Because of the side effects in traditional medicine and a suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry, many people are turning to herbal supplements in order to cure them of their aches and pains. However, as some unfortunately find out, many of these herbal remedies come with side effects as well. One 11-year-old girl and her family found out the hard way when her herbal medication caused her to have menopause-like symptoms.
The herb saw palmetto, obtained from the plant Serenoa repens, is typically used to help treat enlarged prostate in men. However, the herb also has benefits for people who suffer from baldness. The 11-year-old girl, who has remained unnamed, was taking the herbal medicine for telogen effluvium, a common cause for hair loss in children.
For the first month, the child tolerated the supplement well. After a month though, she began having hot flashes, a symptom of menopause. She had hot flashes every single day. When she stopped taking the supplement, two months after she had begun the treatment, the hot flashes stopped. Unfortunately, new symptoms cropped up.
About a month after stopping the therapy, the 11-year-old girl got her first period. For comparison, the average American girl starts her first period at 12.77 years old. Her periods were abnormal, lasting 15 days while the average period is supposed to last a week. These symptoms persisted for a year, long after she stopped taking the supplement.
Saw palmetto has been found to decrease estrogen levels, which doctors believe could explain the child's symptoms. She was not on any other medication during that time period. While there has been some research on the effects of the herb on men, the herb's effects on women and children have gone relatively untouched by science.
The case, published in Pediatrics, highlights the fact that consumers should do their research before taking herbal supplements, just as they would if they were taking a medication manufactured by drug companies.