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Today's Family Magazine

9 natural ways to boost your child's immune system

Aug 21, 2016 09:22PM ● By Today's Family
By Christa Melnyk Hines

With the flu and cold season right around the corner, try simple, natural strategies to help keep your child healthy and strong.  These tips can also help the body fight illness more efficiently.

Eat from the rainbow.  During cold and flu season, it's especially important to avoid non-nourishing foods which can aggravate symptoms and make it harder for the immune system to respond to illness.

"Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system and it can offer seasonal protection from illnesses, as well as other health problems like allergies," says registered dietitian Joan Sechrist, PhD.

Vaccinate.  Stay current on your child's immunizations.  "Immunizations in younger years can help prevent disease as kids grow into adults," Sechrist says.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine, which is one of the best ways to protect your child from influenza.  According to the CDC, an average of 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu.

Get adequate sleep.  Kids need between 8 to 12 hours of sleep a night to help keep their bodies strong.  Stick to a regular, calming evening routine.  Also, power down distracting electronic devices that can interrupt sleep.

Exercise regularly.  Active kids are healthier kids.  Experts recommend that kids get 60 minutes of physical activity every day.  Take family walks or bike rides, shoot hoops, swim at your local community center, go roller or ice skating, play hopscotch or toss a ball in the backyard.

Teach proper hand-washing.  Basic hand-washing with soap and water prevents the spread of disease. Have your child lather for 20 seconds or say the ABCs twice.  Avoid overuse of sanitizers, which destroys both good and bad bacteria on the hands.

Take probiotics.  "Probiotics are fabulous in and of themselves for gut integrity," says naturopathic physician Shelly Clevidence.  "For increasing the immune system, they don't have to be live."  Look for probiotics in pill form or in foods.  If your child is sick, avoid dairy products, which contribute to inflammation and mucus build-up.

Try castor oil.  Extruded from the castor bean plant, castor oil can be rubbed on your child's belly at night when the immune system is most active, says Leah Hollon, a naturopathic physician.  Castor oil, she says, is both anti-cancer and an anti-inflammatory.

"Castor oil is pretty amazing.  We find it helps bring more white blood cells into the blood stream to help fight infection," Hollon says.  "It also helps get that histamine response down for some kids that have allergies, and it helps them have a good bowel movement."  Constipation issues can be worse during flu and cold season.

Consider elderberry syrup*.  Both Clevidence and Hollon say elderberry syrup (also available in a tincture) can help kids fight a cold or flu. "Elderberry syrup is one of my favorites," Hollon says.  "My kids love the taste of it.  Probiotic, elderberry syrup is antibacterial and antiviral, a general broad spectrum support." 

Elderberry has been used for centuries to treat wounds and respiratory illnesses and is thought to reduce swelling in the mucous membranes and sinuses.  *Consult with your pediatrician before treating your youngster with elderberry.

Power up with omega-3s.  A recent study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggest that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and plant sources, like flax seeds, chia seeds, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, could also help boost immune function.

Most of all, role model healthy living and your child is likely to follow suit--naturally.

Try to integrate these vitamins and nutrients into your family's diet:

  • Protein boosts the body's defense system (lean meats, beans, nuts, eggs, soy products and seeds).
  • Vitamin A helps keep the skin, respiratory system and tissues in your mouth, stomach and intestines healthy (sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, and apricots).
  • Vitamin C stimulates the formation of antibodies that fight infection (citrus fruits, red bell pepper, papaya and tomato juice).
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals in the body (sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, sunflower/safflower oils, and spinach).
  • Zinc is a nutrient that helps wounds heal and keeps the immune system working properly (lean meats, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans and nuts).