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Back to school means one thing: germs. With cold and flu season coming fast, it's more important than ever to do what you can to boost your child's immune system.
There's no fail-safe strategy for germ busting, but these nine simple strategies can help your child stay healthy.
- Eat from the rainbow. During cold and flu season, it's especially important to avoid non-nourishing foods which can aggravate symptoms and make it harder for the immune system to respond to illness. "Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system and it can offer seasonal protection from illnesses, as well as other health problems like allergies," says registered dietitian Joan Sechrist, PhD.
- Vaccinate. Stay current on your child's immunizations. "Immunizations in younger years can help prevent disease as kids grow into adults," Sechrist says. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine, which is one of the best ways to protect your child from influenza. According to the CDC, an average of 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu.
- Get adequate sleep. Kids need between eight to 12 hours of sleep a night to help keep their bodies strong. Stick to a regular, calming evening routine. Also, power down distracting electronic devices that can interrupt sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Active kids are healthier kids. Experts recommend that kids get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Take family walks or bike rides, shoot hoops, swim at your local community center, go roller or ice skating, play hopscotch or toss a ball in the backyard.
- Teach proper hand-washing. Basic hand-washing with soap and water prevents the spread of disease. Have your child lather for 20 seconds or say the ABCs twice. Avoid overuse of sanitizers, which destroys both good and bad bacteria on the hands.
- Take probiotics. "Probiotics are fabulous in and of themselves for gut integrity," says naturopathic physician Shelly Clevidence. "For increasing the immune system, they don't have to be live." Look for probiotics in pill form or in foods. If your child is sick, avoid dairy products, which contribute to inflammation and mucus build-up.
- Try castor oil. Extruded from the castor bean plant, castor oil can be rubbed on your child's belly at night when the immune system is most active, says Leah Hollon, a naturopathic physician. Castor oil, she says, is both anti-cancer and an anti-inflammatory.
- Consider elderberry syrup. Both Clevidence and Hollon say elderberry syrup (also available in a tincture) can help kids fight a cold or flu. "Elderberry syrup is one of my favorites," Hollon says. "My kids love the taste of it. Probiotic, elderberry syrup is antibacterial and antiviral, a general broad spectrum support." Elderberry has been used for centuries to treat wounds and respiratory illnesses and is thought to reduce swelling in the mucous membranes and sinuses.
- Power up with Omega-3s. A recent study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggest that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and plant sources, like flax seeds, chia seeds, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, could also help boost immune function.
Most of all, model healthy living and your child is likely to follow suit — naturally.
Homemade Chicken Bone Broth
Bone broth is an inexpensive, nutrient-rich stimulant for the immune system.
- Organic chicken carcass
- Organic vegetables (vegetable scraps are fine like carrot peels, tips of celery, etc.)
- 3 tablespoons-1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- Place chicken bones and vegetables in a crock pot
- Cover with water and apple cider vinegar. Cook on low for a day, or a day and a half.
- After cooking, strain vegetables and bones out, and discard.
- Use broth for chicken noodle soup or freeze in muffin tins and pop out for use in soups, sauteeing vegetables or as flavoring for other meals.
Recipe courtesy of Shelly Clevidence, ND