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Gripe water is a home remedy for infants with colic, gastrointestinal discomfort, teething pain, reflux and other stomach ailments. Its ingredients vary, and may include alcohol, a bicarbonate, ginger, dill, fennel and chamomile. It is typically given to an infant with a dropper in liquid form, and adults may also take gripe water for soothing intestinal pains, gas or other stomach ailments. There is no clinical evidence for the effectiveness of gripe water.
Various remedies to help infants sleep during restlessness, fix minor upset stomachs in babies have been around for centuries in different cultures, but the first "gripe water" was formulated in England in 1851 and used by English nannies. Gripe water was discovered accidentally by William Woodward, an American who was working in England, and quickly became adopted as a prescription by physicians. In the 1840s babies in Eastern England were afflicted by a condition known as "fen fever", and during that time there was also an outbreak of malaria in England. Woodward took his inspiration from the manner in which malaria as well as "fen fever" was being treated and noted that the formula used to treat fen fever was also an effective "soother of fretful babies and provided relief from gastrointestinal troubles in infants." The original Woodward's Gripe Water contained 3.6% alcohol, dill oil, sodium bicarbonate, sugar and water. Woodward registered "Gripe Water" as a trademark in 1876. It was initially marketed with the slogan "Granny told mother and mother told me."
In 1993, the United States Food and Drug Administration ordered an automatic detention of all shipments of Woodward's into the U.S. on the basis of it being an unapproved drug. In violation of the FDA's import alert Woodward's and other manufacturers have continued marketing the products as a supplement.
The original formulation now varies slightly according to the country of manufacture. In many countries including the US, alcohol and sucrose (causes tooth decay) have been replaced with other ingredients. However, sodium bicarbonate continues to be the primary active ingredient, along with the mainstays of dill and fennel oils. While evidence of gripe water's effectiveness has been limited to anecdotal accounts, there has been speculation about the reasons for the effectiveness of gripe water. Its commercial success has led to many imitations, including some of which that have strayed substantially from the original formulation.
Gripe water is recommended by some pediatricians and alternative practitioners as a naturopathic treatment option. It is available in the United States as an over-the-counter medicine regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as in various dietary supplement forms. Gripe water continues to be a very popular remedy for colic and other minor gastrointestinal upsets including flatulence. Many people now consider it to be a viable and preferable alternative to common medications. A 2000 review in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that most of the ingredients in Woodward's gripe water are of questionable value in relieving infantile discomfort, and that getting a fussy baby to stop crying may be no more complicated than giving it some sweet-tasting liquid.