It’s that time of year when coughs, colds and other viruses are being passed around, and I’m often asked what are some of the natural ways we can best prepare our kids for the cooler winter months and those times when their bodies natural defence system needs a boost. While nothing beats vigilant hand washing to stop the spread of germs, good nutrition and plenty of rest are essential to help little bodies heal, recover and conserve the energy they need to fight off any illness. Here are some nutritious foods, supplements and simple natural remedies that I use as immune support for kids, and the whole family.
Bone broth is liquid gold and the first thing I’ll reach for when anyone in our house is feeling poorly. Apart from being a warm and comforting drink that can soothe an achy body, bone broth is a rich source of vitamins and minerals and gelatin that heals the gut and supports the immune system. If you don’t have time to make your own, look for one that’s made using ethically raised organic or grass-fed animals. My favourite is this, I also like the one from here, and this.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced in the body when skin is exposed to UVB rays from sunlight and may be an important way to arm the immune system against colds and the flu by helping to activate and regulate the immune system – if there is a vitamin D deficiency, immune cells are not effectively “switched on”
A Cochrane review analysed the efficacy of flu vaccinations and results of the studies suggest that vitamin D supplements may be almost 6 times more effective at preventing the flu than vaccination. To boost your child’s vitamin D, they should practice safe sun exposure all year round and eat foods that are high in vitamin D like: sardines, organic liver, egg yolks, and dairy and wild caught fatty fish.
Liver, and organ meats in general, are nature’s multi-vitamins and are 10-100x higher in nutrients than muscle meats. Packed with vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folate as well as minerals like: iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and copper, healthy fats and amino acids. Always look for organic livers or try organic chicken liver pate smeared on some veggie sticks as a snack. Try making my Super Duper Sneaky Bolognese with hidden heart and liver and I promise the kids won’t even notice the difference!
I like to think of garlic as natures antibiotic. It’s a powerhouse when it comes to being antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal and it’s a cheap way to provide extra immune support for kids. Getting your kids to eat raw garlic might be a bit tricky, so make up a big batch of chicken soup and go heavy on the garlic or steam some veggies and toss them in some garlic and organic butter or add a whole gloves of garlic to a tray of roasted vegetables then squeeze out the delicious caramelised cloves (that are much less punget for tiny tastebuds). Garlic can also be taken in supplement form.
The health of your child’s immune system is largely dependent on the health of their gut – where more than 80% of their immune system is housed – so improving gut health with will provide extra immune support for kids. The best way to do this is by eating probiotic-rich fermented foods such as: kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso and tempeh, or taking a probiotic supplement.
A recent review in the British Journal of Nutrition has reported the effect of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotic strains on the common cold. Studies fewer days of illness per person and shorter illness episodes in participants who received a probiotic intervention than in those who had taken a placebo
Prebiotics are fiber-rich foods that probiotics feed and grow on. A compound called butyric acid is produced when the probiotics break down prebiotic foods in the colon. Butyric acid is the preferred form of fuel for the cells that line the colon, and it serves to acidify the environment as well, making it harder for harmful bacteria to survive.
The best prebiotic foods are: garlic, onions, leeks, artichoke, green banana, barley, oats and properly prepared (soaked) beans and legumes.
Essential oils are a wonderful way to help provide immune support for kids thanks to their powerful antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Some of my favourite immune-boosting oils include: tee tree (increases white blood cell activity against infections, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal), clove (relieves pain, antimicrobial), cinnamon (stimulates circulation, heats the body and helps a fever to “break”), eucalyptus (relieves coughs and fever), orange (antimicrobial, uplifting) and rosemary (antibacterial, relieves pain, stimulates circulation). My Super Immune essential oil roller for kids contains a protective blend of these pure therapeutic grade essential oils, diluted with fractionated coconut oil, to provide complete immune support for kids. My Breathe Easy essential oil roller for kids contains pure therapeutic grade essential oils, including: laurel, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, lemon, cardamom, ravintsara and ravensara essential oils diluted in fractionated coconut oil, designed to open and clear contested airways; runny noses, colds, allergies, sinusitis and ear infections and promote easy breathing for restful sleep. You can learn more about how to use essential oils safely with kids here.
Vitamin C has long been known for its role in supporting a healthy immune system and research shows it can reduce the severity and duration of upper respiratory tract infections. The earlier that vitamin C is used during a cold, the more effective it will be – the best effects are seen from day 1-5 of a cold or flu. Foods rich in vitamin C include fresh seasonal fruits like: citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, mango and pineapple and vegetables like: broccoli, kale, capsicum, parsley and fresh peas. Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, light and oxygen and can be partly or completely destroyed by processing, storage or overcooking – so avoid store-bought orange juice and freshly squeeze your own. To increase the amount of vitamin C from your oranges, thinly peel the skin off with a knife, leaving the white bioflavonoid rich inner peel. Vitamin C can also be taken in supplement form and is pleasant tasting for easy compliance with kids.
Zinc is an important immune mineral which can inhibit viral growth and shorten the duration and severity of the common cold and upper respiratory tract infection symptoms. The best food sources of zinc are: red meat, poultry and seafood (especially oysters and shellfish), nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and beans that have been activated (soaked) are also good sources, particularly pumpkin seeds. Zinc can also be taken in supplement form.
Ecchincea supports healthy function of the immune system, may shorten the duration and decrease the severity of cold symptoms and assists in the symptomatic relief of upper respiratory tract infections. To be most effective, ehinacea is best taken at the start (if not before) any symptoms appear. For children over 12-months, I like this.
The basic foundation of biochemistry is also the foundation of tissue salts – that we must feed our cells the essential nutrients that they are comprised of to be well. Tissue salts are micro doses of 12 minerals, prepared homeopathically, that are important for the normal functioning of the body and a safe and effective way to provide immune support for kids. Iron Phosphate (Ferr Phos) is know as the “First Aid” tissue salt and can be used at the first sign of illness, inflammation or infection. Tissue salts can be chewed or crushed and dissolved in water, which makes for easy dosing for young children Tissue salts like this are readily available at health food shops and pharmacies.
A nice warm cup of tea can help soothe sore throats, clear stuffy noses and ease chest congestion. Green tea, licorice root and elderberry have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, which may work to support the immune system and ease some of these symptoms if they’ve already set in. Chamomile, ginger and peppermint tea are great for digestive and respiratory illness, but any non-caffeinated herbal tea is a good way to help keep fluids up. If your child doesn’t like herbal tea, just add a slice of fresh ginger and lemon to a cup of boiling water, and if you want, add a teaspoon of Manuka honey for some extra antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. *Always allow tea to cool down before giving to children. *Do not give honey to children under 12-months as it may cause botulism.
HONEY & ONION COUGH SYRUP
This natural cough syrup contains just two ingredients that you probably already have in your cupboard and is effective at relieving symptoms of a cough and providing immune support for kids. The combination of honey and onion is a well-known natural remedy that has been used to relieve coughs since ancient times. Both ingredients have antibiotic, calming and expectorant (to expel any chest congestion) properties to support the immune system and increase its response to viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms which cause respiratory problems. *Do not give honey to children under 12-months as it may cause botulism. For children under 12-months you can replace the honey in this recipe with rice malt syrup.
HONEY & ONION COUGH SYRUP RECIPE
1 red onion (white or brown onion is also fine, red onion just has a milder flavour)
2-3 Tbsp raw honey
1. Peel and slice the onion and put in to a sterilised jar or glass container with a lid. Then add the honey – enough to almost cover the onion – put the lid on and leave in the fridge overnight
2. Strain the mixture and transfer to another sterilised jar or container with a lid. Label the jar with the date
3. Store in the fridge for 2 days
Dosage: Take 1 Tbsp every 2-hours for the best results. You can dilute this dosage with water for kids that won’t take it straight. Older children might also like it added to a cup of herbal tea.
MAGNESIUM SALT BATH
Nothing soothes an aching body like a nice hot magnesium salts bath. Magnesium salt (magnesium chloride) is different to epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) – although both will help to ease tired achy muscles, promote a restful sleep and aid detoxification – magnesium chloride is naturally derived and more easily absorbed. Epsom salt is cheap and readily available at the supermarket. Magnesium salts can be found at the health food store. Add 1-2 cups to a warm bath and let your little one soak for 10-15 minutes.
OLIVE LEAF EXTRACT
Olive leaf extract has long been known (since Ancient Egypt) for it’s ability to support the immune system due to the antioxidant and antibacterial properties of oleuropein, the active compound found in the olive leaves. Research shows that olive leaf extract effectively fights against a number of disease-causing microbes including some viruses that cause the flu and other respiratory infections. Olive leaf extract is available in supplement form from most pharmacies and health food stores.
WET SOCK TREATMENT
Sounds crazy, but the wet-sock treatment is one of naturopathy’s most effective treatments for colds and flu. Here’s what to do: At bedtime, soak a pair of thin cotton socks in cold water and wring them out. Dunk your feet in some warm water and dry them off. Put on the wet cotton socks and put a pair of dry thick woolen socks on over the top, then hit the hay. By the morning, your socks will be completely dry and the alternating hot and cold temperature will stimulate your circulation and lymphatics, whose primary function is to transport lymph (a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells) throughout the body, increasing immune system activity and decreasing respiratory congestion.
CUT OUT SUGAR
Sugar suppresses immune function. All sugar sweetened foods and drinks should be avoided completely at the first signs your child might be getting sick.
I hope this post arms you with some information and tools to help provide immune support for kids, naturally. I’d love to know what foods, nutrients or natural remedies you use to help support your child when they get sick. Post your contributions in the comments below!
Disclaimer – Please always seek the advice of a healthcare professional before taking or giving any supplements to your children. Dosages for children are calculated using weight and age.