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Boost Your Child’s Immune System, Naturally!

With the upcoming cold and flu season, we took the time to ask Dr. Sarah Anne Rothman, ND at Pacifica Naturopathic Medicine how our reader’s can boost their children’s immune system – naturally!

The common cold and influenza are viral infections usually caused by viruses that intrude into the nose, throat, sinuses, or ears. The pathogens travels either from hand to mouth and nose, or through the air on minute droplets carrying infected secretions from one person to another. Catching colds can actually be beneficial as it continues to train the immune system to be well tuned and capable of identifying and dealing with pathogens. It is important to recognize this and respect the body’s own ability to move viruses through and heal. If your child gets sick and gets over it within a couple of days this is usually a sign of a strong immune system- even if your child experiences more intense symptoms such as a fever, vomiting or diarrhea. This shows that your child’s defenses are strong and the immune system is working in a timely and efficient manner. On the other hand, if your child gets sick often and takes a long time to get over it, or if a child
always seems to be experiencing a low grade cold or flu but rarely spikes a fever, this may be a sign of a weaker immune system. Either way there is a lot you can do naturally to support your child’s immune system to help minimize the frequency and duration of colds and flu.

1. Sarah, what is the number one thing a parent can do to prevent that a child gets sick this season?

I said top 3 is that ok?

  1. Let them play in the dirt- dirt makes you grow- exposure to dirt and other microbes make our immune systems stronger.
  2. Hand washing is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to keep from getting colds or giving them to others.
  3. Good Nutrition: There is a huge correlation between adequate nutrition, immune balance and resistance to infection.
  • Vitamin deficiencies ==> decreased immunity
  • Food sensitivities and allergies ==> compromised gut mucosal barrier ==> decreased immunity
  • Protein deficiency ==> decreased cytokine production ==> immune response
  • Processed foods, chemicals in foods, irritate and cause inflammation in the GI mucosa ==> decreased immunity

2. What else would you recommend we can do to protect our kids?

In the diet:

  • Be sure they are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and good quality


  • Alkanalize: viruses and bacteria thrice in acidic environments. Try to incorporatelarge amounts of alkanalizing foods into your childs diet.
  • Limit refined sugars. Sugar can suppress your immune system and impair your defenses against infectious disease. 1 teaspoon of sugar suppresses your child’s immune function by 50% for 24-48 hours.
  • Avoid food additives, colorings, MSG, ingredients you can’t pronounceTartrazine, benzoic acid, carmolic acid, sulfur dioxide, caramel colour, sodium nitrate, BHT, BHA, Red 2G, blue dyes, all yellow dyes.

Supplementation Ideas:

  • Probiotics and fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, saurkraut, miso and pickled vegetables
  • Vitamin D- 15 minutes of sunshine on the arms, legs and face a day or supplement 200-1000IU per child per day. Vitamin D rapidly destroy the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including the influenza virus
  • Increase intake of omega 3 fatty acids- helps with cellular defense mechanisms
  • Herbal immune support: incorporate things like ginger, garlic, astragalus and Echinacea into teas, soups, food
  • Occillococcinum, influenzinum, Muco Coccinum or other preventative homeopathic flu preparations often work great. They work using similar ideas to vaccination but have no side effects, interactions or adverse effects because they are a homeopathic dosage.


  • Avoid overmedication: Avoid overusing antibiotics unless necessary- comprimise gut health, our gut makes up 70% of our immune system.
  • Let low fevers run their course: A fever is the body’s way of fighting infection. Bacteria and viruses are picky about the types of temperatures they want to live in. Some short term benefits of fever: enables antimicrobial enzymes, decreases microbe reproduction, increases inflammation response. Some long term benefits of fever: hygiene hypothesis: if kids are exposed young ==> less sick/less resistant when older because cells have seen it before and develop necessary defenses and tools to deal with it- dirt makes you grow.
  • Ensure adequate elimination: drink lots of water, make sure your child ishaving regular bowel movements and good digestion to help the body metabolize and eliminate unwanted toxins and pathogens

3. Do you recommend the flu shot?

Not usually but it is ultimately up to the parents. With any sort of vaccination, rather than giving my opinion, I take on the role of the educator and give parents resources and education about the pros and cons, studies and alternatives. Whichever way parents decided to go, I support them. If parents do decide to give their children the flu shot, I offer them ideas for natural support to avoid adverse reactions and side affects. Things like vitamin C and various homeopathic remedies are great at supporting the body before or after the flu shot. It is important that parents know that there are so many wonderful alternatives to the flu shot- so much you can do naturally to prevent the flu and I offer a lot of education and support around that.

4. What are the first signs of illness typically?

This is going to be different for every child- each child responds to illness in their own way. Often it can start with a shift in their personality- when parents say that their child isn’t acting as themselves- that is usually a sign of illness of imbalance. Physical signs such as a runny nose, mild cough or tummy ache can reveal that illness is coming on but other signs such as fatigue, changes in sleep, mood and behavior patterns, lack of motivation or desire to do the things the child usually loves to do, and change in appetite can all be the first signs of illness.

5. If a parent wants to treat their child with natural remedies, what should parents have at hand to respond to the first signs of illness?

Nutrient dense soups or veggie juice- veggie or chicken broth really works wonders (the minerals, vitamins and antioxidants in veggies are so important to help the body’s defenses.

  • Temporarily avoid dairy: most kids love it, so this is a toughie for some. Dairy is mucus forming and adds to dampness in the body. It can have proinflammatory effects, so at the first sign of illness a good idea is to temporarily avoid all dairy in your child’s diet.
  • Garlic and Onions: some of nature’s most powerful antimicrobials. Can use them in soups if children don’t like the taste. Also can make raw onion poultices to help draw out infection- amazing for ear infections!
  • Occillococcinum, Influenzinum, Muco Coccinum or other preventative homeopathic flu preparations often work great. They work using similar ideas to vaccination but have no side effects, interactions or adverse effects because they are a homeopathic dosage.
  • Probiotics: (see below under antibiotic section)
  • Vitamin C- acts as a potent natural antihistamine, antiviral and antioxidant. Helps balance the way the body reacts to microbes, helps break up mucus and dry up mucus membranes.
  • Essential Fatty Acids- potent anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, calming, immune boosters.
  • Vitamin D- 15 minutes of sunshine on the arms, legs and face a day or supplement 200-1000IU per child per day. Vitamin D rapidly destroy the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including the influenza virus.
  • Antimicrobial and Adaptogenic Herbs: Herbs such as ginger, licorice, elderberry, astragalus, borage, larch, yarrow, chamomile, licorice and mullein are great to have around in case your child gets sick. Herbs such as thyme, osha, grindelia, coltsfoot and sage are amazing lung tonics, antimicrobials and help break up mucus. Mustard plasters on the back and chest are also amazing to help clear the lungs but be sure to find a recipe that is safe for kids. Herbs can be used in various ways to help the body get rid of bacteria and viruses, move through illness and boost the immune system. Herbs can be given in teas, soups, treats, popsicles, baking, syrups, apple sauce, shakes and there are all sorts of creative ways to make them taste yummy. Herbs can also be used topically in baths, poultices and rubs. Although herbs are generally gentle not all of them are safe or without side effects. Be sure to discuss with your health care practitioner about which herbs are safe and effective for your child’s age, size and health picture. Each child is different and will respond different to different herbs and it is important to respect and honor that.
  • Natural Cough Syrups: you can make your own natural cough syrups which are cheap, and fun to make with your children. Elderberry, ginger and Echinacea are great ingredients to include in a cough syrup. You can also buy homeopathic and herbal cough syrups especially formulated for kids at your local health food store.
  • Herbal cough rub: Take 4 tablespoons of olive oil and two drops of one or all of the following: eucalyptus, sage, rosemary, and peppermint oil. To ease a cough and soothe the respiratory tract, rub this mixture onto the chest.
  • Steam Inhalation- at onset of congestion, daily until resolution. Place boiling water in a bowl. Add a few drops of Eucalyptus, Mint, Sage or Thyme essential oil to the bowl, place your head over the bowl and cover head& bowl with a towel. Inhale steam for up to 10 minutes or to tolerance level. This treatment helps to drain congestion from the head and chest.

6. When should a parent take their child to the doctor?

  • If their child isn’t improving within 24-48 hours of using a natural approach.
  • When to refer a fever: If toxic symptoms, if the child is under 3wks old, if it lasts more than 24-48 hrs or if fever over 102.2 seek immediate care.
  • If child is listless, delirious, in shock or not acting at all like themselves.
  • If you are unsure whether or not it is a serious condition or not.
  • If your child is coughing up blood.
  • If signs of dehydration are present.
  • If your child is experiencing chest pain with a cough.
  • If vomiting or diarrhea does not resolve.

7. When do I know if antibiotics are really needed?

Antibiotics can be miraculous, alleviate suffering and save lives. Some infections can be dangerous and even fatal if not treated effectively. Sometimes doctors don’t even know when they are necessary or not- as often they are prescribed without doing a culture to see if the infection is bacterial or viral. In the conventional medical world, antibiotics are often the first line of treatment for infections in kids, even if they are mild. Several infections can have dangerous sequele- so sometimes antibiotics are necessary to prevent these
Problem is they are way over prescribed, often when completely unnecessary.
They destroy both UNHEALTHY and HEALTHY bacteria ==> gut permeability ==> decreased immunity ==> recurrent infections ==>
decreased ability to respond if you tried natural remedies and they aren’t working or if child continues to suffer if you are unsure- if your doctor prescribes them ask how necessary they are. Ask what would happen if your child didn’t take the antibiotics.

8. What can I do to rebuild my child’s immune balance after having taken antibiotics?

Probiotics is the most important thing you can give your child after a round of antibiotics. Our digestive tract makes up 70% of our immune system so it is so important to support it after antibiotic use. 80% of our gut flora is killed off by one round of antibiotics-and if you don’t not supplement with probiotics afterwards it takes an average of 18 mos for your body to replenish the healthy flora that was destroyed. The main strains studied, and the mains trains in our bodies are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium. They act to prevent
malabsorption and gut permeability then in turn increase immune function. They also help decrease food sensitivities and environmental allergies. As a bonus,  healthy flora from probiotics help make B vitamins which are huge players in immune function.

Legal and safety stuff:

PLEASE DO NOT give any natural therapies to your child if you aren’t sure  about them. It is important to talk to your health care provider or someone with experience in using natural therapies to learn which treatments and what doses are appropriate for you and your child. Just because they are natural does not mean they are safe. Therapies vary with each individual. Some of these treatments will work well for one child, and others for others.

** The content of this article is for informational purposes only. The intention is to share knowledge and relevant information in the natural medicine field but not to diagnose or treat anyone or any condition. Please consult with your Naturopathic Doctor or Other Primary Care Physician before taking any supplements or health care advice**

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