Amber for Teething

16Sep11

As a new mom, I’ve been introduced to entirely new worlds; that of parenting, and that of alternative infant care. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, people want only the best for their darling children, including myself. It probably is genetically inherent to become slightly crazy about the welfare of our children. Think what an evolutionary advantage it would be. However, in today’s world, being a parent is no reason to let your skeptical guard down!

I’m suspicious that my 3 month old has started teething. Trying to confirm my suspicions, I asked my mother’s group about signs and ways to alleviate symptoms. There was the usual symptoms of drooling, chewing and irritability, and the usual treatment of cold chewy things. (As an aside, one thing I learnt was that baby anbesol has a Health Canada advisory) One mom recommended that I get an amber necklace to help with teething pains and fussiness.

Say what? Amber?

Luckily for us, that day at our group, a dental hygienist also discussed the same topics. She asked if anyone was using amber to help for teething. She then noted that it was a choking hazard – since the necklace could come apart and the beads are easily bitesized. She also said she couldn’t recommend using it since she could only recommend things that were science and evidence based. That made me feel slightly better, as my skept-o-meter had been going off ever since the mom first mentioned the amber. However, it was still slightly a cop-out, I felt.

Here are the claims:

  • it is one of the oldest teething remedies
  • it is natural pain relief
  • it is analgesic and anti-inflammatory
  • it decreases fussiness and irritability
  • it protects against the (imaginary) effects of electrical equipment
  • succinic acid (which can be created by grinding up amber) is a part of the Krebs cycle in cellular respiration
Health Canada also issues a warning against these necklaces, but just based on their being a choking hazard. They say nothing about the effectiveness.
So let’s look at the claims.
1. It is an old teething remedy. Well, this doesn’t impress me too much. I don’t really care how old a treatment is. I really just want to know whether or not it works. A good example of an old treatment that does nothing is bloodletting. There are many others too.
2. Well it is natural, however again this says nothing about how or whether it works or not. The google told me nothing, although some sites tell me that the body heats the amber which allows oils to absorb into the skin. Now the big concern with this is: your skin is a big ol organ. Its main function is to keep stuff out. That means, while stuff can absorb slightly into your surface cells, not much really penetrates far in unless there is a wound. Check out the wikipedia page for more info and a nifty diagram. The other explanation on how it causes pain relief is even more silly, talking about organic energy and such. A quick search on pubmed found nothing.
3. Same for no. 2
4. Fussiness and irritability are very hard to quantify. It can wax and wane throughout the day and depends on so many factors, such as how many naps the baby’s had, whether the baby has gas, how hungry the baby is, etc. They’re the perfect symptoms for us moms to be biased about. I know that I find my baby much more fussy on days that I’m tired or have a headache. Is the baby really more fussy, or am I just less tolerant? Unless you are fanatically timing how long your baby cries, and measuring decibels, I’m not sure how you would reliably measure such things. Also, when using something like the amber necklaces, I would be inclined to notice the non-fussy periods and disregard the fussy ones. It’s human nature to do so. (An anecdotal example: the mom who recommended it to me said her baby was never fussy anymore, yet he fussed throughout the 3 hours we were in the same room).
5. This is an interesting one. It’s another very subjective symptom. The radiation that is given off by electronics is very low energy. It’s on the same spectrum of energy as the visible light we see, X-rays, and gamma rays:
EMR spectrumYou can see that radiation (or electromagnetic radiation, not nuclear radiation) given off by microwaves, tv, radio, and other devices not shown on the graphic are lower energy than visible light. They’re lower energy than heat (infrared). It’s very doubtful that this type of low level radiation does any harm to us and does not cause any symptoms. Especially not symptoms that wearing amber can protect you from. In order to protect yourself from this type of radiation, you better turn off all the lights and put yourself in a Faraday cage.
6. The IUPAC name of succinic acid is butanedioic acid. It’s mainly used as a sweetener now, although traditional uses, as claimed by the amber websites, were for pain relief. It’s also a chemical involved in the Krebs cycle (also called the citric acid cycle). This occurs at a cellular level, in an organelle called the mitochondria. The Krebs Cycle is a part of how cells turn sugar into ATP (the type of energy that cells can use). Since succinic acid is created at the 8th step in the Krebs Cycle, I don’t see what affect it would have without more of the beginning products. Of course, I’m not a biochemist, so I could very well be wrong. Even if adding succinic acid ramps up the Krebs Cycle somehow, there’s still the problem of how succinic acid would dissolve through the skin and into the bloodstream in order to do so. Additionally, the body may use it, but it doesn’t have any pain relieving or anti-inflammatory properties. Again, I couldn’t find anything on pubmed.
In conclusion, these necklaces are not effective in helping baby’s bear teething pain. While I agree that moms want to do everything right for their children, they don’t need to try every miracle treatment. I know I’ll have a handy wet cloth in the fridge to help my little guy through his teething pains, since that at least has some effectiveness, even if it wont be 100%.
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