With winter fully upon us, the cold weather has seen a rise in children getting sick from colds and flus. It’s even at my house at the moment!
As a Newcastle naturopath, I feel there is so much we can do to increase our children’s innate immunity. We can use supportive herbal and nutritional medicine to ensure our kids are at peak health, especially coming in to sick season, or when sickness hits at school or day care. We can optimise nutrition through diet by increasing nutrient dense healing foods and we can reduce the risk of poor immune response by avoiding inflammatory foods, like processed snacks, sugary foods, gluten or fast foods.
When my kids get sick, I just want to wrap them up in cotton wool and shield them from the world. This is a strong mothering instinct that actually protects our children. It also protects the rest of the community from catching viruses. Forget about soldiering on, we need to fly the white flag, surrender to the illness, and stay in the nest and rest. Quarantining and recuperating allows our children (as adults, we are guilty of soldiering on WAY too much!) time to get on top of an illness before they go out into the world and potentially become exposed to more germs, or share their germs with others.
The hygiene hypothesis
Have you heard of the term the “hygiene hypothesis”? It basically means we have cleaned our kids to sickness. The theory is that the more cleaning products that a child is exposed to, the more it limits their bacterial diversity, and it gives the bad guys more room to breed. I’m not saying don’t clean; however, look at the ingredients in your products. If it says that it kills 99.9% of all bacteria, then perhaps that’s not the one we need to use! Utilising more natural alternatives that aren’t so chemically laden will be a big help with improving this outcome. It is the lack of early exposure to germs that can lead to an underdevelopment of the immune system. We do need a balance though!
We have to teach our children to wash their hands after playing outside, after using the toilet, blowing their nose, and before eating. This prevents the spread of bad bacteria. Teach your kids to sneeze into their elbows instead of in the hands (which they then touch everything with), or worse still is when they don’t cover and just sneeze into the breeze, letting all the potential harmful viruses spread over everything! Ugh, kids can be gross can’t they?
We can help build their internal immune army by allowing them to be kids and get dirty when they play! Splashing in mud, digging in the garden, climbing trees and sand play, all allow beneficial bacteria to populate our children’s microbiome. The state of our children’s immune function is a direct reflection on the state of their gut health. Focusing on healthy happy gut microbiome is a crucial key for supporting immunity.
Diet wise, limiting foods that feed the nasty bacteria and incorporating more foods that will feed our beneficial bacteria, is a really easy and effective way to do this.
Herbal medicine is fabulous for supporting kids immunity. Mother nature has given us the answers we need, in some wonderful plants.
My top 5 herbs for children’s immunity are:
- Elder is so good for colds and flus. It helps kids when they’ve got congestion, coughs, sinus infections, when they are so congested their hearing is affected and also when they have a fever. We can use both the flower and the berries for this and it tastes so nice!
- Pelargonium is another herb that tastes really yum, this is great for when kids have tonsillitis or bronchitis, as well as colds and fevers.
- Echinacea is so good for supporting immune function, it can be used for all viral and bacterial infections, it helps reduce inflammatory responses in the body and is great to use for tummy issues as well as colds and flus.
- Isastis, an amazing plant used in Chinese medicine that is so good for treating infections, including parasites, viruses and bacteria. So wonderful for all those grubby childhood infections like hand foot and mouth, mollusc contagious, and school sores.
- Garlic! It was such a big decision which plant medicine will get the last place in the top 5, and I have selected garlic for its versatility, its diverse use and availability. It’s antiviral, antimicrobial, anti fungal and has antiseptic qualities! So good for coughs, when kids have got lots of snot, bronchial asthma and even whooping cough. We can use it for gastrointestinal tract infections, to help treat worms or parasites and for fungal infections. It’s so amazing for ear infections. My girls get a drop of garlic oil at the first sign of a sore ear and it has never progressed further for them. You can use garlic, fresh, powdered, as a liquid tonic, fermented, in a capsule or in oil.
The best thing you can do for your child if you have concerns about their immunity is come and see us and get a customised tonic specific to their health needs. For example, my eldest daughter has inherited my childhood eczema tendencies and we utilise lots of immune boosting foods and even a specific probiotic to minimise outbreaks. My youngest has developed food intolerance to a whole family of food. So while we are excluding all the offending foods, her symptoms have cleared up and I am focusing on building her innate immunity by utilising herbs, and nutritional medicine such as cod liver oil for the vitamin A and D.
For me, natural medicine for immunity makes me feel empowered as a mother. It makes me feel like I am being proactive in my health choices for my family. I hope this has made you feel a little more confident in making these decisions for your family.
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Cheree Sheldon wants to support couples become the parents they dream of being. Having gone through the heart aches of repeated miscarriage and a stillborn baby, Cheree’s focus as a nutritionist and naturopath is primarily on fertility issues, prenatal planning, and pregnancy support. She loves supporting the health needs of babies and children, and wants to empower parents to be in charge of their health journey. When she’s not in clinic, she’s often exploring nature with her two beautiful girls.