Herbal Medicines for Gastrointestinal Disorders in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review

Pediatrics. 2017 Jun;139(6):e20170062. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-0062. Epub 2017 May 4.


Context: Gastrointestinal disorders are common childhood complaints. Particular types of complementary and alternative medicine, such as herbal medicine, are commonly used among children. Research information on efficacy, safety, or dosage forms is still lacking.

Objectives: To systematically summarize effectiveness and safety of different herbal treatment options for gastrointestinal disorders in children.

Data sources: Medline/PubMed, Scopus, and the Cochrane Library were searched through July 15, 2016.

Study selection: Randomized controlled trials comparing herbal therapy with no treatment, placebo, or any pharmaceutical medication in children and adolescents (aged 0-18 years) with gastrointestinal disorders were eligible.

Data extraction: Two authors extracted data on study design, patients, interventions, control interventions, results, adverse events, and risk of bias.

Results: Fourteen trials with 1927 participants suffering from different acute and functional gastrointestinal disorders were included in this review. Promising evidence for effectiveness was found for Potentilla erecta, carob bean juice, and an herbal compound preparation including Matricaria chamomilla in treating diarrhea. Moreover, evidence was found for peppermint oil in decreasing duration, frequency, and severity of pain in children suffering from undifferentiated functional abdominal pain. Furthermore, evidence for effectiveness was found for different fennel preparations (eg, oil, tea, herbal compound) in treating children with infantile colic. No serious adverse events were reported.

Limitations: Few studies on specific indications, single herbs, or herbal preparations could be identified.

Conclusions: Because of the limited number of studies, results have to be interpreted carefully. To underpin evidence outlined in this review, more rigorous clinical trials are needed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / drug therapy*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic