Runny noses. Constant colds. Recurrent flus. Gastrointestinal bugs. Most parents think these conditions are just par for the course with children in day care or school. But not all children are getting sick. Not all children have runny noses. Not all children will contract that GI bug.
As a naturopathic physician and expert in pediatric natural medicine, I see children of all ages coming in with recurrent infections and immune systems that catch every bug that crosses their path.
But after ten years in naturopathic medical practice, I have seen firsthand that a great immune system is not all about great genes. I also know how many powerful tools there are available to parents to easily boost their child’s immune system safely and effectively.
We don’t just have to accept our child’s current state of health. We can actually take measures to boost their defenses, speed healing, and help them to gain a greater level of wellness.
1. It starts with a great diet.
Children’s immune systems can take a hit if they're constantly being bombarded with food intolerances, additives, preservatives, and sugar. When a child has a food allergy, her digestion suffers, inflammation is ramped up, which makes fending off viruses and bacteria much more difficult. It’s a similar story when a child takes in more additives and preservatives than her body can deal with.
Sugar has been shown in many clinical trials to actually suppress immunity. To keep kids well, limit their overall intake of additives, sugar, and find out which foods are allergens. Focus on plenty of fresh veggies, whole fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, and meat.
2. Maintain your child's microbiota!
Probiotics are the friendly helpful bacteria that naturally occur in our guts. They protect our digestive tracts, help us to digest food, assist in toxin clearance, and shield us from invading bacteria and viruses. When this bacterial balance becomes disrupted in children, we can see changes in a child’s ability to fend off infections.
I recommend starting children on a probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus and bifidobacteria strains early on — between 5 and 20 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per day depending on age.
3. Help calm their stress and anxiety.
In today’s fast-paced world, parents are overstressed, children are over-scheduled, and everyone suffers. Children’s bodies have the same response to stress that adults’ do — their cortisol and adrenaline rises. When this elevation in stress hormones is sustained, their immune systems’ response is lowered.
It’s important for children to have lots of down time, time for creative play, and simply times of rest. Busy bodies need to take a break every now and then for their immune systems to thrive.
4. Make sure they're getting enough good sleep.
Most children are not getting the required amount of sleep. Depending on age, children need between ten and 14 hours of sleep per day. And it’s the quality of sleep that matters most. For proper secretion of melatonin (our sleep hormone), children need to sleep in the dark, without a night light. Since electromagnetic frequency has also been shown to affect sleep quality, make sure your child’s room is unplugged. Make sure all electronic devices are unplugged or better yet, just keep them in another room.
5. Remember that fever helps fight infection.
Although many parents panic at the first sign of a rise in temperature on the thermometer, it’s important to recognize that fever is only a sign of and not an illness itself. Fever is your child’s body’s response to an infection and without it, her body isn’t as effective at fighting the illness. The truth is, your child’s immune systems works better at a high temperature too, so she can get better quickly. Please note that while I do encourage fevers, it’s important to see a physician to make sure the fever is not a sign that something else is going on.
6. Supplements and herbs can work wonders.
The best supplements to boost a child’s immune system are vitamin D and zinc. The herbs elderberry and astragalus are my favorites for recurrent respiratory tract infections. For allergies, fish oil, vitamin C, and nettles work wonders. Please make sure to see your physician before starting your child on any new supplement or herb regimen.