Immune System Boosts for Children

Back to school time generally means that the kids will be bringing home the latest cold germs along with their latest homework assignment. Fall is a busy time for everyone, and getting back into the rhythm of school and finding balance in life is important for the whole family.

Be realistic about activities and time. Wearing the kids out doesn't help their immune system. Find just one or two activities that they really enjoy and don't overload them with extra-curricular sports, groups or lessons.

Rest is crucial for optimal functioning of the immune system. School buses and classes begin early in the morning in most places, so make sure that your child has plenty of down time in the evening to unwind before going to bed. Encourage relaxing activities such as reading or a family puzzle to work on before bedtime. Allow plenty of time for them to get a good night's sleep. And if your child isn't sleeping well, work to uncover the cause of this. A trip to your local naturopathic doctor might be in order. There are many herbs and homeopathics that are safe for children and can do wonders for their sleep. A surprisingly large number of children suffer from anxiety, so work to reduce it. Make sure that they have a completely dark place to sleep. Even a small amount of light can throw off the body's ability to make melatonin, an important hormone for sleep.

Eat a whole foods diet. Processed foods don't provide the body with the nutrients it needs to rest, recover and fight infections. Find interesting and fun ways to fit in fruits and vegetables. Having cut up veggies and a healthy dip sitting out before dinner (when everyone is clamoring about how hungry they are) is a nice way to get them to eat them. Finding age-appropriate activities for them in the shopping and preparing of foods helps them feel more engaged and included.

Keep sugar consumption to a minimum. Don't offer deserts every night of the week. And don't use sugary snacks as a reward. Find other ways to praise your children. Sugar depresses the immune system for four hours after consumption, so when they are exposed to germs or fighting something, this is the worst time to give them anything sugary.

Regular exercise keeps the body's defenses in good order and also helps to detoxify. Many school systems are cutting out physical education as part of the regular curriculum, so finding an exercise program that you can do as a family after school and work is a terrific addition for everyone's health.

Wash your hands. Most germs travel from the hands to other open mucus membranes, such as the mouth and the eyes in order to get a foothold in the rest of the body. I recommend washing with a gentle soap (antibacterial soaps have been shown to increase antibiotic resistance) and doing it for a long enough time to really clean the skin. One tool is to sing a little song while you are washing, such as "Row, Row, Row your boat," and you finish washing when the song is through. Even the fastest singer will have pretty clean hands at the end of that!

Take a quality Vitamin C daily. Vitamin C has been shown in numerous studies to boost the immune system and help to fight off both bacterial infections, viruses, and help the body to heal from any trauma or illness. There are some good ones available at your local health food store that are chewable and in dosages that are appropriate for kids. Depending on age, you might find 250 mg or 500 mg tablets. Don't buy them if they are sweetened with sugar. Good companies know this is harmful and will find something else to use as a flavoring agent and sweetener. The one I use often also contains Elderberry, which is another safe and helpful herb for fighting infections. You can increase the dose if they are starting to get sick.

Other herbs, such as astragalus and reishi mushrooms help the immune system and are safe for children over two. There is a nice formula called "Esberitox" that is chewable, has a blend of herbs, and is fine for kids and adults alike. It is available at many good health food stores.

Cod liver oil was forced down the throats of many of my older patients when they were children. Well, the reasoning was sound – omega-3 fatty acids boost immunity as well as brain function and mood. Manufacturers have discovered novel ways to make the taste of liquid formulas not only bearable but delightful. For older kids, you can get them to swallow them in capsules if they don't like the liquids.

When anyone in the family is getting sick, stay home and rest. Take special care and drink plenty of warm teas and healthy soups.

If you feel that your family struggles with frequent colds and flues, bring them in for a consultation on changes that would help this winter. There may be underlying causes that can be corrected, or a specialized treatment plan can be created for your family.

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