No proof herbs or massage ease colic

A quick Internet search might lead parents to think there are scores of proven treatments for colicky babies. But that's not so, a new systematic review shows.

"Having now looked at the evidence in terms of complimentary medicines, it is difficult to say that there is any effective treatment out there," Rachel Perry, a researcher at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, told.

The mother of two kids who used to cry inexplicably for hours, Perry said she is sympathetic to new parents with colicky infants.

"I tried loads of things, because I was so desperate," she said. "I can see why parents are driven mad by it."

Her new report, published in Paediatrics, summarises the complementary and alternative medicines as well as nutritional supplements for colic - including herbal extracts, sugar water, probiotics, massage and reflexology.

Babies with colic studied

She and her colleagues found 15 studies of 944 babies that compared these treatments against placebo or sham therapies.

There were some signs that fennel had a positive effect. For instance, one study found that 65% of babies who got fennel seed oil dissolved in water before meals were cured of their colic, vs. 24% of those who just got water.

Similar results were found in another study of herbal tea that included fennel, chamomile and other herbs.

But the studies were few and far between, and none of the studies were scientifically solid, the researchers found. Some included very few children, and others were not blinded, which might have swayed the results.

"It's like a drug trial, you wouldn't just trust one very small trial on a medication," Perry said. "It's not to say these things wouldn't work, we just don't know."

Her colleague Dr Edzard Ernst, who heads the department of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School and led the new work, said the best advice for parents is to stay away from alternative colic therapies at this point.

"The condition is benign and self-limiting," he said. "So, tender loving care may well be the best approach."(Reuters Health/ March 2011)

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