects. Example: is there a long-term effect of melatonin?

Are the prescribed meds any better?

We have clinical studies helping to determine the efficacy of any given medication, at particular doses, for children and adults. We also tend to have an understanding of long-term effects. Example, we have over 50 years of research targeting Ritalin. Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that some prescribed medications are very effective; namely the medications to treat ADHD (something like 80% of ADHD children respond favorably in terms of symptom relief). Some depressed and anxious kiddos also respond very favorably to anti-depressants, and there are very effective medications to target mood stability and outbursts. Supplements sometimes have a pronounced positive effect, but more typically the effect is rather modest compared to their prescribed counterparts.


Just like that Omega III study I mentioned earlier, the same holds true for prescribed meds. The research results can be contradictory and suspect. Studies are often carried out by the same pharmaceutical company who is later selling the medication, which can lead to, well, questionable favorable outcomes. Also, once you move past the ADHD meds, it can be hit-or-miss regarding how most kiddos are going to respond. Then there’s the whole other issue of meds being used off-label.

So what should you do?

It seems quite reasonable for parents to pursue natural options, but do so with guidance from a trained and experienced practitioner who has such a specialization. In that regard, certainty you wouldn’t consider giving your child medications without a doctor’s prescription; the same holds true for supplements and natural remedies. Locally, in that regard, I often refer to Dr. Faber of The Children’s Institute; Dr. Joe DiMatteo of the Medicine Shoppe; Dr. Suzanne DaSilva; and Dr. Phillip DeMio. If you have an interest in exploring prescribed medications, you won’t do better than Dr. Robert Lowenstein, M.D., Board Certified Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist right here at Community Psychiatric Centers. It’s best to not assume that because something is considered “natural” that it’s “better” than a prescribed alternative, or that it will necessarily be healthier. Get fully informed and utilize experts in the field.

Hope you found this to be helpful. Please let me know your thoughts and experiences using supplements and natural options at

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