Updated: Aug 23, 2020
With the new school year quickly approaching and with so much uncertainty about what this coming school year will bring, many parents are looking for strategies to strengthen their children’s immune system. Since kids will NOT be allowed to enter the school premises with so much as a sniffle, it’s understandable that parents want to ensure their kids are healthy and their immune systems are STRONG!
I’ve been getting a lot of parents asking me what I’m doing for my girls because come September they will be heading to daycare. My older one has been attending daycare since she was 9 months old but my younger one will be entering daycare for the first time. If you remember when your little ones first started school, you might remember the constant colds and chronic runny noses. You likely remember all the sick days you had to take off work – I surely do. Now with all the new measures schools are taking to ensure the health and safety of the students and staff, you can imagine those sick days being more frequent and longer lasting. The idea of having kids getting tested for Covid19 can be anxiety provoking for both parents and kids, after all, who wants to get a giant Q Tip shoved so far up their nose it basically touches their brain? I don’t and I bet you don’t either! The idea of holding down my 1.5 year old and keeping her still for that test does not sound enticing in the least.
So we can’t control Covid19. It’s here. It’s not going anywhere and we don’t know how much longer we will be in this pandemic state for. The uncertainty is scary, it’s frustrating and more than anything, I think we, as parents, are just tired of the unknown.
So what can you do to help support your child’s immune system? Taking an active role in your child’s healthcare can be very empowering, especially in these unprecedented times. So here is my general list. I apologize in advance for its length but I feel all the information I’m providing is extremely important. It is not specific to Covid19 but is all encompassing when it comes to cold and flu prevention. If you have questions about specific doses or products, please feel free to reach out to me and book a visit for your child, as supplements are not a one-size-fits all approach and different products work best for different children. I have been working with the pediatric population for more than 10 years and am currently offering online visits to anyone in Ontario. As always, visits are covered by Extended Health Insurance, under Naturopathic Medicine. To learn more or schedule a complimentary consultation, click here.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is vital for maintaining your child’s health. Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C can be found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits, apples, peppers, broccoli and tomatoes. I love the concept of food as medicine but during these times, I highly recommend supplementing with additional Vitamin C, whether in powder, liquid or chewable tablet form. While the human body does not produce Vitamin C on its own, Vitamin C is highly concentrated in immune cells and can boost your little ones immune system. In fact, there is strong evidence linking Vitamin C deficiency with lowered immune defences. Vitamin C is one of the most cost-effective supplements you can include in your child’s daily regimen. But be aware: too much Vitamin C can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and nausea. If your child experiences this you will want to reduce the dose until there are no signs of digestive upset. Again, self-supplementation is not always safe and it’s best to work with a healthcare professional when incorporating supplements into your daily routine.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that has gained major support and interest from researchers over the last few years. There is solid evidence that Vitamin D supplementation can reduce the rates of infection in the pediatric population by boosting innate (nonspecific) immunity against viral and bacterial pathogens. Vitamin D’s immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory effects also play a role in preventing and treating allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose from allergies), supporting nervous system health, treating autoimmune conditions and contributing to building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Most kids (and adults) are deficient in Vitamin D and unfortunately, OHIP does not cover testing unless otherwise indicated. Since Vitamin D is not normally something we get from food, it is important to spend at least 10-15 minutes outdoors in the sun or supplement appropriately. Vitamin D in high doses can be toxic so again, supplementation should be done under the care of a regulated healthcare provider.
Zinc is one of those incredible essential minerals that is responsible for helping the immune system fight off illnesses and infections. Zinc has widely been considered a “gatekeeper” of immune function due to its involvement in regulating both innate and adaptive immune cells. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A deficiency in zinc can cause a malfunctioning of the immune system! Studies have found that supplementation can benefit patients suffering from viral infections and autoimmune diseases. Supplementation contributes to overall regulation of immune cell function by influencing several physiological pathways. Zinc can help combat invading pathogens and counteract inflammatory diseases. The dose of zinc depends on the age, weight and sex of each child. As with any supplement, it should not be self prescribed.
Echinacea purpurea-containing supplements are widely used in respiratory tract infections. They exert anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-microbial properties and studies have found that its use can shorten illness duration and severity. Unfortunately, the science on echinacea is conflicting and this is likely because different formulations use different parts of the plant and these parts vary in their actions and therapeutic effects. A 2010 study found that participants who used echinacea experienced a reduced duration of the common cold but the benefits were so small they weren’t considered statistically significant. A later 2014 review credited echinacea for having preventative effects in shielding people from the common cold. A 2015 review concluded that echinacea could reduce a person’s risk of developing a cold by 35%. Echinacea works by increasing the response of natural killer cells and other immune system fighters while simultaneously blocking the action of some viral proteins. Echinacea can cause a hypersensitivity reaction in some and its use should be monitored by a licensed Naturopathic Doctor.
Elderberry’s potent antioxidant and anti-viral properties have long been recognized for its effects against the common cold, the flu and other respiratory infections. Also known as sambucus nigra, it inhibits early stages of infection by blocking key viral proteins that are responsible for both the viral attachment and entry into the host cell. Elderberry is also able to stimulate the release of certain chemical messengers that the immune system relies on for communication between different cell types in order to coordinate a more efficient response against invading pathogens. In other words, it has protective effects when taken daily and can reduce both symptoms and the duration of viral infections. Studies comparing elderberry syrup and Tamiflu have concluded that elderberry is at least as effective as its conventional counterpart. If you choose to include elderberry syrup as part of your child’s daily routine, be sure you are using a high quality product that follows good manufacturing practices. Remember, its use will not guarantee your child from not getting sick but it will help your child’s immune system fight off viral infections more efficiently, resulting in less sick days.
The benefits of probiotics have been well demonstrated in many diseases, including digestive system disorders, skin ailments, allergies and viral infections. Simply put, probiotics work to regulate the host’s immune response. Since 70%-80% of the immune system is located within the digestive tract, an impairment in the integrity of the microbiome that lines the digestive tract directly results in a negative impact on immune functioning. Supplementation with specific strains of probiotics have been studied and found to reduce the incidence of beta-hemolytic streptococci infections, the main cause of recurrent pharyngo-tonisillar infections in children. Moreover, its use can reduce the frequency of middle ear infections, a common concern in infants, toddlers and school aged- kids. A 2013 meta-analysis concluded that probiotic use had a modest effect in reducing the common cold and a 2015 review of research on probiotics and upper respiratory tract infections revealed a probable reduction in frequency, duration and severity of infections, plus a possible reduction in need for antibiotics. Common food sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi. Be aware of misleading marketing! Probiotic supplements contain far greater doses than can be found in some foods and produce significantly more benefits than from food alone. A dose of 1 billion is all that is needed for a company to market its product as having probiotics but many people benefit from higher doses ranging from 10 to 50 billion. Different probiotic strains exhibit different health benefits. Before investing in a probiotic supplement, speak with a Naturopathic Doctor and make sure you’re investing in the right probiotic for your child.
I don’t always recommend a multivitamin but when it comes to optimizing kids health, I often do. Many kids are deemed as “picky eaters” by their parents and do not consume enough fruits or vegetables to get the health benefits of naturally occurring nutrients. If your child falls into this category, a multivitamin may be a necessary addition.
At the end of the day, supplements are meant to support the health of our kids and can truly be an effective approach in doing so. They do not replace basic cold prevention strategies such as good hand hygiene and in the case of Covid19, physical distancing and mask wearing when physical distancing isn’t possible. Supplements can be an effective addition to optimizing your child’s health, especially at a time when parents feel they have little control and so much on the line. I mean, we all have loved ones that we want to protect, jobs we want to get back to and for our kids, finding a way to help them feel like they are returning to some sense of normalcy. To learn about my top 5 diet and lifestyle strategies to optimizing immunity, click here.
If you would like a specific immune strategy for your child, please reach out! My priority is to help your child and family be their healthiest selves, especially during these unprecedented times. We will get through this together.