Long before the summer comes to a screeching halt, a new season is already in full swing.
THE FLU SHOT SEASON.
Quite honestly, I don’t feel like speculating about the different types of flu shots being offered this year and their risks vs. benefits. We do not vaccinate for the flu, but I’m not going to try to sway you on my side because I strongly believe in parents making their own choices.
Instead, I want to focus on keeping kids healthy regardless of whether your family vaccinates for the flu or not.
Though I will say that the flu virus must have found its way over the devil’s firebowl somewhere along the line of antigenic drift, because it was known as nothing but an ordinary illness that kept us from school for about a week or so when I was growing up. All of us kids recovered just fine, and most of us enjoyed the long days filled with non-existent homework and skipped tests. This, of course, happened once upon a time in a land far, far away, dotted with castles and châteaux and intertwined with rich legends and folklore. In times when kids wandered unsupervised and food was actually made with FOOD, and way before the universal flu vaccination push started to unfold.
With the onset of cold weather and stale germ-ridden indoor air, sniffles, snot, and fever can become a child’s regular company. That, and the occasional sound of puke puddles in the making. The sound NO parent wants to hear at 2:00 A.M. (or ever).
You may have been asking yourself for a while:
- Why is my child always sick?
- My kids always have a cold. How is that possible?
- Is my child getting sick too often?
- Is it normal for kids to get sick every two weeks?
The good news is – keeping kids healthy might be easier than you think. The truth is, there are lots of ways to reinforce the body’s natural defenses!
12 simple ways that can help boost your child’s immunity:
Or as I’d like to say, “You are what you eat.”
The goal is making your child’s body nutritionally strong enough to fight off pathogens it regularly comes in contact with. Now, I realize that serving your kids nutrition on a plate instead of in a supplement form is easier said than done for many busy parents these days. I hear ya’! However, real food IS nutritious, and it is a VITAL key for keeping your child’s immune system at its peak performance.
Food can work WITH us, or AGAINST us.
It really is that simple. Diets that are high in processed, poorly-sourced, and nutritionally-void foods not only don’t fuel a growing child’s body with much needed nutrients, they also have the potential to increase inflammation in the body and can severely depress a child’s immunity. Let me put it this way: you’re not doing your child any favors this flu season if you’re feeding him with CONVENIENCE which would be a diet that might be easy to get but is likely rich in inflammatory foods.
Consider cutting back on these INFLAMMATORY FOODS:
- refined sugar and artificial sweeteners
- artificial flavors and synthetic dyes
- refined white flour and grains
- the wrong types of oils (canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, safflower, margarine, butter substitutes)
- legumes and nuts that haven’t been properly soaked
- conventional/grain-fed meats as well as processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, lunch meats)
- farmed fish (tilapia – very popular among parents – is the second most farmed fish worldwide) with the exception of rainbow trout.
Add more nutrient-dense WHOLE FOODS into your child’s diet:
- fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic (and ideally seasonal – I know, I know…)
- healthy fats (real butter from grass-fed cows, extra virgin olive oil, and pure unrefined coconut oil are just a few examples)
- properly prepared grains (sourdough fermentation, sprouted grains)
- properly soaked nuts, seeds, and legumes
- eggs from healthy free-range birds
- raw milk, raw cheese, and full-fat dairy products like yoghurt or kefir ideally made with grass-fed organic milk
- wild-caught fish (Alaskan salmon, Pacific cod, chunk light tuna, etc. – once in a while) and farmed rainbow trout (if you eat fish)
- meat from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals (if your family consumes meat).
Right. WATER. What, too ordinary? Not only do virtually all of our cells, tissues, and organs require water to keep functioning properly, water also helps remove toxins and pathogens from the body.
With every cup of sweetened drink, fruit/vegetable juice wannabe or a can of soda replaced with plain water, you’re essentially making your child’s body nutritionally stronger.
YES, most of the tap water is contaminated these days, and NO, bottled isn’t necessarily better by any means not only because of purity concerns but also due to added toxic exposure from the plastic it’s been stored in. Tap water can be filtered to various degrees of purity depending on which filter is used, but if you don’t use a filter, my humble opinion is that tap water is still the better choice over a sugary drink (which is likely made with water of the same/similar quality anyway).
#3 VITAMIN C SUPPLEMENT
Vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant that’s vital for maintaining a robust immune system. In addition, vitamin C also helps protect kids from the effects of environmental pollution that they’re regularly exposed to.
Ideally, the majority of vitamin C should be sourced from the foods kids eat, right? Absolutely! However, if you feel like your child has been slacking with his fruit/vegetable intake, vitamin C is on your side and can be very useful in helping prevent infections.
You knew there was going to be a BUT somewhere…right?
I’m going to make this a tad more complicated before it gets easier. Ascorbic acid, the most common form of commercially sold vitamin C, is not really a vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is only a fraction of the vitamin C compound.
Imagine a bicycle and think of ascorbic acid as it were the pedals. They’re part of the bike, sure, but how far will you get by isolating and using only the pedals?
I won’t be getting into the topic of synthetic vs. natural form of ascorbic acid in this article. You may have heard that the majority of ascorbic acid available on the market is derived from genetically modified corn, right? That would be true. You may have also heard that both the synthetic and natural form are really the same thing. Which is also true. However, even though food-derived and synthetic ascorbic acid are chemically identical, fruits and vegetables are rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals (like bioflavonoids). And that itself may be playing a role in affecting vitamin C bioavailability. So I’d like to play it safe and recommend – against the mainstream web of misconduct – to either purchase vitamin C sourced from whole foods OR at least getting a formula that contains a synergistic blend of ascorbic acid and bioflavonoids to stay as close to as nature intended as possible.
#4 ELDERBERRY SYRUP
It’s kind of amusing that people usually don’t bat an eye when they pull over at the closest Give-A-Shot-Get-A-Shot location for a vaccine that states all kinds of weird things in the package insert (you know, the huge sheet of very thin paper that almost never gets read), but this dark berry scares them because the FDA claims that even though it does indeed appear safe when prepared properly and, goddammit, even effective, we better be oh so very careful before we can research the heck out of it (unlike properly researching, say, the safety of the flu shot…?).
Rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, the elderberry has been used for centuries. Modern studies have shown that elderberries appear to have immune-boosting properties, and elderberry syrup can help with both prevention AND treatment of infectious diseases.
We do not take the elderberry syrup on a regular basis because we forget (or maybe we’re just lazy), but we do keep it around. Store-bought elderberry syrup can be pricy, but you can make your own elderberry syrup for much less. It’s delicious and easy to make, too. (I promise!)
FACT: There is a whole world of bacteria present in the human gut, and it influences much more than just digestive health. Most people don’t realize that the majority of the immune system actually lies in the gastrointestinal tract.
Healthy gut bacteria is absolutely crucial for a well-functioning immune system!
In order to promote healthy gut flora in your child and to prevent bad bacteria from outnumbering the good guys, you’ll need to:
- Cut back on sugar which ultimately compromises the gut; AND
- Either serve fermented/cultured foods like:
- (quality) yoghurt;
- dairy or water kefir;
- lacto-fermented fruits/vegetables; OR
3. Give a probiotic supplement.
While store-bought probiotic supplements typically supply the body with billions of bacteria in each dose (it can be much less though despite of what the label says), cultured foods are far more effective and capable of providing trillions of beneficial bacteria in just one serving.
Yes, garlic IS pungent! I agree! But not only is it great for keeping vampires away from your child, it also has antiviral, antibiotic, and antifungal properties. In short, it’s an incredibly powerful immune booster.
Ideally, garlic should be eaten RAW and unheated to reap all the benefits. If you’re not sure how your child would react to a garlic toast on a slice of sprouted bread with grass-fed butter and pink salt (yum!), you can hide some in a salad dressing (home-made Caesar, anyone?) and start very slowly by experimenting and adding just a bit of crushed garlic to suitable family meals. Every little bit that you’ll use counts and will be beneficial.
If incorporating raw garlic scares you, however, no worries… Cooked garlic isn’t as beneficial as raw because the heat destroys much of the enzyme allowing for the formation of allicin (the key phytonutrient), but COOKED garlic can still offer some levels of antibiotic properties IF prepared the right way. The next time you decide to add garlic to your soup, meal, or the sauce you’ve been cooking (or heating up), keep in mind that it should be chopped or crushed about 10 minutes before cooking to maximize allicin formation. Also, try to add garlic to the dish toward the end of cooking.
You can use a variety of spices. For example, CINNAMON, GINGER, or TURMERIC are good immune stimulators and loaded with antioxidants.
A dash of cinnamon (and some brown sugar, salt, butter, and raw cacao powder) in a bowl of hot oatmeal, ginger tea with lemon and honey made from scratch, fresh grated turmeric in a meal, use your imagination. If you feel like you’re running out of options, spices can be also added to a delicious healthy smoothie!
#8 RAW HONEY
RAW. Or, I’ll be the honey nerd – REALLY RAW. Obviously, not just any honey.
The majority of store-bought honey isn’t raw. And, in some cases, it’s not even real honey (I know…).
Raw honey is honey in its natural state that retains its full nutritional value. It has likely been carefully strained to remove impurities, but it hasn’t been over-filtered and pasteurized (heated over high temperatures) which destroys valuable enzymes and antioxidants and removes other nutrients. Raw honey often comes in a creamy consistency (making it much less messy to deal with).
What are the benefits of raw honey?
Raw honey can literally supercharge your child’s immune system. It contains antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, and varying concentrations of polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants. As a general rule, the darker the honey, the higher the phenolic and flavonoid content and antioxidant capacity (and the more intense flavor as well which not everybody appreciates). Please note, however, that ‘dark’ honey (like Manuka or Buckwheat) may not appear dark when sold in a creamed form.
WARNING: Of course, do NOT give honey to children under 1 year of age as it can cause botulism which may be fatal.
Sleep deprivation impairs the immune system, so adequate sleep is just as important as proper nutrition! (Says the person editing this article at 1:26 a.m.)
The truth is, lack of sleep can increase inflammation in the body. It may also negatively affect the good bacteria in the gut that we talked about earlier, making a child more susceptible to infection.
I’d also think twice about using a night light in a child’s room because artificial light can disrupt the sleep pattern by suppressing the body’s production of melatonin. The commonly used LEDs and CFLs are especially problematic as they emit blue light and affect melatonin more than any other light.
Never ignore the influence of stress on a child’s immune system. And if you think kids can’t get stressed out, think again. School is a very competitive environment not only because of tests and grades but also due to peer pressure. Kids are also trying hard to make the team, nail the recital, score that trophy, or to impress you in other ways. And then there is puberty, of course.
Stress is another contributor to unbalanced gut flora and can compromise a child’s immune system.
My advice? Be sure to talk to your kids regularly and address issues immediately.
Regular exercise is critical for a child’s well-functioning immune system.
Movement increases blood flow which improves the circulation of immune cells. The better the cells circulate, the more efficient the immune system is at locating and targeting foreign pathogens.
#12 TRIED-AND-TRUE SIMPLE HYGIENE MEASURES
- Avoiding contact with vulnerable people when sick.
- Keeping hands away from face (easier said than done but worth repeating nonetheless).
- Covering face when sneezing with the crook of one’s elbow.
You may have noticed that there is something missing on this list. Something you’re probably used to seeing a lot, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.
Vitamin D is a very effective antimicrobial agent that plays an important role in a healthy immune system. You can get vitamin D from sunlight exposure (less the sunscreen of course), from foods containing vitamin D (eggs, cheese, specific mushrooms, fatty fish), from vitamin D-fortified foods, or from various supplements.
I generally don’t give my kids a vitamin D supplement because just as too little vitamin D isn’t ideal, neither is too much of it. They spend a lot of time outside during the warm months and eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin D. However, we ARE currently supplementing (and experimenting) with cod liver oil for unrelated issues (that darned cavity!), so you may hear me talking about it. It’s not something we do every year or on a regular basis.
If you want to give your child a vitamin D supplement:
- I’d recommend a natural source like cod liver oil over cholecalciferol, a synthetic D3.
- Consider giving vitamin K2 along with vitamin D. D enhances the absorption of calcium, and K2 helps with distribution to the right places in the body (like bones and teeth).
- Not giving a D supplement before or close to bedtime might be smart since doing so could disrupt your child’s sleep. (Vitamin D temporarily pauses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.)
Disclaimer: This article is based on my personal experience and research and should not be used in place of medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider before making any medical decisions.