Herbal Supplements Improve Infant Colic

The objective of this study was to critically evaluate all clinical trials of nutritional supplements and other complementary and alternative medicines in order to gain treatment options for infantile colic. Based on information from 15 such trials, the authors concluded that the alternative medicines that seemed to be the most promising remedies against colic were fennel extract, mixed herbal tea, or sugar solutions. However, the researchers caution the reader against using these remedies as the clinical trials conducted had certain technical flaws, and these results have not yet been verified or replicated by other groups.

Infantile colic is a very painful and difficult condition to treat in nearly 5 to 19 percent of infants and is particularly stressful for new parents to deal with. Very few conventional medicines work for colic relief and in such situations resorting to unconventional remedies is not unheard of. As information about these alternate methods is typically available through websites and other unregulated resources, the authors attempted to bring out legitimate experimental information into the public domain through this paper. This article summarizes results and recommendations from clinical trials that have analyzed the use of various nutritional supplements or other complementary medicines in the treatment of infantile colic.


  • Databases for medical and biological research articles were searched for references on infantile colic, clinical trials dealing with the use of alternate methods or unconventional medicines for colic, and specifically those trials that demonstrated reduction in colic severity from baseline levels after using alternate medicine.
  • The clinical trials were evaluated for good quality data as per guidelines based upon the Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews of Interventions and the Jadad criteria for clinical trials on pain management.
  • The information was analyzed independently by two researchers and the results were collated after discussion.


  • Out of nearly 2,000 articles, the authors could only use data from 15 clinical trials. In four studies that used chiropractic methodology to provide relief, the analyzed results from only three studies seemed to indicate success.
  • Three studies on herbal supplementation demonstrated that compared to placebos, the use of fennel extract by itself or in herbal tea with chamomile and other herbal components provided significantly higher relief against colic.
  • Five studies confirmed that the use of glucose or sucrose solutions alleviated the severity of symptoms.
  • The use of probiotics was unsuccessful against colic, but seemed to help in reducing crying time.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The authors may have listed 15 clinical trials as sources of information, but indicated that all of them were flawed for various reasons. For studies using fennel extracts or herbal tea, the authors state that replicated data would help enhance the significance of these results. In most of the trials discussed, the authors felt that the inadequate listing of adverse effects from supplement usage affected the credibility of these results. For those studies involving the use of glucose or sucrose, lack of replication and ill-defined experimental set-ups were cited as shortcomings. When using chiropractic manipulation, absence of follow-up and inadequate documentation reduced the impact of the results while for those studies using probiotics, poor reporting of results or smaller sample sizes did the same.

Problems exist in finding reliable scientific data that can exonerate the use of alternate medicine in treating colic. “The evidence for probiotic supplements and manual therapies does not indicate an effect.” However, the authors were able to find a few studies that were conducted in the correct manner, especially those that used herbal supplements, such as fennel extract, mixed herbal tea or sugar solutions. They recommend replication of these results by independent groups as a prelude to including these alternate medicines in clinical practice as a therapy against infantile colic. Some additional replications are required before firm conclusions can be drawn.

For More Information:
A Systematic Review of Nutritional Supplements and Other Complementary Medicines for Infantile Colic
Pediatrics, March 2011
By Rachel Perry, MPhil, MA, BA; Katherine Hunt, PhD, MSc, BN, RN
From the Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Plymouth, United Kingdom

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.  

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