Boosting Your Child’s Immune System Naturally
With kids back to school and cold and flu season upon us, I wanted to explore what parents could do to help boost their children’s immune system naturally, so we can all enjoy this time of year from a position of better health.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with naturopathic physician Debra Gibson, who practices in nearby Ridgefield, Connecticut, about this topic and she graciously shared some wonderful tips for helping our kids build strong immune systems.
Let them rest.
Dr. Gibson is a firm believer that the best way to keep a child’s immune system strong is to help them get sufficient rest. Younger children are almost always running on high speed and parents need to implement structure for rest times and bedtime, allowing the immune system time to do its best work.
Make Exercise part of the routine.
Exercise also plays an important role in building immune strength for it activates white blood cells. Bundle up and hit the trail for a healthy hike!
Think about food.
Diet has a direct correlation with immune health. Dr. Gibson recommends that parents make a concerted effort to wean out refined sugars and white foods. Pay attention to the ingredients in the baked goods, pastas and cereals you usually buy or make yourself. Replace foods made with white flour with whole grain versions. If you make this change a gradual process children will hardly notice. Emphasize protein during meals and try to avoid carb heavy diets. If your child likes cold cuts at lunch time look for nitrate-free versions. Applegate Farms is a brand that is available in many local grocery stores. Incorporate beans, hummus, nuts and seeds to add more protein. Fruit and nut butters are also great for balancing blood sugar. Try to serve more soup; it positively affects the body’s Chi (energy) and is a fantastic was to incorporate more beans into your child’s diet.
Keep hydration simple.
Get your kids used to drinking water as their primary hydration source and you will be setting a healthful precedent for life. Offer a splash of fruit juice or a squeeze of fresh lemon, lime or orange for flavor. Also try making fresh herbal teas for your kids, serving herbals iced in the day and hot at night. Mint and Raspberry herbal teas are favorites with my kids!
Add immune boosting supplements to your child’s daily routine.
Dr. Gibson recommends 250 mg of Vitamin C per day as a safe dose for children five years old and under. For children over five, you can increase the dose to up to 1000 mg per day if fighting a cold. Cut back the dose if you notice loose stool, which is a sign that the body has had too much Vitamin C. Be sure to follow the Vitamin C with tooth brushing or a swish of water to protect the teeth from the natural acidity of the vitamin.
Vitamin D is a must for fortifying the immune system. However, excess Vitamin D could be a problem because it is fat soluble. Dr. Gibson recommends no more than 200 IU- 400 IU per day for children.
25 mg a few times a week will help prime the immune system for optimal function.
Look for a brand that is low in sugar.
Probiotics help keep the digestive system functioning smoothly while supporting immune health. Chewable pill or liquid forms are available.
Fish oil helps combat any inflammation in the body, allowing the immune system to focus elsewhere.
At the onset of a cold….
Dr. Gibson recommends increasing your child’s intake of Vitamin C and Zinc at the first sign of a cold. Adding up to 10,000 IU of Beta Carotene to your child’s diet will also give his or her immune system an extra boost. Increasing your child’s intake of cooked carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, bananas and carrot juice will help give them that extra Beta Carotene to shorten the duration and severity of the cold.
To manage coughing…
Try teas containing cherry bark, licorice root, ginger, cinnamon or Slippery Elm. There are also some wonderful herbal and homeopathic cough syrups. I’ve had great success with two cough syrups:Chestal made by Boiron and Eldertussin made by Herbs for Kids.
To ease a fever naturally…
Dr. Gibson suggests hydrotherapy as a very effective, safe way to ease a fever. Here is how it works: Place your child in a comfortably warm bath for no longer than 10 minutes. Then dry your child thoroughly and wrap him or her in blankets for 30 minutes until he or she breaks a sweat. Keep them swaddled from neck to feet in the blanket during this process. Snuggle up together and read a book to pass the time. This technique will help infections move along quickly. It is a great method to try before a nap or bedtime.