It’s that time of year! With the colder weather it can be more common for kids to catch a cold or bug of some sort.
Something a health expert say once that really stuck with me is that you don’t get colds because you ‘caught’ them from someone else. Wait, What? Really? I thought that’s how we get colds. Well it is, sort of…
Viruses and bad bacteria are pretty much everywhere, especially during the winter months. However, it’s how strong your immune system is whether you pick them up, whether your body can fight them off and how long it will take your body to fight them off. The more stressors we put on our immune system, the more susceptible we are to not being able to quickly fight off bugs we are exposed to. Stressors to the immune system include: Sugar, processed foods, foods we are sensitive to (thus causing inflammation), lack of vitamins and minerals, lack of sleep or poor quality sleep, toxins, stress, and lack of movement. The more of the stressors our body has, means our immune system has to work extra hard. When our immune system is working extra hard to make up for the havoc the stressors are causing, then we are extra susceptible to picking up a bug. However, even the healthiest of folks still get sick from time to time. Although you will notice they usually recover pretty quickly.
I want to clarify that there is much more to this picture than what I am focusing on in this post. I will mention though that recent studies have shown that so much of our health stems back to the health of our gut. Our microbiome is passed on to us from our mother when we are born. In addition to that, if we are born vaginally, are breastfed, eat gut-healthy foods, are around animals (yes owning a dog counts), and much more throughout our life….these all contribute to the health of our gut. Poor health of our gut is linked to inflammation, thus affecting our immune system and how it works to combat inflammation. My point is, you can be the healthiest person in the world, but some things stem back all the way to birth, so there are many factors at play. The positive news is that so much is under our control and changing our lifestyle can very much improve our health, no matter what our past may have given us.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. The list below is what I have found through my own research and what has personally been very helpful for my family. There are a few supplements I mention below. Please keep in mind to always run the supplements you want to take by your healthcare team who knows all about you and any special needs you may have. My family is fortunate to work with a holistic doctor who gives guidance on our supplementation, but even just running the list by your conventional medical doctor is worth doing if you are not working with a holistic doctor. I highly doubt they would discourage anything listed below, but it’s better to run it by them.
Without further ado, I give you my 12 tips for supporting kiddos immune systems. These work for year round, but become more of a priority during the colder months when we are likely exposed to more. Everything I list below is pretty widely known and researched. You can find a ton of information on each of these online or throughout various health books. I do link to some additional resources below.
12 ways to support your kid’s immune system
- Increase the Veggies. Try to purchase organic (you don’t want the immune system to have to combat toxins from pesticides when it’s already working hard). Also try to get veggies that are in season and local if possible. You can also refer to ‘10 ways to get kids to eat vegetables’ for tips.
- Elderberry. According to Dr. Sarah Ballantine there are scientific studies confirming that elderberry has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also enhance the immune-modulating effects of the probiotic bacteria. Dr. Ballantine has a elderberry syrup recipe in her post that I linked above. I prefer to use this elderberry powder and mix in with things for my son. On days when he is healthy he will usually have sheep’s yogurt about twice a week and he loves the powder mixed with that, as it gives it a berry flavor. When he isn’t feeling well, I usually cut out the yogurt because dairy can make stuffy noses worse. He also loves it in applesauce and popsicles. Popsicles can feel really good on sore throats. I will mix together coconut water, collagen peptides, raspberries, blueberries, and elderberry powder together in the blender. Then I will freeze them into popsicles molds. Sometime I will put together a more specific recipe and post it. 🙂
- Bone broth. There’s some wisdom to all those old traditions of Grandma making a nourishing chicken soup when you are sick. These days it’s easier to pick up chicken soup from the store but the problem is that most of the time those have preservatives, other additives and are not slow cooked. The next best thing is to pick up chicken broth and make your own. However, to get the most benefits you can pick up bone broth (any kind – chicken, beef, etc.) or make your own. Then make your soup with the bone broth, which is rich in glycine, collagen, protein, and minerals.
- Fish oil. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids meaning that our body does not make these on our own. There are 3 types including EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are important for the immune system, brain development/health, and much more.The best sources of getting these is eating fatty fish that ideally that have no mercury. We choose to eat wild caught (not farmed!) Alaskan Salmon. We probably eat this once every other week for dinner, which is not nearly enough for our Omega 3 needs which is why we choose to supplement with it as well (both my husband and myself and also our son). Here are the fish oil supplements we use for our son.
- Golden milk. Tumeric and Ginger are super spices with anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties! Turmeric may be a bit strong of a taste for kids, so I make a Golden milk for my son with Ginger. There are a ton of recipes for this online, but ideally you will want to use fresh Ginger (and/or Tumeric) instead of the powdered spice to get the most medicinal properties. I will throw a finger of Ginger into a sauce pot with almond milk or coconut milk and heat on low for about 10 minutes or so. Then I take out the ginger and add honey to taste.
- Detox bath. Epsom salt provides magnesium, which is a highly needed mineral in our bodies. Taking a warm bath with epsom salt can help promote releasing toxins, can promote sleep, and much more. For kids you can use ½ cup epsom salt. You can also add a few drops of a kid-safe essential oil (like lavender, chamomile, or peppermint). Just be careful to not get the bath water in their eyes if adding oils. I personally will wash my son’s hair first before adding oils.
- Movement and fresh air. Depending on the level of sickness your child may or may not feel like moving. Even just small amounts of time outside, even if it’s just you pushing them in a stroller it can be beneficial for them to get some sun on their face and fresh air. For my son, if he does feel like moving I don’t discourage it but I do monitor to make sure he isn’t over doing it and that its balanced with lots of rest. Getting it least 15 minutes of sun exposure (especially in the morning) can also promote better sleep because it helps set circadian rhythm. I’ll have to write a whole post about this sometime, because the research on this is so fascinating!
- Lots of Sleep. Sleep is where the most healing takes place. It is an extremely important part of the healing process. The biggest challenge is when little ones noses are stuffy, it can be difficult for them to break normally through their noses and may affect their sleep. Try to clear your child’s nose before bed by having them blow their nose or using this nose Frida. It’s important the room is dark and a comfortable temperature to promote deep sleep. Some objects have small lights the size of a dot but they can put off light and disturb sleep. I put a piece of black tape over them to limit the light coming out. I do this with our humidifier and a few other items.
- Don’t use antibacterial products. This time of year you will see antibacterial gels, soaps, and wipes at the checkout counter and pretty much everywhere. There are so many problems with this. First, is that using these types of products consistently affects the immune system negatively. Washing your hands with warm water and regular soap is perfectly effective at killing unwanted bacteria. We don’t want to kill the beneficial bacteria as well though. Second, is that recent studies show links to allergies and baby wipes (the kind that contain harmful ingredients, there are safe options out there!). This podcast gives a summary of that study which I found highly interesting.
- Vitamin D3. Consider supplementing with Vitamin D3, especially in the winter months during cold and flu season and when there are far less opportunities for being in the direct sun. This is the supplement we give our son. Check with your holistic doc on what IU level to give.
- Vitamin C. Some kid-friendly foods that are pretty high in Vitamin C are oranges, berries, and bell peppers. I cut up red or orange bell peppers in little strips and my son loves them. You can also supplement with Vitamin C during times where the immune system needs a bit extra.
- Cut out the junk. It’s not realistic for most of us to have our kids eat perfectly 100% of the time. I try my best to feed my son food’s the nourish and fuel him, but he is also allowed to have treats on occasion. During the time when you are sick though, I think it’s important to be a bit more strict and make sure you especially cut out sugar and processed foods. Might as well not have immune system work to combat these problematic foods when it’s already working hard to heal you.
I didn’t include this in the list above because it’s not super kid friendly, but fresh garlic can be beneficial for the immune system and also for fighting off infections. Kids don’t typically want to eat whole or mashed garlic though. Sometimes you may be able to hide a little bit of it in something else, like a grass fed hamburger patty. My mom said that when I was younger she would give me a garlic supplement that she would break open and pour the garlic powder in my mouth and that I loved them. I haven’t been able to find any information about benefits of powdered garlic compared to fresh garlic. My assumption is that there probably is benefits and it likely just depends on how it’s processed. That is on my to do list to look into, I just haven’t had the time yet. If any of you know of garlic supplementation from a trusted company or research on garlic supplementation please let me know, it will save me some time!
The last thing I will mention about supplementation is that the brand of supplements you are getting is extremely important. Some of the typical brands you will see at a Walgreens for example are synthetic, not tested, and possibly have additives that can do more harm than help. Be sure to do your research on the brand, their processing practices, and check if anything is being added and if it’s safe.
I hope this post was helpful to you! If you have any natural tips for kiddos that are under the weather, please comment them below – I would love to hear them!