Back to school: Is your family ’s immune system ready?
Many of us are gearing up to send our kids back to school, or may already have released them into the crowds of kids. It’s an exciting time of preparation from shopping for school supplies and clothes to meeting teachers and classmates. With so much more exposure in close quarters, our kids’ immune systems are bound to be challenged on a daily basis.
Have you done the most important preparation of all to get their bodies ready – and yours?? Let’s dive into some foundational ways to build strong immune systems and go over my favorite natural remedies to have on hand to start school and every day healthy and smart. My proven formula is nutrition, sleep, exercise and a natural medicine cabinet at ready!
I am here to help at every step, as a consultant, Naturopathic doctor, and mom to show you how you can be in charge of your family’s back to school health.
I believe the most important step in building healthy bodies is what we put into them 3-5 times a day! Once the craziness of school and extracurricular hits, it is especially challenging to make sure that there are balanced home-cooked meals served on a daily basis. All meals are important but for this post, I’ll focus on Breakfast. Breakfast CAN be a whirlwind – I know how easy it can be to just down a bowl of cereal or grab that bar on the way out the door (I’m pretty sure I grew up on cocoa pebbles) –but we can do better by following a few simple steps.
*PREPARE: get as much done the night before including packing lunches, putting together backpacks, and even making breakfast! Making larger batches of food you can re-heat in the morning (egg casseroles!) or preparing overnight oats can be a lifesaver.
*BALANCE: Whatever you decide to serve, you want to focus on a combination of higher protein, lower sugar and carb, and good healthy fats. These elements will keep our kids blood sugar and mood stable and increase focus longer until they get to eat lunch. Same goes for lunch, but here it is a good idea to make their lunches interesting and fun so the kid’s corndog next to him doesn’t look tantalizing. I have been enjoying a book called “The Best Homemade Kids’ Lunches on the Planet” by Laura Fuentes for some good ideas. Eating the rainbow of colors is always a good general rule to follow and one that kids understand.
*INCLUDE THEM: Get them involved in food prep so they can feel connected and proud of what they are eating. Together you can talk about how the food helps their bodies and sneak yummy tastes so they know what to expect.
As summer winds down, our sleep schedules may need to shift a bit to fit into early school schedules. It’s best to slowly ease back bedtime by 15min a night until you get to a time that works for your kids age and need for sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
It is very helpful and healthy for our bodies if we prepare for sleep but shutting off all screens and dimming lights at least 1 hour before bedtime. After dinner, plan some outside time to get all the energy out and see the day come to an end, another signal to our brains to start producing that lovely melatonin we all need to fall asleep. You probably already have a routine in place by now but if not, now is a good time to start one as it has been shown to help healthy sleep habits. ZZZZZZ
Another shift as school begins is how much our kids move. A lot of sitting is required in school, so we have to encourage them as much as we can to get outside, play a sport, and just move their little bodies! Recess time won’t cut it. Exercise burns built-up energy and helps with focus when it’s time to get to business. Be involved and plan park time, after dinner walks or hikes, and whatever else your family likes to do together.
Natural medicine cabinet:
Below are some items that I consider a must to have on hand so you’re ready for the most common ailments your kids may bring home. As always, consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement or herbal treatment.
-Local honey, unprocessed: If over the age of one, honey can be wonderful for soothing coughs added to teas or herbal preparations.(Stay tuned for future blogs for specific recipes!)
-Onions and garlic: As natural antimicrobials, they can be helpful for multiple ailments in a variety of preparations. Incorporate them into daily recipes. (Stay tuned for future blogs for specific recipes!)
-Vitamin C, D, A and zinc: These vitamins are immune-boosting and supporting and lend a hand when we are sick. Vitamin D is often recommended to take daily in the winter months, since one of our main sources is through sun exposure, especially if you live north of the 37thparallel (anywhere north of Los Angeles, Denver, Richmond). Vitamin D comes in many forms like drops and gummies, but always chose D3 and not D2. Dosing appropriate to size is very important, especially for fat soluble vitamins A and D. Vitamin C can be a laxative at high levels so this should be monitored as well. Speak to your Naturopathic doctor for dosing and recommendations, and see below for a note on dosing.
-NAC: N-acetylcysteine is an amino acid that can thin mucous to prevent and treat ear and lung congestion. It is bitter so don’t try to give it straight as powder if your little one can’t swallow pills yet. You can open up the pill and mix it in applesauce or better yet, you can get it in easier as D-hist Jr, a product that also contains vitamin C.
-Magnesium: Magnesium glycinate can help calm and relax mind and muscles, while magnesium citrate can aid in constipation. Also a common deficiency in American’s diet (think leafy greens, nuts and seeds!)
-Kid's probiotics: Either for daily use if they need the support or during acute needs, it’s good to have some on hand or know what kind to reach for. I recommend finding one that has multiple, varied strains and no added fillers. Brands I use are Jarrow, Garden of Life: Dr Formulated, and practitioner only brands like Pharmax and Klaire labs.
-Electrolyte packets: These are great when your kiddo is dehydrated (vomiting, diarrhea) or is very active in sports. Look for clean versions that don’t add sugar or additives. You can also make your own very easily by adding some minerals and sugar into water. A recipe you can use:
Oral hydration drink
.5 tsp salt
.25tsp baking soda
.25tsp potassium chloride
2 Tbsp glucose (honey)
1 cup peppermint/fennel tea/ginger tea
-Essential oils: Eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary, lavender. The first three are great for steam inhalations during times of congestion, and lavender is a proven sleep and relaxation aid.
-Homeopathics: Rescue remedy and arnica and two great ones to have on hand, but consider purchasing a combination pack to have multiple options at your fingertips. Hylands has a large option one as well as a smaller kids kit. http://www.hylands.com/products/remedychest.php
-Herbal teas and tinctures to support fever, nausea, digestion, aid in sleep and relaxation, and sooth sore throats and coughs.
Single bulk herbs, tinctures or teas: Marshmellow root, linden flower, elder blossom, ginger root, peppermint leaf, fennel, catnip, melissa, chamomile, glycyrrhiza (licorice root), valerian, inula, wild cherry bark…..you can dive in deep in this area J
Echinacea: A well-known immune-modulator, you can use this both for prevention and during acute cases. In the newest and largest pediatric study of Echinacea, it was shown to reduce respiratory infections and prevent complications in those that did get them. Amazingly, it reduced the need for antibiotics by 73%! Good quality Echinacea tincture or tea should make your tongue and mouth tingle, so if this bothers your child look for others forms like tablets or capsules.
Elderberry: An antiviral herb that can be made into yummy syrups, there is hardly a time where this is not indicated for both prevention and acute illness. You can find it widely available in stores or grab some elderberries from your local apothecary and make your own yummy syrup,
Recipe for Elderberry Syrup: Adapted from Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal (Yields 2 cups) Elderberry may combat some viral infections by preventing viral replication
Dose: Age dependent, but >2yrs: 1Tbsp/d for prevention; 2-3 Tbsp./d with viral infection)
1 oz dried, or 3oz fresh, elderberries (Sambucus nigra)
½ - 1 cup raw honey
2 cups water
1. Place elderberries and water in a pot, measure water level. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer until liquid reduces to half volume. 2. Use a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth to filter out plant matter and press out liquid. 3. Gently stir in honey. Keep cool to retain heat sensitive enzymes in honey. 4. Keep in cool, dry place. *Lasts 1-6 mo. Shelf life increases with honey content
Immune glycerite by Wise Women Herbals
Immunoberry by DFH
Use this as a preventative daily during high cold and flu season. Increase dose during sickness.
Ear Be Well combo pack by Wish Garden herbs
Bronchial Wellness for kids by Gaia Herbs
Kids Tummy TLC by Herb Pharm
A note on dosing:
I recommend you ask your qualified healthcare practitioner who is educated in herbs and supplements before administering any new product to your kiddo. Naturopathic doctors including myself are especially trained in this area. As a general rule though, you can follow “Clark’s Rule” which is as follows:
*The Child’s Dose= (Child’s weight/150lbs) x Adult dose
A note on product quality and choice:
I only choose and recommend products in my practice that are quality assured through a variety of practices. Some of the products mentioned above are only available through practitioners like myself, but you may find them on Amazon. I caution against buying supplements on Amazon as there are quality and re-packaging issues that I myself do not feel comfortable with. Most companies will sell directly to you or can be found in stores such as Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Pharmaca, or your local co-op. If you want to buy some bulk herbs, Mountain Rose Herbs is a great resource with fair pricing.
So ALL that said and done, you do the best you can as a busy parent, but I hope some of these suggestions will help your kids and your family stay healthy this school year
If you have any questions or need more guidance on dosing and treatments, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-679-3402 to set up a consult or appointment with me
Jessie Miller, ND