How to Support Your Child’s Immune System Naturally, All Year Long (Ages 2-6)
Keeping kids healthy is priority numero uno for most families, because as Dr. Matthew Perchemlides of Riverside Natural Health Center, notes “If we can somehow reduce the burden that colds, flu, and other viruses put on our lives, we can eliminate one of the major obstacles to enjoying family life.” Preach on good doctor, preach on….
If you are a parent you might have honed in on the recent article circulating on Facebook entitled “Being a good parent will physiologically destroy you, new research confirms.” It’s not news that parenting is hard, and sooner or later we can all feel like there’s some truth to the claim that parenting can “destroy us.” Even on the best of days—when your kids are playing independently, doing chores dutifully, eating all of their meals, remaining reasonably quiet in closed spaces, not hitting their siblings, you, or the family pet, and sleeping—the sheer amount of focus and attention parenting requires can leave the most robust individual feeling like they have been charged with the impossible tasks of Hercules. The fragility of children and the exhaustion that their caretakers experience, compounded by living in a place with extreme winters, leaves both more vulnerable to common and chronic illness. If we can somehow reduce the burden that colds, flu, and other viruses put on our lives, we can eliminate one of the major obstacles to enjoying family life.
In this two-part article for MiniBury, my goal is to educate families in our community about how to strengthen the immune system naturally, and how that method might differ from season to season. This article will focus on pediatric immune support, and the next article will focus on immune and energy support for parents of small children.
Experiencing common illness is the best way to boost our immune system because of the antibodies that it produces to those illnesses. When parents come to my office asking for a way to stave off colds, flu, and other viruses, I tell them that it isn’t possible to prevent their children from getting sick, but what often is possible and very doable is to strengthen their child’s immune system in a way that the viruses don’t phase them much. For example, when my son was a baby and I was still in my medical residency, he was sick with something literally every month, sometimes every other week. This lasted for three years, affecting his mood, his sleep, and ultimately our sanity. It wasn’t until I began to thoroughly research and implement the methods I am about to share with you in my family that our children began to respond to illness differently. Our children still get sick, but their illness is usually limited to sniffles, sneezes, and minor coughs. Every March when the stomach virus epidemic hits our town, our children feel crampy and have some loose stools, but fevers, vomiting, and appetite suppression are extremely rare. Thankfully we have not been through the same health challenges with our toddler that we went through with our older child, and I attribute it to breastfeeding, diligent hand washing, a more concerted effort towards a healthier lifestyle, and our pediatric immune support routine.
Every conversation about illness and wellness I have with my patients begins with identifying elements of a family’s lifestyle that contribute and detract from healthy living. When possible, improving any of the following lifestyle factors could help improve the immune function of all family members:
- Adequate sleep and regular sleep/wake cycles for everyone in the family
- Exclusive breastfeeding for infants up to 6-8 months and continued breastfeeding until age 2, if possible. Children under two years of age are treated differently and should see a physician when ill for an individualized regimen for small children.
- Reduced exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, mold, excessive dust, and chemicals form household cleaners, toxic paints, and auto exhaust.
- A whole foods diet, free of foods with additives, fillers, and preservatives, that is also reasonably low in sugar, which causes inflammation and interferes with healthy immune function
- Consistent meal and snack times, which help regulate blood sugar and cortisol levels and prevent the body from going into stress mode
- As much physical activity as possible
- As much time outside in the fresh air and sunshine to clean the respiratory system and naturally boost vitamin D levels
- Plenty of love and support for one another and time together spent in activities that bring joy to all, as science has documented a direct connection between the nervous system and the immune system, strongly suggesting that happiness and low stress might be the best form of medicine.
Doing Our Best, and Filling in the Gaps
As hard as we might try, our best efforts and intentions don’t always conform with our reality. As healthy as our children’s diets might be, there are nutrients that are important to immune function that are harder to come by on a regular basis. The following supplementation routines ensure that any gaps that exist in a child’s diet will be filled, resulting in better immune function and vitality.
A word about supplements: All supplements are not equal. Unfortunately when we purchase supplements over the counter and without the guidance of a Naturopathic Physician, we often get “watered down”, less potent versions and risk never experiencing the full potency and potential of the nutrient. Even if we are purchasing a quality product, A Naturopathic Physician will make sure that the nutrient is dosed appropriately for your individual needs. When you purchase supplements from a Naturopathic Physician, he or she can ensure that you are receiving the purest and most potent form of the nutrient so that you can experience its full therapeutic effect, which saves a lot of guesswork, time, and money.
Pediatric Immune Support Daily Maintenance Regimen
Every day, regardless of the season, we give our children the following supplements to support and strengthen their immune response. The particular product we give, as well as the dose, is completely individualized to the child and can depend on factors such as food allergies and intolerances as well as family lifestyle factors such as whether the child is a picky eater, attends daycare, or has other health conditions to consider.
- An age-specific multivitamin dosed by age and weight.
- An omega-3 supplement
- A probiotic, and for children who are not breastfeeding, a probiotic powder enhanced with bovine colostrum
- Vitamin D3
Cold and Flu Season Prevention Regimen
During cold and flu season, or the months of October through June, we add to the above a daily herbal antimicrobial, such as “Sniffle Support” from Gaia Kids, that is gentle and well-tolerated. We discontinue use from July 1-September 30, though some families choose to continue all year long if their children are in daily daycare or school year round.
Acute Treatment During Illness
While it is always advisable to seek the care of your pediatrician or naturopath for persistent or chronic illness, the following are safe and appropriate to start at the onset of mild cold or flu symptoms provided that they have been prescribed by a Naturopathic Physician specifically for your child ahead of time.
- A potent vitamin A supplement dosed by age and taken for 2-3 days only
- A gentle liquid zinc
- Stronger herbal antimicrobial such as Kids’ Defense, dosed by age and weight
Our Assembly Line and Some Tricks
All of the products I prescribe and give my children are free from chemicals and additives, and are the purest form nutrients available in a supplement. They taste great to kids too, with the exception of the herbal antimicrobial.
To give these to our kids we choose the time of day that is the most mellow and realistic for us. Rushed mornings don’t work as well as right after dinner, when our kids are fed, tired, and mostly compliant. We create a sort of assembly line, setting each product out on the counter, adding the products we may need for acute care, and giving them to each child one right after the other.
This routine ensures that our children get the supplements they need every day. They eagerly take the yummy ones, and if they refuse the herbal drops, we insert a straw into a couple ounces of juice and pour the drops directly into the straw, ensuring that they won’t be left in the glass.
When our children are sick, we as parents have to ramp up our care taking even more than usual, which can wreak havoc on our self-care and have a deleterious ripple effect on the whole family. Helping our children strengthen their immune response to germs and viruses can reverse that and leave more time for joy and productivity. In my next article for MiniBury, I will advise parents of young children how to create self-care and supplement regimens to help them improve their immune function and energy levels, ensuring that they are able to continue giving high quality care to their children in a way that not only avoids “destroying” them, but also improves the quality of life for everyone in the family.
Dr. Matthew Perchemlides, ND, FABNO, MSN, BSN holds a degree in Naturopathic Medicine, as well as a Masters in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine. He also has a degree in nursing from Boston College. Before Dr. Perchemlides became a Licensed Naturopathic Physician, he worked as a Registered Nurse in multiple areas, including pediatrics as well as all areas of adult medicine. After graduating first in his medical school class, Dr. Perchemlides went on to complete a naturopathic oncology residency with Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, OK, earning a specialization in naturopathic oncology. Dr. Perchemlides provides primary care to adults and children as well as specialized naturopathic care in the areas of oncology and chronic disease. He practices naturopathic medicine in Middlebury, VT as a member of the natural health cooperative Riverside Natural Health Center.
This article is not written to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. The information written in this article is intended for general purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use this information in the place of the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider. Dr. Matthew Perchemlides is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other information, services, or product you obtain by reading the information in this article or through this site.