Doctors when dosing herbs for children should take a history of herbal use from parents
For patients with children who want to introduce natural herbal supplements rather than drugs, proper dosing of herbs for children can be tricky, taking into consideration age and weight.
Parents know the battles that can often result from introducing new routines or medicines to children, and kids can often stubbornly resist anything new or different.
How can you help frustrated parents start their children on herbal supplements? What should parents know about calculating correct dosage for their children?
Common herbs for children
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), prevalence of herbal use among children was approximately 4% among those up to age 17.2
Nutritional supplements, other than vitamins or minerals, were the most common complementary health treatment for children, according to a NCCIH survey from 2012.3
Elderberry, cranberry, fish oil, melatonin, probiotics, echinacea, garlic and ginseng were among the most common natural supplements given to children.
Adjusting and dosing herbs for children
Properly adjusting the dose is the most important factor in administering herbal supplements to children. Although older teens can sometimes get by with an adult dose, this is not the case for younger children.
There are several rules that can be used to calculate dosing herbs for children that generally go by either weight or age:3
- Young’s Rule (ages 2 to 12): Age (years) divided by age + 12 = percentage of adult dose
- Fried’s Rule (infants to age 2): Age (months) divided by 150 = percentage of adult dose
- Clark’s Rule: Weight (lbs.) divided by 150 = percentage of adult dose
Increasing pediatric adherence
Taste is, by far, the single biggest barrier to children’s compliance with taking herbal supplements.
Research has shown that children’s taste buds are far more attuned toward sweet than bitter or salty, although this does change in adulthood.4 This is the main reason why it is best to start children with herbal supplements that are naturally sweet, such as elderberry, before moving on to those herbs that are less sweet.
Parents can offer organic, low-sugar apple or grape juice for supplements in capsule form. Tablets can be crushed and mixed in with yogurt or apple sauce. However, it is important for parents to never tell their children that herbal supplements are candy, particularly if the supplements are brightly colored and have a sweet taste. When advising patients who are parents, supplements should also be kept in a location that is inaccessible for younger children.
Aside from taste, the other key point to adherence is for children to see their parents’ behavior and be encouraged to model it. It may be helpful to turn the act of taking supplements into a family activity, in which everyone participates together. A point system may also be helpful, in which the child can earn rewards for taking their supplements for a set amount of time.
According to the CDC, approximately 1/3 of U.S. children and adolescents are given supplements, and that number is well above 50% for children with chronic illnesses.
Doctors can check interactions and the safety of herbs and supplements at ConsumerLab.com and the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, and doctors when dosing herbs for children should take a history of herbal use from parents.
- Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin RL. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. National Health Statistics Report. 2008;(12):1-23.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Use of natural products by children: What the science says. Posted June 2018. Accessed July 2022.
- StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
- Mennella JA, Bobowski NK. The sweetness and bitterness of childhood: Insights from basic research on taste preferences. Physiology & Behavior. 2015;152(Pt B):502-507.