Now that the school year is in full swing, cold and flu viruses will make their way through classrooms and families. Just because everyone else is getting sick doesn’t mean your child has to too. There are a few simple things that can help keep your child’s immune system strong and reduce the likelihood of getting sick or at least reduce the severity and duration of illness should they catch a cold or flu virus.
1) Sleep–make sure your child gets plenty of sleep. Most children require at least 9 hours of sleep at night to maintain optimal health. This means ensuring that extra-curricular activities and homework do not cut into your child’s time for sleep. Helping your child learn time-planning and organizing skills early can help them build healthy habits that will carry on into adulthood. Besides keeping the immune system healthy, adequate sleep will increase efficiency and performance in academics and other activities your child chooses to pursue.
2) Diet–eating a balanced diet, including healthy snacks can ensure adequate nutrition and also keep the digestive system healthy (an important foundation to immune health). A balanced diet should include at least 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies and be low in processed and refined foods that are high in sugar and preservatives. Fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains is another important dietary requirement, as it provides fuel to the good bacteria that colonize the intestines and make up a majority of the body’s immune system.
3) Hydration–drinking plenty of fluids to keep mucous membranes moist is a key to preventing infection, since mucous membranes are the primary way cold and flu viruses are introduced to the body. Healthy mucous membranes = healthy primary immunity. If primary immunity is functioning optimally, the body will be more efficient at fighting viruses, since it won’t have to spend energy attacking and killing viruses that have already begun to propagate.
4) Probiotics–these “good” bacteria have been shown to help boost immunity and reduce the number of cold and flu viruses (or severity of symptoms) in children who take probiotic supplements regularly. See my blog post on probiotics for more information.
5) Nutritional supplements–Vitamin D and Zinc are especially helpful at supporting a healthy immune system and are generally safe in proper doses. Vitamins A and C may also be helpful. I can safely recommend a daily dose of 400 I.U. of Vitamin D3 for infants and children up to 12 years (although higher doses may be required for children with known deficiency). Children over 12 may safely take 800 I.U. of Vitamin D3 daily. Zinc can be taken in various forms (lozenges, chewables, tablets, liquid) and parents should discuss dosing with a Naturopathic Doctor or other qualified healthcare professional so as not to overdose their child (even over the counter products may require specific dosing instructions different from the package recommendations). Vitamin A can be toxic in large quantities, so I generally recommend that kids take the water soluble form of betacarotene (also found in fresh fruits and vegetables). Again, I recommend consulting with a Naturopathic Doctor for dosing recommendations on Vitamin A and Vitamin C, since instructions may vary depending on the age and nutritional status of your child.
6) Stress reduction–believe it or not, stress can impact our children’s health just as it impacts our own! Young children may not seem to have stress but can often feel the stress around them. Modeling healthy coping behaviors such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing and encouraging your child to learn and apply these tools themselves will greatly reduce the impact of stress on their bodies. You may think it silly, but even toddlers can practice deep breathing and listen to relaxing music. For older children who are stressed out by the number of activities they are involved in, helping them choose what to keep and what to drop may be necessary for their benefit and yours. Children still need time to play and enjoy their childhood. Anything that gets in the way can cause unnecessary stress and undue harm to their physical health.
About the Author:Dr. Bowker is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Snohomish Valley Holistic Medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Bowker serves as a Board member for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She has also been a guest speaker for community organizations and instructor of several community health classes. For more information, please visit her primary website: www.snovalleyholistic.com