As soon as school begins each September, pediatricians’ offices inevitably fill with children with acute illnesses – colds, coughs, ear infections, sinus infections, intestinal viruses and flus. For many families the seemingly endless parade of illness begins again. At best, a flu shot might prevent influenza. What to do about all the other illnesses? There’s actually much a family can do to effectively protect themselves against illness.
Teach Good Hygiene
Traditional wisdom has us teaching our children to keep their hands away from their faces, to sneeze into their sleeve and to wash their hands frequently, especially before eating. All this is hard enough for an adult to remember let alone trying to teach a child with developmental challenges. Luckily, in the meantime, avoiding germs isn’t the only solution. We can also work on building up our immune systems so they can withstand the onslaught of viruses and bacteria.
High Quality Diet
The quality of our diets has a tremendous impact on the health of our immune systems. To strengthen your body’s defenses eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits of all colors. Decrease or eliminate refined sugar from the diet. Avoid foods that are processed, contain chemical flavorings, colorings or preservatives or hydrogenated oils. Include foods that contain healthy fats such as salmon, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. If you eat meats, eggs and/or dairy products these are the most important to purchase organic to avoid pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.
Rest and Exercise
Both children and adults need adequate sleep in order to stay healthy. The amount varies with age and with individuals. If your child is looking tired during the day, look for ways to increase the hours of sleep. Down time for relaxation is also important. Resist the temptation to overbook the activities.
Vitamin D is important for optimal function of the immune system. Allow your children to regularly spend brief periods of time outdoors without sun block.
Essential fatty acid supplements are a priority. Cod liver oil, fish oil or flax seed oil are all options. Luckily, these are now available in a variety of flavored liquids, chewables and smaller size caplets for kids.
Elderberry is an herb (a food actually) which is both immune strengthening and anti-viral. Studies have documented its effectiveness in fighting influenza. I have seen it work wonderfully for many families to break the cycle of illnesses during the winter months. Take it once a day every day through the season. Increase to three to four times daily at the first sign of an illness. My favorite elderberry preparations are those made without added sugar or alcohol, e.g. solid extracts, glycerin tinctures and berries.
If all else fails and you begin to see signs of an impending illness a variety of natural supplements can provide an immunity boost. Echinacea, goldenseal, thyme or astragalus is well tolerated by children during acute illnesses. Homeopathic remedies chosen to match your child’s symptoms can bring rapid recovery and help to avoid the need for antibiotics. Find a practitioner who can guide you and books to study some basics on your own.
Lastly, if you or your child does require a course of antibiotics be sure to follow it with a course of probiotics to restore the beneficial gut bacterial, an important part of our immune system.
I’ve seen many families transform their cold weather health to one of vitality and resistance to acute disease using these measures.