While a lot of kids don't need much more than whole foods, play, and love to be healthy all year, some kids are prone to colds, sore throats and strep, coughs, ear infections, sinus infections, and flu, making their autumn and winter — and yours, a lot tougher than it has to be. It can sometimes even be downright miserable with missed school, missed special events, and missed work for you. Also, feeling sick is a bummer for your kids, and it's stressful as a parent whenever our kids don't feel well.
Further, in young children, over-the-counter and prescription cold medications have been a leading cause of adverse events and even deaths, so we need safe, gentle options for preventing illnesses, so we don't even have to reach for potentially harmful medications unless absolutely necessary.
It's so much easier to prevent illness than spend time on visits to the doctor's office and go through endless rounds of antibiotics that often don't really work anyway! Vitamin D may also play a role in COVID-19 prevention and severity reduction – a major added plus of you ask me.
If your kiddo happens to be one of those who gets sick more often than you'd like, or if you just want to do some immune boosting, here are some of my tried and true cold and flu prevention recommendations for kids. Immune boosting doesn't just happen over night, so you can start doing these things now, and then safely continue throughout cold and flu season (autumn into late winter/early spring), to boost optimal immunity, ward off illness, and keep your child healthy all year. These tips have good quality scientific evidence behind them, are affordable, safe, and you'll be happy with the results!
Dr. Aviva's Top Natural Immune Boosting Tips for Kids
Do a Nutrition Uplevel
Here are the dietary changes that can keep your kids healthy all fall and winter, at any age, by removing the foods that block immunity, and upping the game on those that boost immunity:
- Eliminate most sugar, and all fruit juice (homemade veggie juice with some fruit is okay a few times per week) and all soda.
- Eliminate most dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt) if it tends to make your child get congested or phlegmy.
- Increase leafy green veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens) and fresh or frozen berries (organic blueberries, organic strawberries), and make sure your child is getting 2 servings of veggies or fresh fruit at each meal.
- Make sure you child is getting high quality protein (beans, lean meats, fish, poultry) and high quality fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado) at each meal.
Zinc is an immune boosting mineral found in oysters, beef, and lamb, and to a lesser degree in pumpkin seeds, cashews, and beans. Taken daily for up to 5 months, zinc reduces the likelihood of viral infections, especially colds, absences from school, and antibiotic use in kids. It can easily be given as a flavored lozenge to older kids; for younger children try a liquid.
Here's the dosing by age:
- 6 months to 3 years old 2-3 mg per day
- 4-8 years old 5 mg per day
- 9-13 years 8-10 mg per day
- 14-18 years 10-15 mg per day
A children's or teen's multivitamin with zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D may contain all that your child needs, so check the label before adding extra. If it does not contain the doses mentioned in this article, then consider supplementing to meet these amounts.
A review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a major medical data review group, showed a 13% decrease in cold symptoms in children who took one gram (1000 mg) of vitamin C daily for prevention. The form and dose are “buffered ascorbic acid,” 250-500 milligrams 3 times a day, given with meals.
Here's the dosing by age:
- Babies up to 1 yr: 400 units/day
- 1-5 yrs: 500-1000 units/day
- 5-10 yrs: 1000 units/day
- over 10 yrs: 1000-2000 units/day
Probiotics, especially lactobacillus taken alone or with bifidobacter – which is another species – during the winter has been shown to reduce daycare absences because of fewer colds, are reduce the incidence of fever, cough, runny nose, and the use of antibiotics. Look for a brand that is in a powder or liquid form for younger children so you can hide it in a smoothie, yogurt, or apple sauce, and that contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter strains. Ther-Biotic brand is one example. They also make an infant formula, which you would give to babies (check with your child's doctor first!) 1⁄4 teaspoon 1-2 times a day, or a children’s chewable that you can give 1-2 tablets a day in children 2 and older. Kids 12 and older can take an adult probiotic. Additionally, for strep prevention, there is a probiotic that’s made for kids called ProbioMax ENT and is in a chewable form – which has been shown to help reduce strep infections in kids.
Vitamin D can help support the immune system and is important for overall health. We tend to get less of it in the winter because we're indoors so much more, and the sun is a major source, so I recommend supplementing starting in the autumn! All babies 1 year old and under should get vitamin D supplementation regardless of time of year.
- Babies up to age 1 year old, 400 units per day
- 1-5 years old, 500-1000 units per day
- 5-10 years old, 1000 units per day
- Over 10 years old, 1000-2000 units per day.
Using a nasal saline rinse has been shown to reduce respiratory infections in kids significantly. It's tough with young babies, but kids over 4 can give it a try, and it's something older kids can get the hang of. You can either go to the pharmacy and purchase a saline rinse kit, or a neti pot. I don't recommend adding any herbs — just use the recommended saline solution. Use the rinse 2-3 times each week.
Immune Supportive Herbal Remedies
What are some of the herbs you can use daily for cold prevention in kids? The ones that I recommend in my practice include:
- Echinacea, and the dose of that in kids 2-5 years old is 7.5 milliliters a day. That’s about a measured teaspoon and a half, and you can give that in two divided doses, so about three quarters of a teaspoon twice a day. And then for kids 6-11 years old, that would be 10 milliliters a day or about 2 measured teaspoons twice a day. Use that same dose for kids over 12 and for adults as well. Echinacea has been shown to support the immune system, prevent the frequency of upper respiratory infections and bronchitis, and also prevent secondary infections, so preventing infections from turning into more entrenched bacterial infections.
- Another herbal medicine called Andrographis has also been shown to boost immunity and reduce the frequency of upper respiratory infections, and also help to shorten their duration when they do happen. And that’s given at 50-200 milligrams a day, generally for 5 days if you’re trying to ward off a cold.
I want you to be able to spend more time with your kids and less time in the doctor's office! Sound awesome? Want to take a deep dive in learning how to boost your child's immune system using natural approaches, safely and from home? If YES, check out my online course Healthy All Year. You can study all of this with me and other mommas who share your concerns!