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What Every Parent Should Know About Controlling Head Lice

© Michael Alan Morton PhD

Lindane Reportedly Causes Seizures
In the U.S., the National Pediculosis Association (NPA), a non-profit health education agency, received within a two year period, over 1100 reports of the harmful side effects of head lice treatments containing pesticides. 500 of those reports related specifically to Lindane, used in the head lice preparation most commonly known as Kwell®. According to Steven Pray, Professor of Nonprescription Products and Devices at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, "We have tragic histories of children who experienced the same ill effects intended for the lice."

One serious problem from lindane was reported in the Ladies' Home Journal, "William Carpenter, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, attorney represented the family of a healthy nine-year old who was treated for head lice in 1986 upon the recommendation of their physician. The child did not have head lice; her baby brother did, but treatment for the whole family was recommended. The child used the shampoo [containing lindane] in the shower, followed by a cream rinse, and suffered a seizure just hours after the one application. She suffers from brain damage and permanent seizure disorder to this day."8

After evaluating NPA's reports to the FDA's Medical Watch Program, the FDA now warns that pregnant women and infants should not use lindane and that it should only be used as a last resort after all other available treatments have been tried. This same drug is identified by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the U.S. Department of Health Services as a hazardous substance and is banned in 18 other countries while being highly restricted in 10 others. Despite all this, nearly two million lindane prescriptions are still filled each year in the U.S.10

Testimonial Evidence That Certain Oils Kill Head Lice
If the available products are toxic to children and ineffective, what then can parents do to fight off these pesky bugs? A possible answer may be found at your health food store. Mothers, school nurses, some public health officials and even researchers are providing testimonials that vegetable oils (such as olive and coconut oils) and some essential oils (such as lavender and anise) are killing head lice and their nits.

For instance, The Nonits Program which contains coconut oil, olive oil and essential oils such as lavender oil received this commendation from Cheryl Hauser, Public Health Nurse for the Perry County Health Department. " We have had very good results with Nonits. We have supplied schools with Nonits and all the students that have used this product have not needed any followup as the Nonits was successful at clearing their head lice."11 This and other anecdotal evidence seems to support the early research findings.

Early Research Evidence for Non-toxic Head Lice Treatments There is a large body of research evidence that long chain fatty acid oils such as coconut and olive oil kill soft-bodied insects (like head lice) on animals.12 However, research is just beginning for head lice on humans.

One informal sample test was performed by Richard Pollack, Ph.D. at Harvard's School of Public Health. During this test, Pollack submerged six head lice in olive oil for one hour while holding another six lice as controls. After that hour, three were still alive; the other three were dead. After the three remaining live head lice were submerged for another hour, all the lice were dead.

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