It was the great world leader Nelson Mandela who said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” (5) Mentally, emotionally, and physically, our children deserve the most meticulous, comprehensive care possible. Perhaps that’s why the field of pediatric integrative medicine has mushroomed over the past 20+ years.
“Consumer demand drives change,” says Jared M. Skowron, ND, who is a naturopathic physician and founder of Spectrum Awakening in Wallingford, CT. “There has been a pendulum swing with parents who are demanding more and safer answers for their children, and they are bringing these questions to their pediatricians. As a result, the conventional medical world has shifted.”
In one survey, 60% of the parents believed that having an integrative pediatrician for their child was important, while only one in seven considered their pediatrician to be integrative. (3) While usage rates of complementary and alternative medicine in pediatrics vary, in 2012, some surveys showed that usage was as high as 40% among healthy children and more than 50% among sick children. (7) Parental interest in the field of pediatric integrative medicine has outpaced training options for pediatricians with only 16 of 143 academic pediatric training programs offering integrative medicine training in 2012. (4) The demand for pediatric integrative medicine is high, which presents a wonderful opportunity for clinicians already leaning in this direction.
What is pediatric integrative medicine?
Pediatric integrative medicine applies integrative medicine’s guiding principles into the field of pediatrics, with a focus on:
- Infusing evidence-based preventive and treatment options into the complementary and alternative care plan
- Providing relationship-centered care
- Providing whole person care
- Utilizing all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals, and disciplines (3)
According to the Academy of Pediatric Integrative Medicine, “pediatric integrative medicine blends conventional and complementary therapies and harnesses mind, body, emotional, and environmental factors to maximize children’s health.” (1) They go on to emphasize that it is evidence-based, personalized, and prevention-focused.
There are a variety of interventions and strategies that are a part of the pediatric integrative medicine toolkit, including:
- Dietary supplements with the most common being fish oil, melatonin, and probiotics
- Dietary interventions such as elimination and Mediterranean diets
- Herbal products such as chamomile, echinacea, and garlic
- Manipulative, movement, or body-based therapies such as massage
- Mind-body interventions such as biofeedback or yoga (4)
Dr. Skowron believes that we shouldn’t get hung up on labels like “integrative medicine” or “naturopathic medicine,” but we should instead focus on “curative medicine” that looks at the root cause of illness. “If a child has constipation, should we reach for the Miralax or the probiotic? Or should we work to identify the cause, which could be diet, potential infection, or mitochondrial dysfunction,” explained Dr. Skowron, who is the author of the best-selling book 100 Natural Remedies for Your Child. “Curative medicine is a finite treatment that fixes the problem permanently and that’s good medicine.”
Pediatric integrative medicine training
The University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine was responsible for spearheading integrative education in the field of pediatrics with their 100-hour online Pediatric Integrative Medicine Residency program. (6) The program was designed to fill the educational gap between pediatricians wanting to learn about integrative medicine and the increasing desire for integrative medicine by parents. According to a 2015 analysis, the program was successful at bridging the gap and demonstrated that 66% of the residents who completed the online program were interested in applying integrative medicine to their clinical practice. (4)
Another early adopter of pediatric integrative medicine was Stanford Children’s Hospital who established their Pediatric Integrative Medicine program in 2011 after finding out via a survey that more than 75% of their practitioners wanted to learn more about integrative medicine. In one year from 2016 to 2017 the number of visits to the pediatric integrative medicine clinic nearly doubled, and in 2017 Stanford created their Pediatric Integrative Medicine Fellowship Program. (6)
The Academy of Pediatric Integrative Medicine also offers online, CME, evidence-based courses for physicians and allied health professionals including an introductory course, as well as courses specific to environmental medicine, mind-body medicine, nutrition, physical activity, and sleep. (2)
The bottom line
“The best option for every family is to have a team to help their child that includes an integrative pediatrician along with a naturopath that specializes in pediatrics,” said Dr. Skowron. His final advice to parents is “do as much as you can for your child because you love them, and they deserve it.”
- Academy of Pediatric Integrative Medicine. (2022, Accessed June 15). What is pediatric integrative medicine? https://www.apim.org/
- Academy of Pediatric Integrative Medicine. (2022, Accessed June 15). APIM professional courses. https://www.apim.org/apim-courses
- Esparham, A., Misra, S. M., Misra, S., Sibinga, E., Culbert, T., Kemper, K., McClafferty, H., Vohra, S., & Rosen, L. (2018). Pediatric Integrative Medicine: Vision for the Future. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 5(8), 111. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6111895/
- McClafferty, H., Vohra, S., Bailey, M., Brown, M., Esparham, A, Gerstbacher, D., Golianu, B., Niemi, A., Sibinga, E., Weydert, J., & Yeh, A. (2017). Pediatric integrative medicine. Pediatrics, 140(3). https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/140/3/e20171961/38393/Pediatric-Integrative-Medicine?autologincheck=redirected
- Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. (Accessed 2022, Aug). Nelson Mandela quotes about children. https://www.nelsonmandelachildrensfund.com/news/nelson-mandela-quotes-about-children
- Ramesh, G., Gerstbacher, D., Arruda, J., Golianu, B., Mark, J., & Yeh, A. M. (2018). Pediatric Integrative Medicine in Academia: Stanford Children’s Experience. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 5(12), 168. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6306866/
- Vohra, S., Surette, S., Mittra, D., Rosen, L. D., Gardiner, P., & Kemper, K. J. (2011) Pediatric integrative medicine: pediatrics’ newest subspecialty? BMC Pediatrics, 12, 123. https://bmcpediatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2431-12-123
- Vohra, S., Punja, S., Jou, H., Schlegelmilch, M., Wilson, B., Spavor, M., Grundy, P., Mackie, A. S., Conway, J., & Hartfield, D. (2021). Comparative Effectiveness of Pediatric Integrative Medicine: A Pragmatic Cluster-Controlled Trial. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 8(4), 311. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8072575/