by Randall Neustaedter OMD
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere kids are back at school and winter weather is approaching. This means dealing with colds, coughs, and perhaps flus. Prevention is the key. The first step for parents to take during cold season is to build immune function in your children and create the highest resistance to infection possible. We can accomplish this by activating the immune system and encouraging resistance through a healthy diet, adequate sleep, maintaining exercise even in the winter, and using nutritional supplements.
Diet and Lifestyle
A whole foods diet will provide the best support for maintaining healthy cellular function in kids. This may be a challenge for many of us. Kids crave foods that are processed and sweet. And they have many opportunities to eat these foods in their daily lives. The best approach is to avoid the worst offenders – corn syrup in the form of high fructose corn syrup or any form of fructose added to foods, other artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose), and chemical additives made from petroleum products (flavors and colors). Encourage kids to continue eating fruits in the winter, plenty of protein (meats, dairy, eggs, nuts, and beans), and whole grain products. Discourage candy and highly processed packaged foods. Get baked products from bakeries and avoid all fast food restaurants that serve nutritionally bankrupt foods filled with toxic ingredients. Eat out at Mexican, Chinese, Italian and other restaurants where they use whole fresh foods.
School is stressful for many kids, especially after 6th grade. Set a bedtime. Avoid TV during the week. And get kids out doing some form of exercise – riding a skateboard, gymnastics, dance, a bike ride, martial arts, or a team sport.
Give your kids nutritional supplements. Even kids with the best diets don’t get all the nutrients they need from food. Here are the essentials.
Vitamin D3 is necessary for healthy immune function. Vitamin D works by activating T cells to become killer cells that attack and destroy pathogens or helper cells that help the body recognize and remember pathogens. During the summer months kids get vitamin D from the sun and they don’t get sick often. During the winter lack of sun exposure results in less vitamin D availability for immune function. Every child should be taking vitamin D in the winter (1,000 IU for babies, 2,000 IU for toddlers through middle school, and 5,000 IU for high school kids and adults).
Vitamin A is needed for proper mucous membrane function. White blood cells, T-lymphocytes, and every cell in the important mucosal barriers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts require vitamin A.
A diet containing significant amounts of fat will help ensure adequate vitamin A intake. Whole milk products, butter, and free range eggs will help maintain necessary levels of this important nutrient. Use organic sources. For those who may not be getting enough vitamin A, a supplement is essential, and during illness vitamin A will assist in fighting off viruses when taken in higher doses (10,000-50,000 IU). The beta-carotene form of vitamin A from vegetable sources is not absorbed as well as retinoid forms from animal sources and a supplement of beta-carotene will need at least 10 times the dose of beta-carotene compared to a retinoid vitamin A supplement (e.g. from fish oil).
The recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin A is 1,000-2,000 IU for children, depending on their age (1,000 at one year of age, 2,000 by age nine). Primitive diets probably maintained 10 times that amount. One egg contains 300 IU, one cup of whole milk or whole milk yogurt contains about 225-250 IU of vitamin A. One tablespoon of butter contains 350 IU of A. The amount of vitamin A may vary by the season and the feed of the animals. Taking a supplement of 5,000-10,000 IU of vitamin A is prudent. There is some concern that vitamin A can inhibit vitamin D absorption and beta-carotene is less likely to cause this interference.
An omega-3 fat supplement in the form of fish oil, DHA from algae (Neuromins), or flax seed oil will establish healthy cell membranes that prevent inflammation and resist toxins and attack by pathogens. 200 mg of DHA and EPA for each 50 pounds of body weight is an appropriate dose.
Vitamin E will ensure that fatty acids are maintained at optimum efficiency once they are absorbed into cells. In addition, vitamin E has anti-inflammatory effects and increases resistance to infection. Use only natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol), not the synthetic form (dl-alpha-tocopherol). A mixed tocopherol form of vitamin E is best because children need the gamma as well as the alpha forms. An appropriate dose is 100 mg for children under two and 200 mg for children aged 2-12.
Breastfeeding is the best preventive for babies. Breast milk contain immunoglobulins and other chemicals that inhibit pathogens and have anti-inflammatory effects. Colostrum from cow’s milk and whey protein powder will have similar effects if given as a supplement. Use a high quality, cold processed whey protein powder.
Finally, several medicinal mushrooms have immune system activating and enhancing properties. Many manufacturers make liquid supplements of these mushrooms combined with immune enhancing herbs (Astragalus), some of which are palatable for kids (Designs for Health Immunoberry, Chinese Medicine Works Resilience, and Golden Flower Children’s Jade Defense).
The easiest way to give supplements to children is through flavored liquids or powdered sources mixed in a blender with fruit, fruit juice, yogurt or milk (rice milk for younger children and children with milk sensitivities), and honey (for children over 12 months old) or another sweetener. Capsules can be opened and dumped into the blender. Children can chew oil-based supplements in soft gels or you can stick a pin into them and squirt out the contents onto something they will eat.
Supplements for Kids’ Immune Systems
Colostrum or Whey Protein Powder
Astragalus and medicinal mushroom formulas