Pressing Questions Parents Want to Know
With back-to-school season in full swing, many parents naturally start to think more about children's health this time of year. We asked Better Nutrition's Medical Editor, Sam Russo, ND, LAc, RMSK, a naturopathic doctor in Vermont and father of two, for his supplement and diet essentials for kids.
What are some of the best ways to enhance children's immune function?
Here are a few ways to promote strong immunity in kids and help protect them from colds and flu:
Hand washing: This works as long as the surfaces that you and your child are touching are clean. Natural hand sanitizers can be more accessible after touching shared surfaces, such as school supplies, computers, sports equipment, etc.
Sugar and dairy foods: In my clinical practice, I have repeatedly found that sugar can promote mucus production, which in turn creates a hospitable environment for bacteria to grow. Dairy foods can also trigger mucus production in some children, particularly those prone to sinus or ear infections. Eliminating these foods helps decrease mucus secretions, so germs are less likely to take hold.
Movement: Inactivity decreases the immune response, and physical activity invigorates it. Getting kids up and around during the school day and engaging in a sport or movement art after school helps bolster immunity.
Sleep: A lack of adequate sleep interferes with the immune system's ability to "recharge," making the body more prone to illness.
Stress: Stress reduces the immune response, and chronic stress can alter our physical barriers to infection. Stress management, such as mindfulness exercises and Social Thinking strategies, are great tools to employ for raising a healthier, happier child. [Editors' note: Visit socialthinking.com to learn more about this language-based learning approach.]
It's also important to note that if your child is in a new school, he or she may be more susceptible to unfamiliar viral strains (i.e., viruses not exposed to previously). In this case, you and your child may have to go through a few more colds for a season.
When a child starts to come down with a cold or flu, what's the first natural remedy to reach for?
For flu-like symptoms, such as a fever with body aches and a cough, elderberry concentrate is one of my favorite early infection treatments. This tasty liquid can be taken three to four times a day. Elderberry has antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects and does not interact with any medications, so it is a safe first-line therapy for colds or the flu.
I also keep Esberitox by Enzymatic Therapy in my home year-round. It's a great general infection treatment that has been clinically shown to help shorten the duration of colds. I also give it to my kids if there are other sick children in the classroom during cold and flu season. Follow the package directions.
For sore throat, try slippery elm lozenges, which can be used multiple times per day. Gargling with salt water, several times daily, also helps soothe sore throats.
To calm a cough, I like honey. If chest congestion or a runny nose accompanies the cough, I add a little thyme tea, which helps clear out mucus membranes. Plus the honey makes it taste better.
What other nutrients are important for cold and flu prevention in kids?
In addition to a children's multiple vitamin (which is essential), I recommend 500mg daily of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, probiotics, and a protein-rich diet. For probiotics, look for a product that lists strain names after the bacteria names-this means that the strain has research behind it. Give probiotics with food (that is how bacteria get through your stomach naturally).
A lot of children eat too many carb-rich foods, which can cause mucus accumulation and increase susceptibility to infections. The solution? Try feeding your kids a diet higher in protein. This will help build a strong immune system because the immune system uses protein to create antibodies.
You listed multis as an essential supplement for kids. What's most important when buying one?
One of the most important aspects of giving children a multiple vitamin is finding one they will take. Using a form, whether a powder, chewable, or liquid, that is palatable makes their first supplement experience more pleasant. A multi won't help sitting in the bottle. Specific nutrients to focus on in a multiple vitamin include vitamin A or beta carotene, vitamin C, and zinc, as these are necessary for good immune function. The requirements for these nutrients vary by age. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University has an excellent resource to find the amounts to look for in a multiple based on age.
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