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Immune Support for Kids during the Winter Months

November 28th, 2013

by Mary Bove, ND

As a naturopathic physician working with families I have many parents ask me how to support their child’s immune system during the winter season when the likelihood of getting a cold or flu goes up. Implementing a few basic strategies into the child’s daily routine can help immensely. The young immune system has a strong innate healing ability, which can be supported and nurtured during the winter season allowing the immune system to develop a strong and healthy defense response. The digestive system and the channels of elimination for toxins and waste from the body also play a role here along with the neuroendocrine system and the stress response.

Ensure that your child has plenty of fluids in their daily routine including water, herbal teas like spearmint, lemon balm, and nettle, and diluted fruit juice such as elderberry or Acai berry. Dehydration works against the immune system weakening the immune response and mucus membranes ability to protect the body. Include warming foods and spices in the child’s diet along with plenty of high fiber foods to support the channels of elimination and the digestive microflora. The digestive microflora plays an important role in immune health and development. Current research has shown that children who use probiotics are less likely to develop upper respiratory infections, flu, or digestive infection.1

With cold and flu season occurring during the darker months of the year, which is a time that our body makes little vitamin D, I suggest daily supplementation. Vitamin D improves immune response, strengthens the respiratory system, and contributes to the function of many metabolic pathways in the body. Combining the vitamin D source with high quality Omega 3 fish oil provides the child with additional immune support, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activity to build the defenses.

The dark blue/black fruit from the Elder shrub has a long history of traditional use in the treatment of colds and flu during the winter season. Clinical trials conducted within the past fifteen years have supported the traditional use of Elderberry for reducing the duration and severity of fever, headache, muscle ache, mucus production, and nasal congestion associated with colds and flu2. Many flavonoid compounds contribute to the immune action of elderberry, blocking the virus from attaching to the host cells3 thus reducing the virus’s ability to reproduce and flourish within the body. The use of elderberry as part of a daily immune support plan during cold and flu season also helps to reduce oxidative stress. My favorite herb to combine with Elderberry for daily immune support is Andrographis. Current research on this herbal medicine supports the traditional use of this herb to support a healthy immune response and normal levels of inflammation that dispels heat and removes toxins. Clinical trials show that Andrographis is effective in the treatment of acute infectious viral or bacterial diseases of the respiratory, urinary and GI systems and decreases the risk of catching cold.4 It is a very bitter tasting plant so it is best given in a capsule, which limits it’s use to older children who swallow capsules.

I suggest keeping several herbs in the medicine cabinet to be used at the first signs of immune challenge, which with a child might show up as fussiness, irritability, lose of appetite, or restless sleep. Having the herbal medicine Propolis extract as a gargle or spray provides topical immune support for the throat that can be used at the first signs of dry throat or discomfort. Also, Gaia Herbs, Kids Defense Herbal Drops contains certified organic Gaia Farm grown Echinacea purpurea and marshmallow root, along with other first line of defense immune supportive herbs for kids.

Two other herbs I recommend having on hand are Eucalyptus Leaf extract and Licorice Root extract. Many people are familiar with using eucalyptus essential oil as an inhalation steam and over look the effectiveness of the leaf as an anti-microbial agent in the treatment of respiratory infections. Licorice root helps to keep the mucus membranes moist, soothing irritation and discomfort. Secondly, it gives adrenal support at a time when the child is challenged with the stress of an illness along with any ongoing stress the child is dealing with in their lives.

Parents, remember these tips are not just for kids and may be applied to the entire family for wellness and prevention during the winter cold and flu season.

References:

1. Hatakka K et al: effect on long-term consumption of probiotic milk on infections in children attending day care centers: double-blind, randomized trial, Clin Nutr Aug; 24(4):481-91,2005

2. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr; 32(2):132-40.

3. King HF. Pilot clinical study on a proprietary elderberry extract: efficacy in addressing influenza symptoms. Online Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics. 2009;5: 32-43.

4. Caceres DD, Hancke JL, Burgos RZ, et al. Andrographis Clinical Trial; Phytomed 1997; 4 (2) 101-104