Seasonal Allergies & Kids: Natural Remedies to Provide Sweet Relief

My babysitter called in sick last week. She never calls in sick, and that makes two babysitters in one week’s time, both with the solid work ethics of…well, better than mine, anyway. When she shows up again this Monday, she sounds like Kathleen Turner. Not a bad thing, if you’re Kathleen, but a little deep and hoarse for a ninety-pound pixie. Her replacement sitter meantime spent two hours the week before getting my little teething love to take a nap – only to wake him with a coughing fit. “Don’t worry,” she sputters, “it’s just allergies.”

If I had one strike to level against Austin as an otherwise Utopian city, full of lush greenbelts, outdoor restaurants, natural springs and outdoor concerts, it is that the outdoors here that is so seductively available is also a veritable minefield of allergens, nearly all year long. This Spring, however, seems to be bringing unique challenges. My kids aren’t hit (mercifully!), but if I had one complaint among clients that trumps all others — and creates all sorts of health complications and related conditions, it’s seasonal allergies. The clear runny nose, mild headaches, itchy eyes that may mark the beginning of a histamine response to anything from ragweed and grasses, to high mold counts, can quickly make their way into sinus infections, coughs, sore throats, eustachian tube congestion,earaches and generally lowered immune systems that leave your little one (and their caregivers) open to other invaders. This issue gets so complicated, in fact, that I’ve saved writing about it for years, hitting on it indirectly through remedies for cough and runny nose, sore throat, ear infections, but never addressing seasonal allergies directly.

I’ve waited long enough. Here’s what I recommend for seasonal allergies & your children: both for before allergy season begins for your kids, what to do if you didn’t see allergy season coming, and, at the worst, if your family never found it’s way out of one long allergy season (Austinites, read on…).

BEFORE THE ONSLAUGHT (in hopes that it never arrives):

I should say before going further, that stemming the tide of allergy symptoms can absolutely be a reasonable goal for most families. The trick that makes it easier, is to bolster your kids’ immunity before the season begins. That way you aren’t clearing out and drying up mucous, or calming frazzled nervous systems, you are getting them healthy — much as we all prefer the carrot to the stick, the carrot here is having children who feel stable, healthy and energized, a power place from which to enjoy a pollen-filled outside world. At least one month before your child’s peak allergy season, begin incorporating these remedies and immune tonics:

  1. Astragalus root: A staple of Chinese herbalism, astragalus (also referred to as Huang Qi), is an amazing immune tonic, with beneficial effects in boosting the wei qi astragalus root(1)(loosely described in english as our outer protective energy that is especially correlated to lung and immune health). In short, this herb is a long-used immune miracle. To prepare, take 4 long slices (in bulk form it comes in slices that closely resemble tongue depressors) and place in soup or boiling water for 20 minutes. If you’ve placed it in water, you can give it to your child as a tea, in 1/4 – 1/2 cup quantities, 2-3 times a day. It lends itself to soups as well — with a mild earthy flavor, it blends well with cooked carrots and shitake mushrooms – also great immune enhancers, or adds nicely to our Spring Healing Soup.
  2. Local Honey: in children over 15 months of age, local honey is an oft-touted remedy. Does it live up to its reputation? No scientific studies have ever conclusively investigated honey to my knowledge, but anecdotal evidence supports an inherent logic to why local honey might prove very effective: when bees pollinate flowers, some of the pollen remains on their legs — honeyultimately making its way into the honey we eat. The result for us may be much like homeopathy, immune response therapy, or even the theory behind vaccinations: when a very small amount or ‘dummy’ version of pollen or other substance (such as a virus in the case of vaccines) is introduced to the body, the body produces antibodies to respond to it. When a larger quantity is introduced, the body is ready. Like the logic? Honey is your ready-made homeopathic dose of pollen. Either offer it to your child by the teaspoon, or mix it into tea — a slice of lemon and/or a few small slices of ginger, steeped for 3-5 minutes with honey to taste is a tasty and popular way to give your child their daily dose of honey — plus, the lemon’s antimicrobial properties and ginger’s anti-inflammatory action make this an allergy super-remedy. Be on the lookout for a ginger-lemonade recipe for recipe weekend…
  3. Essential fatty acids: In addition to being ‘brain food’ for children, essential fatty acids have been shown in studies to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. So good for growing minds anyway, its a great idea to incorporate efas into your child’s diet prior to allergy season, then continue with it throughout (and beyond!). Great sources include flaxseed oil (don’t cook this, but add it liberally after cooking to oatmeal, yogurt, rice, greens, grains — it has a pleasant nutty taste to it), walnuts, fish oil or algae-derived DHA supplements. If purchasing fish oil (krill oil is a great alternative for non-vegetarians), splurge on a high-quality, purity-tested supplement — we want it to be free of all contaminants in larger fish such as heavy metals.
  4. Immune-building acupressure: I talk about spinal rolling quite a lot in both the Mommy’s ER iBook and the DVD series. Why? It is an amazing technique that most children look forward to – and, when done regularly, offers great benefit to the immune system. Spinal-Rolling-blog-sizeBy applying a gentle pinch-and-roll technique to the skin and muscles of the back on either side of the spine, you are actually stimulating every organ system in your child’s body, and touching on every point I’d use in one of my favorite treatments as an acupuncturist when dealing with any allergic response. Here, a picture is worth a thousand words on spinal rolling. I recommend it at least once a day every day for even one minute, three is even better, or as long as your child enjoys it. It is a great after bath ritual with efficacy that should not be under-valued.
  5. Remove & reduce environmental & dietary stressors: Pre-allergy season is the time to reduce the number of stressors on your child’s immune system — at least those over which we have some control. Notice that your child breathes a little heavier after ice-cream and dairy products, or gets excited-then-sluggish after sugary snacks? Now would be a wonderful time to put these foods or food groups on seasonal hiatus. Alone, they may not be worth imposing restrictions, but together with pollen, they may be the straw on the proverbial camel’s back when it comes to your child’s immunity.If ragweed is a trigger allergen for your child, studies show that raw bananas, cucumbers, melon and zucchini share certain properties — prolifinsprolifins, a similar proteins so you may try avoiding these as well (although some science suggests that these proteins get broken down by saliva.) Smoking, pet dander, mild food sensitivities are all potential immune stressors that you can look at removing. If friends, family or loved ones are smokers, encourage them to smoke outside, far out of range of your child (this should always be the case, but allergy season provides an important impetus if this change needs to be made.) Pets in the house that you suspect may cause a little bit of an allergic response in your child? Don’t ban the pet, but consider banning it from your child’s room. Give carpets and linens in their room a good washing and allow their bedroom to be a dander-free haven. You can stress to your child that these changes are temporary. When Spring or your other high allergy time of year is over (check the allergy reports for your area – it can be anything from just a couple of weeks to a couple of months that your child’s particular airborne triggers are high), decisions around food and pet can be revisited.

WHEN ALLERGY SEASON (and its symptoms) ARRIVES:

Sometimes, I just don’t catch on — either to the calendar telling me it’s ragweed time, or to the fact that my cranky son may be under some kind of environmental stress. Fatigue, clear runny nose, slight digestive disruptance. watery-itchy eyes, or allergy ‘shiners’ — dark sunken-looking circles under the eyes may be the first clue. Never fear, it’s still not too late to stop a full-blown allergy attack by incorporating the above remedies, and adding at least a couple of the ones below:

  1. Vitamin C: in addition to being an incredible antioxidant, which eliminates free radicals and their burden on your child’s immune system, vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties that make it a go-to supplement for children and grown-ups suffering from allergies alike. 250mg taken two to four times a day is a reasonable dose for children over the age of four (for chldren under the age of 4, start with doses of 100 mg at a time or less). If your child develops diarrhea, back off to a lower dosage. When allergens begin to decrease, taper your child’s vitamin C supplementation back to one dose per day, but don’t stop giving them vitamin C abruptly (vitamin C is water soluble and as such, extremely safe, but quick withdrawal can temporarily mimic the symptoms of scurvy – yikes!). My preference is always mineral ascorbate form with bioflavenoids.
  2. bioflavenoidsBioflavenoids: Bioflavenoids are natural plant compounds that provide pigment and act as antioxidants. They also have proven anti-inflammatory effects that are specifically anti-allergenic. The most potent anti-allergenic among the bioflavenoids is quercetin, which acts as a natural antihistamine. The most effective way for a child to utilize bioflavenoids is with vitamin C, which is why vitamin C supplements often include them. If you choose to supplement them separately, the dosage appropriate for your child would depend on their weight — the typical 150 lb adult dosage of quercetin for allergy relief is between 400-600mg, so if your child weighs 50 lbs, the dose would be around 200mg for children 4 and over (for under 4 years old, I tend to be conservative with supplements, so consult on quercetin with a trusted health professional). You can also encourage your child to eat flavenoid-rich foods — common in purple-colored foods, such as grapes, blueberries, and blackberries, and in apples when you leave the skin on. (PS mama, wine has flavenoids too, if you need a post-bedtime dose.)
  3. Calcium and magnesium. I don’t like a slew of supplements for children in general, but during allergy time, the right nutrients take on added importance. Calcium and magnesium help to calm allergic responses in the skin and respiratory system — especially, but not exclusively, when your child is deficient in magnesium (many kids and adults are.) A good supplement provides you with a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium for optimum utilization. A good dose for a child over 4 would be 250mg calcium and 125mg magnesium, twice per day during acute attack, down to one dose per day for a couple weeks after the attack has ended.
  4. nettlesFreeze-dried nettle: A heartily nutritious herb, nettle can be used to bolster nutrition, immunity, and act as an antihistamine simultaneously. It is particularly good for drying out sinuses and also for stimulating the lymphatic system. If your child suffers from chronic allergies, sinus trouble, or swollen lymph nodes during allergy season, this would be my desert-island pick. Dosage is as directed, for children over 4 years old only. Consider having your child take this with food, as it can occasional cause stomach upset. In rare cases where the stomach upset still persists, stop giving the nettle for the time being.
  5. Elder: Also called elderberry and black elder, elder is an herb whose flower and berries are rich in flavenoids — the natural plant compounds we discussed earlier, with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While most commonly used to reduce fever, elder’s natural tannins and volatile oils have natural astringents which dry up mucus in the respiratory passages. This makes elder an effective choice for children’s allergies – particularly if your child is generating a large amount of mucus, and a generally good thing to have on hand in your medicine cabinet. It can be administered as a tea, tincture or syrup — for children’s taste and ease, I use it in syrup form, using as directed, 1-2 times per day.
  6. Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange culinary spice that is great for health as well — alleviating muscle aches & pains, and even sometimes used as a natural cancer treatment (if I haven’t recommended it before, you’re almost certain to see it again in an upcoming blog on growing pains). It is an amazing medicinal spice due to its curcumin content — a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. As such, it helps heal inflamed respiratory tissues, along with resolving cases of excessive mucus. Because, to my knowledge, no studies exist on turmeric at medicinal dosages for children, I recommend it for children over 50-60 lbs, and stick to a conservative culinary amount, such as the amount you’d use in a good serving of curry — about 250mg (where, by the way, it’s the reason for an Indian curry’s characteristic yellow color).
  7. Saline rinse: This is as simple — and not quite as disagreeable as it sounds. Available over the counter, get one without preservatives — or make your own by dissolving 1/4 tsp of non-iodized salt and 1/8 tsp of baking soda in 1/2 cup of room temp or lukewarm water, then spray into one nostril at a time with a nasal spray bottle or a bulb syringe. If your child is old enough, have them blow their nose after you administer. If not, you can suck out the excess mucus with a bulb syringe as well. If making your own saline rinse, make a fresh batch every time.
  8. Face massage: There’s nothing like mama’s healing touch when your child is feeling ill — but neck and face massage serves another important function — moving your little one’s lymph system in the area of their body most affected by allergies. Using your clean fingerpads, with or without a little light olive or almond oil, massage at their temples, over their eyebrows, and gently from the bridge of their nose, down under their eyes at the top of their cheeks, following the cheekbones from the nose out in repeated strokes.

IF THINGS INTENSIFY:

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we can no longer tell if our children have allergies or a full-blown infection or viral illness. Often it’s a combination effect — what started as one has led to the other (eg what starts as mild seasonal allergies lowers immunity and makes your child susceptible to the virus run amok at school…) Here are some ways to assess the severity of your child’s condition:

  1. Watch the color of your child’s mucus as one indicator of how things are progressing. hiking-in-austin(1)If their mucous remains clear and thin, you are generally dealing with a relatively minor ailment or allergy. If it turns, green, copious, thick, you may now be looking at a sinus infection, or, if the mucous moves into the eustachian tubes, a possible ear infection.
  2. If your child starts coughing, this is another sign that whatever has been bothering their system has now moved deeper into the body. In Chinese medicine, the most superficial level of ailment is runny nose and other mild ‘head’ and ‘back of neck’ symptoms (back of neck soreness, chills, runny nose are signs of an initial challenge to your child’s health). If it starts to affect, mood, digestion, or lungs, or your child starts running a fever, it’s gone deeper and become more entrenched. This is not to scare you, but just to give you a sense of when to keep a greater watchful eye, and consider consulting with your healthcare provider. Also, check out our remedies section on cough & runny nose for further home remedy suggestions.
  3. Your child’s mood is a great indicator of how they are feeling. If they seem hyperactive, difficult to calm, or alternatively cranky or depressed. These can also be byproducts of allergies. Check out our Remedies Section on Runny Nose and Cough, or the iBook chapter by symptom — sore throat, runny nose, wet or dry cough, and handle it according to the prevailing symptoms.

The goal here, of all of these remedies, is to gently but firmly rebalance little one’s body, and make the outdoors feel friendly again, just in time for Summer fun. And if our babysitters read this blog and follow its advice too, so be it. 🙂

Natural Bug Remedies – For Your Garden, Your Kids, and Yourself

Today is a glorious day. We’ve been sitting out under our oak tree, both sons and I, in the afternoons — until my older son sees his favorite playmate across the street, and my little one decides he needs a change of pace (at least that’s how I interpret his nonverbal objections). Today is no different, except that I am noticing how timely our latest batch of homemade bug repellent is turning out to be – just made on Friday at the first sign of trouble, I now am watching the bugs hover. The repellent is working, but leave one spot uncovered (the back of Aidan’s knees were left perilously unsprayed) and they are there. I watch one mosquito literally hang out in the air around us, never landing…but it’s only a matter of time until hundreds are out to join him — and eventually one will be intrepid enough to risk stench of geranium and make his move…

So what else can we do? I joke about it, but mosquitos are one of the most unpleasant hazards of Austin summer for a California girl, not to mention occasionally dangerous transmitters of diseases I’d rather not blog about from any personal experience (and don’t wish on you either). I don’t like to be told what I can and can’t do by anyone, yet I’ll be bossed around by these tiny tyrants — hiding indoors, occasionally even running out of town for a break from it all. And we don’t have it the worst in the country, by any means. (Here at least, we have swarms of bats that live under our downtown bridge, who mercifully eradicate vast quantities of the problem for their dinner.)

Well, I’m not being run indoors so quickly this year. We’ve got the natural repellent (and it really is fantastic), we’ve got the bug bite remedies, now for some other solutions to keep our backyard the kid-friendly haven that we love…

  1. Remove Standing Water. We don’t have any (unfortunately, says my son, as he yearns for his own swimming pool), but if you do have a bird bath, swimming pool, or unchecked rain gutters, it’s amazing how fast mosquitoes will multiply if the water remains stagnant. Replace water regularly in bird baths, clear all potential clogs from the rain gutters, and, if you do have a pool — a) don’t tell my son about it, and b) make sure you are running the pump/filter long enough to ‘move’ the water — on average, it takes 8 hours to turn over an entire pool’s water, or so a pool tech explains it to me. This should be done at least once per week. You’ll also want to make sure the pool’s filter is working optimally and isn’t clogged as well. (I’ve been given a wonderful explanation on how to tell this by the surface ripples on the water, but without a visual demo, I’m lost — ask any good pool maintenance person for tips on this.) Create movement in ornamental ponds by adding fish (there are mosquito-eating fish I hear). The bottom line is that mosquito larvae thrive in stagnant water, and many lay their eggs on the surface.
  2. Plant Your Summer Garden with Marigolds. Marigolds are heaven’s gift in that they are both lovely on the eyes and repellent to mosquitoes simultaneously. Just know that they have to have a scent to them in order to work effectively in this regard. And while you’re planting…consider planting your garden with lavender, basil and catnip as well. Not only are these great ingredients for natural repellents and bug bite remedies, but their natural smell in the garden will discourage mosquitoes (and other pests). You can plant your basil next to your tomato plants to give them some pest protection (we’ve despaired of planting tomatoes in this climate, but perhaps you haven’t, brave souls!)
  3. Burn sage, rosemary, artemisia. Together or by themselves, sage, rosemary and artemisia give off pleasant, woodsy aromas that are unpleasant to bugs. Just be prepared — if you’re burning artemisia (also called moxa, which can be picked up in stick form from Asian markets or acupuncturists offices), your neighbors and guests may wonder if you’re smoking something…well, something that rhymes with ‘berry-fauna’.
  4. Buy a nontoxic mosquito trap. Hausbell makes a safety and eco-friendly with chemical free trap.
  5. Break out the pure vanilla. Caught without your supply of mosquito repellent, and don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the outdoor bbq? Mix 1 Tblsp pure vanilla extract (put this in your kitchen cabinet and it will also make your cookies taste better, I promise), with 1 Tblsp of witch hazel and/or water. Or rub it directly onto the pulse points of you and your little ones — behind the neck, ears, wrists, and puh-leaze mama, don’t forget the back of the knees again.
  6. Cover up. Come on, get modest. You do get vitamin D from the sun, but not between dusk and dawn. I put my little babe in sweet lightweight pants with the footsies and he’s all set. My big little one didn’t used to like to take his Spiderman outfit off (complete with Spidey-galoshes) even in the dead of Summer, so our greatest fear was heatstroke, not mosquitoes. We’ll see how it is this year.
  7. Hope to be blessed by common sense. Or good friends. Or both. Some years ago, my husband saw some lovely little tadpoles that had come to swim in a vase of few-day-old flowers. Not an animal lover by nature, he was still touched at the fortitude of these little beings, and wondered when we could expect frogs? He took extra efforts not to change the water. When our friend, a veterinarian, came over for dinner, Brian was quick to take him back to look at his crop of little tadpoles. Overcoming great laughter, our friend informed him that he was breeding mosquitoes. So if you need any extras, come on over to our place. We take good care of our biting friends here.

10 Great Immune-Builders

Well, it’s Spring, and for a nice change of pace, nothing seems to be ‘going around’ these days among school or neighborhood friends. Everyone’s healthy and enjoying our newfound flowers and gorgeous 75 degree weather (to my friends and readers in colder parts, I apologize for my insensitivity and promise, it’s coming…) Still, when seasons transition is always a good time to boost immunity, so that our children’s little bodies are ready for the weather and dietary changes that naturally come with the shift. Here are my favorite immune boosting tips, to be used during any time of travel, climate change, or when something seems to be ‘going around’, in hopes that we can all look forward to a happy and healthy Springtime.
1. Wash hands, and wash hands again

Many viruses can stay alive for at least up to two hours on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs. The single best way to avoid exposure this way is to have your child wash their hands frequently – and with soap. Worried about their thoroughness? Have them sing the “happy birthday” song thru in its entirety, while they rub their hands and fingers with the soap. When they’re finished singing, it’s time to rinse the soap off.

2. Give your Child Vitamin C — and more Vitamin C

Almost all animals create their own vitamin C — it’s that important. Human beings don’t – we need it from the food we eat and the supplements we take. In addition to being responsible for over 300 bodily functions, your child’s immune system needs vitamin C to run at peak levels. Without enough of it, your child is more likely to get sick more often and stay sick longer. It’s one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants. And because vitamin C is water-soluble, our bodies don’t store it, so your child needs to get the vitamin C s/he needs daily.orange-fruit

Vitamin C is found in predominantly in fruits and vegetables. Oranges have the most well-known reputation, but other fruits and veggies have as much vitamin C as oranges or more: kiwis, mangoes, papayas, red bell peppers are all high in vitamin C. Also try acerola (a west Indian cherry with over 1600mg of vitamin C per cup – compare that to 80mg in one orange!). Acerola can be found by itself in your health food store, or more often as juice, that can be mixed into other juices or smoothies. Try also goji berries, a sweet-and-salty fruit that looks like a raisin – we mix it into our son’s oatmeal, it can even be eaten as a snack on its own, or even baked into bread…

If your child has a history of low immunity, I like incorporating a high-quality buffered vitamin c supplement – taken to bowel tolerance. This can be even 250-500 grams of vitamin C 2-3 times a day (especially when your child’s immune system is under stress) – your child’s body will keep what it needs, and pee out the rest. If your child’s poop gets loose when she takes the vitamin c, reduce the dosage. If you have reason to suspect that your child has been exposed to a viral or bacterial infection, you can increase the number of times per day that you supplement his or her vitamin C intake.

3. Reduce or eliminate white sugar from your child’s diet

Kids love the taste of sugar. Breastmilk and formula are sweet by nature, and in Chinese Medicine, foods with a naturally-occurring sweet taste are considered nourishing and easy to digest – in small quantities. The trouble is that in the standard modern American diet, we consume a lot of sugar – in cakes, cookies, sodas, fruit juices, and even foods that we don’t associate with being a sweet, like crackers, cereals and ketchup. When you add it all up, there’s a strong chance that your child is consuming more sugar than it might seem.

Here’s the thing that no one told me when my son was a baby. Sugar can lower your child’s (and your own) immune system function almost immediately. In particular, sugar can reduce the ability of white blood cells to digest and destroy bacteria. According to research reported by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the effect of this immune system drop lasts for five hours, or more. If your child is fighting off an invader already, this could be just the drop that bacteria or virus is waiting for. If your child is ingesting sugar continuously throughout the day, even in small quantities, his or her immune system may be in a constant state of depressed function.

White sugar is especially hard on your child’s system. It has been processed, bleached, and all mineral content that exists in many of its original sources is lost. It breaks down so rapidly in the body that its almost like an i.v. of glucose into your child’s system – which can cause spikes in blood sugar to the brain and other organs, and stress on your child’s pancreas and general digestive tract.
agave-nectarSugars in their natural form still need to be used with real moderation – after all, they are still sugar, and can still have an effect on your child’s immune system, especially in larger quantities. However, in their natural form, they still contain essential minerals, and generally have a lower glycemic index – meaning that they break down more slowly in your child’s body – minimizing the blood sugar peaks-and-valleys. When you are going to use sugar in baking or to sweeten, consider using:

  • Maple syrup or maple crystals
  • Honey – in children over the age of one (in baking, can be sweeter than sugar, may have to modify accordingly)
  • 
Molasses
  • 
Brown rice syrup (slightly less sweet than sugar, may have to be combined with other natural sweeteners)
o Apple juice or other fruit sweetener

Cooking and using new sweeteners can cause some initial adjusting. For example, if it’s a liquid sweetener, you may need to use less of some other liquid in your recipe. If you’re using honey, agave, or maple syrup, you may find you need 1/2 to 2/3 the amount of sweetener to achieve the same level of sweetness. It just takes a little bit of practice. For more information on cooking with natural sweeteners, there are also some great cookbooks devoted just to this… Please don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar here – we have found that they can be quite difficult for a child’s system to recognize and detoxify. The idea is more to bring back sweet choices with more nutritional merit, while still giving your child the sweet flavor she or he enjoys.

Sugar cravings can result from an imbalance of intestinal flora or excessive intestinal yeast in your child’s body – which can come from a history of antibiotic usage, a diet high in sugar, or following illness. Sugar cravings can also result from insufficient nutrition – such as too little lean protein or beneficial fatty acids. Sweet-tooths can also be from mineral deficiencies – sometimes chromium, or other minerals are implicated. If your child has a real sweet-tooth, we suggest that you consult with a qualified nutritionist.

4. Consider Other Beneficial Supplements

Probiotics, whether from yogurt, or in supplement form, can also play an important role in bolstering your child’s digestive health and immunity. Some research suggests that children with high levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in their intestines – the good bacteria found in many probiotics are less likely to get infections than those with sub-optimal levels. Levels can get low from heredity, diet, illnesses, history of frequent antibiotic use. Probiotics may also be added to your child’s bathwater for some gentle exposure.

If your child is recovering from illness, looking frail, or suffering from lowered immunity, you may also try giving them royal jelly – up to 75mg for 50 lbs of body weight. Royal jelly – the food that transforms a worker bee into a queen bee, thereby living 20 times longer! – is considered by some nutritionists to be one of nature’s most perfect food sources. If your child is having any issues with food malabsorption or malnutrition, this may prove particularly effective.

Astragalus has long been used by Chinese medicine (and also is grown here in the U.S.) as one of the most effective ingredients in any immune tonic. Research has shown that astragalus increases the activity of macrophages (immune cells that ‘eat’ unwanted visitors) and the production of T-lymphocytes (white blood cells that are capable of seeking out and destroying viral proteins.) For children especially, astragalus can also work very well on its own, made into a tea or broth. Astragalus is a member of the pea family, with a long membraneous root. It’s the root that is useful here, and comes dried, resembling a tongue depressor. Put 3-4 pieces of the astragalus into boiling water, and simmer for 25 minutes. You can have your child drink this with miso paste or bouillon for a simple broth, or add 1-2 cloves of garlic, 1 white onion, 2 carrots, parsley and shitake mushrooms for an incredible immune-bolstering soup. Astragalus can often be purchased as a tincture from your local health food store as well, and is a particularly good choice if your child has swollen glands.

**A word on supplements here. Not all supplements are created equal. We love these immune-enhancing suggestions in general, but some forms of vitamins and nutrients are more bio-available and easy for your child’s body to break down. Please ask your practitioner, or nutritionist for suggestions. A reputable health food store may also prove to be a good resource.

5. Maintain a healthy diet for your child

A well-balanced diet, may be, above all, the most important gift that you can give your child for their current and later health. The more nutrition research that’s done, the more it emerges that an adult’s health, general constitution, brain development and number of fat cells in their body is very influenced by their diets as a child. This occurs at the biological level. As your child reaches developmental milestones, it is important that the nutrients required for growth are available to them.

Research also now shows that deficiencies in certain nutrients can lower your child’s immune system. Folic acid tends to be the most common deficiency, and can increase your child’s susceptibility to infection. Other vitamins that mediate immune response, and can cause lowered immune function when their levels are low are: vitamin c, a, e, certain b vitamins, magnesium, copper, and iron. You’ll need to consult with a qualified nutritionist to know if your child is deficient in any of these nutrients, and, if so, which ones. Preventatively, however, a well-balanced diet is your best defense.

salmon So what constitutes good nutrition for a child? Variety is a key component in making sure your child gets a good mix of the nutrients she or he needs. Here is a very basic list of things that most children should be getting on a daily basis:

  • “good” fats: essential fatty acids, found in flax oil, avocados, wild salmon, nut butters, cold-pressed vegetable oils – – olive oil, safflower oil, walnut oil; should be about 20-25 % of their total calories (margarine, partially hydrogenated oils should be avoided here; butter and saturated fats should be only moderately used)
  • proteins: such as beans, poultry, eggs, meat, fish, nuts and seeds; should be about 15-25% of their total calories
  • 
complex carbohydrates: such as vegetables, beans, whole grains, whole fruit; should be about 50-60% of total calories
  • 
vegetables and fruits: should be between 4 and 6 servings per day; at least 3-4 should be vegetables. A “serving” is approximately 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetable, except leafy greens, where a serving size is 1 cup

I recommend eating organic and locally grown foods as a part of healthy nutrition. Organic foods tend to keep higher nutrient levels, and are easier on your child’s system; it gives them less to fight against – no more pesticides or chemicals to fill their ‘rain barrels’. Locally grown foods preserve more nutrients due to less transit time between being picked and getting to your table. Its also great because what’s grown locally may be what’s exactly right for your child in your climate, at your time of year.

6. Become an expert on your child’s poop (and general digestive health)

In most Eastern Medicine, boosting your child’s immune system begins with supporting their digestive tract. In recent years, western science supports this connection between immunity and the gut – recent studies show that the majority of our immune cells reside in our intestines.

One important way to assess your child’s immune health can be by observing their bowel movements. Some variation in stools is normal. When you start noticing patterns developing however that may indicate a digestive problem that may be affecting your child’s immune system. Examples of problems would be a tendency toward constipation, loose stools, undigested food in the stool, pain in the belly or when passing a stool, lots of gas, or alternating diarrhea and constipation, consistent foul smell to your child’s poop. Any of these as longstanding patterns warrant a trip to your primary health provider.

Constipation, in particular, is an important imbalance to consider when assessing your child’s immune system. If your child is having a bowel movement less than once a day, is straining and struggling, and/or the movements seem ‘incomplete’, this could be interfering with your child’s ability to absorb nutrients, and weakening their immune system (as waste gets reabsorbed into the bloodstream thru the walls of the large intestine, and intestinal flora becomes imbalanced). If constipation is an issue for your child, make sure your child is drinking enough water and getting enough fiber in his or her diet. You can also make your child flaxseed tea – 1 Tblsp. of flax seeds in one cup of boiling water, left to soak overnight and taken in the morning can be a big help.

There are some other basic mealtime suggestions that can improve your child’s digestive and immune health. We recommend that mealtimes are as calm as possible and that children are expected to sit down to eat. We also recommend that parents reduce snacking. Constant snacking requires that a kid’s digestive system is constantly working. Focusing on fixed regular mealtimes helps regulate the system.

Another easy way for parents to help support their child’s system is to provide warm cooked foods at mealtimes on a regular basis, especially if your child is frail, pale, tends toward loose stools, or is recovering from illness. Children’s digestive systems are not “up and running” like an adult’s, so they may not be effectively breaking down food without some help from your oven or stove. The way Chinese medicine looks at it is that the breakdown of food creates energy in the body but also requires energy to digest. In particular if your child’s system is tired from illness, fatigue, or is showing signs that it is having trouble breaking down food on its own, in the form of loose stools, gas, bloating, undigested food in the stool, offering your child cooked bland foods can help them to rebuild, without expending energy on digestion. Grandma was on the right track when she made up chicken soup!

If your child tends to be more robust, however, to run hot, be sweaty, red in the face, maybe even tending toward constipation, including some raw veggies, salads, seeds and nuts may have a more beneficial and even cooling effect.

You may also consider incorporating digestive enzymes with your child’s meals. You can have your child take them immediately after eating to improve food breakdown, or I’ve known parents to break open capsules of enzymes and sprinkle them directly into their child’s food. You can also get them directly from papaya and pineapple (sometimes a little at the end of a meal can provide nice results.) Ask at your local grocery or health food store for their favorite digestive enzymes for your child.

7. Help your children get their ZZZs

A few words on healthy sleep – This may seem basic, but one of my great struggles as a parent was to understand that the amount of sleep my son needed, and the amount of sleep he thought he needed were two different things. While his enthusiasm for playing and reading books and exploring has always trumped his desire to sleep, without his beauty sleep his health and immune system suffers.

So what is the right amount of sleep for a child? Well, it really depends on your child, and the age of your child, but in general, your child should be getting from 10-12 hours of sleep per night from the ages of 4-6, at least 10 hours from the ages of 6-9, and at least nine hours from the age of 9 to 12. These are just averages. Your child may need a little less or little more, but if they are way off of this range, it might be worth exploring any factors that may be interfering with your child’s sleep.

Going to sleep requires a certain type of “letting go” and for some kids this may be difficult. For the sensitive or really active kids often this transition may be even more difficult. I often find the key to sleep problems occur during the day. Parents will need to look closely at the amount of stimulation kids receive. Scary movies, a very hot day, new foods, or lots of transition may create the occasional bout of insomnia or nighttime waking. The focus here is to help your child’s nervous system unwind.
If your child is having a hard time unwinding a nice warm bath with some lavender oil or chamomile in it may help. Lavender and chamomile have relaxing properties and the water element can also help to move your child into a more receptive or sleepy state.
After a nice long soak you can incorporate some massage to help your child relax more. With your child stretched out in a warm place on their towel you can gently work on their feet or their heads. In general massaging the feet helps to bring the energy down. Some children prefer to have her heads gently rubbed. As you massage your child check in to find out what feels relaxing to them.

You can also try chamomilla, a gentle homeopathic remedy to relieve nervousness and irritability, and to relax tension in your child. Homeopathics come as little sweet white pills that are dissolved under the tongue at least 15-20 minutes before eating. They are extremely gentle, which makes them an easy remedy for children. Sold at different potencies, start out by giving your child 6x potency, 3 times during the day, or right before bed for mild relaxation. You can also try Sleepytime Tea, a Celestial Seasonings® blend that includes chamomile, along with lemongrass, spearmint and orange blossoms. Traditional Medicinals® also makes a wonderful organic nighty-night tea with chamomile for children.

In Chinese medicine, the time of night that your child sleeps and the quality of that sleep can be even more important than the number of hours she gets. Sleep is the time when the energy of your body cycles through all of the organ systems, and traditional Chinese wisdom believes that the hours between 9pm and 12am may be the most important hours for your child’s body to detoxify. Some practitioners even believe that one hour during this window is equal to 2 hours the rest of the night. Experiment with the time you are putting your child to bed. If your child goes to bed late, try lowering his bedtime by 1/2 hour each night over the course of the week, and see if you notice a difference in his behavior, energy and tendency toward illness. In some children, just the time that they go to bed can make a profound difference in the quality of their sleep cycle.

In general, most children in our culture do not get as much sleep as their little bodies actually need to grow, detoxify, process, and function properly. One of the single most effective steps you can take as a parent to improve and support your child’s health is to ensure healthy and adequate sleep. If your child is having trouble winding down or staying asleep, please refer to this great Mommy’s ER video for tips.
8. Try gentle massage and acupressure
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To strengthen your child’s immune system, I also recommend doing basic acupressure and massage techniques daily. Parents can use the digestive massage techniques of spinal rolling, tummy circles, belly massage and acupressure. For video demonstration of these techniques, check out the Mommy’s ER youtube channel.

All of these techniques help to regulate the digestive system and the bowels. They also improve autonomic nervous system functioning, the system with which is responsible for regulating your child’s (and your own) immune functions. We encourage parents to incorporate some or all of these techniques into your child’s nightly routine, much like brushing their teeth, five to ten minutes a night.

9. Eliminate Environmental Irritants

Why look at environmental irritants in the context of building immunity? Undetected environmental sensitivities and allergies have a generalized impact on the immune system, kind of like a mystery movie, where someone is getting poisoned a little undetectable bit at a time. Your child may get colds, flus, even have behavioral changes and trouble sleeping aggravated by simple factors in the environments in which they live. Reducing your child’s exposure to common household substances, pet danders, or outdoor pollens to which they may be reacting poorly may reduce a constant barrage against their immune systems.

Here’s a list of some other things you can ask yourself, or start to notice as you look at your child’s different environments – home, school, out-of-doors.

  1. Is this an old house?
  2. Does it smell ‘musty’ when I walk in after having been away? … you may want to have your house checked for mold.
  3. Is this a new house – two years or less?  Do I notice any new house smells when I’ve been away?
  4. Do we have pets?
  5. Do my child’s symptoms get better or worse when they spend time on the floor in our house or playing with the pets?
  6. Does my child experience any physical or behavioral changes after getting vaccines, flu shots, taking any medications, getting surgery or dental work done? … we are NOT saying don’t do these things, but if your child is having a response, it could be a sign his or her ‘toxic load’ is already too high to handle something new – again like the last drop that makes the barrel overflow.
  7. How does my child’s daycare smell when I first walk in? Is it a new building? An old building?
  8. Do we have scented candles, room deodorizers, incense sticks in our house?
  9. Do we clean infrequently? How often are things dusted?
  10. Do we use a lot of chemicals, bleach, etc to clean our house? How’s my child’s energy, behavior, sleep, on days when its just been cleaned?
  11. Does anyone smoke in our house?
  12. How old are our pipes and our paint? Is our paint peeling Have our water pipes and our house been checked for lead contamination?

If you are answering yes to any of these questions, the best solution is usually eliminating the possible irritant. However, this is not always the most practical solution. Incorporating vitamin C in difficult environments can be a very beneficial practice for your child, getting them extra antioxidants that their bodies can use to cope.
Solutions can also be simple, such as moving beloved pets out of your child’s room at night, or even calling their bedrooms a no-pet zone.

Incorporating green plants into your home can also provide a simple solution – green plants help to clean up our air quality and help to provide us an oxygen-rich environment. Specific plants that are noted for their ability to detoxify their environment are peace lilies, gerber daisies, bamboo palms, Phillodendron, golden pothos, and spider plants have been found by NASA to best clear formaldehyde (a preservative used in cabinets and other woods, insulations, even new clothes) from the environment. Dracaena massangeana, boston fern, ficus, lady palm, miniature date palm, rubber plants and chrysanthemums were also rated as good at removing toxic substances from the air.

Ionizing air purifiers are another line of defense against the pollutants that enter your home environment. Just make sure that if your air purifier does produce ozone, that you only leave it on when you are away from the house. Ozone can be very hard on the sensitive lining of your child’s lungs and respiratory tract.
Mineral salt baths, or baths using dead sea salts can also be a way to remove toxic buildup on and through your child’s skin. You can see its calming effect as well – I see it especially with my son if I bathe him with mineral salts two nights or more in a row. Just make sure to rinse your child off afterward thoroughly with glycerin soap.

Finally, a word on children who live with smokers or are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke on a regular basis. Children with parents who smoke are admitted to the hospital with what has been estimated as 28% more frequency than children who are not exposed to cigarette smoke. Some of this may be due to the fact that exposure to cigarette smoke lowers levels of antioxidants vitamin e and vitamin c. It also is aggravating to the tender tissue of their little lungs. If your child is an environment with secondhand smoke, and quitting is not an option, you may consider establishing an outdoor smoking area, away from your child’s play area. Keep an indoor ozone-free air purifier in the house if you can. Change your filters frequently. Keep a lot of green plants around. You may also choose to supplement your child with buffered vitamin c supplements daily, to replenish what is lost from second-hand smoke exposure.

10. Provide a Loving and Low Stress Home for your Child

We all love our children (if you didn’t, I doubt you’d even be reading this article), but providing a low-stress home can be more difficult, especially, if, as a parent you’re feeling stressed and overtired – which is, perhaps, subject for another article, and one I may not be as qualified to write. My best suggestions for a typical 21st century household? Number One: be sure that you are taking care of yourself – like the favorite airplane analogy: put on your mask first, then assist your child. Make sure that you, as a parent, are following the preceding nine suggestions as best you can, getting adequate sleep, exercise, nutrients and rest. It is easiest for our children to get on board the behaviors that we are modeling to them.

Research on emotions is now uncovering that our emotional states can be even more contagious than our physical ailments. If we’re stressed, our child can pick up on that…and stress is the number one enemy of healthy immunity. Just one more excuse to indulge in that bubble bath, fit in a run or golf game, or take your favorite yoga class…

For your child, make sure that s/he or he is getting plenty of exercise, time with easygoing friends, time outdoors. Make sure they are getting extra touch from you. Even just rubbing my son’s arm as I read to him can noticeably improve his calm and our connection. These are the stress relievers of children.

An old Chinese proverb says, “a man is not sick because he has an illness. He has an illness because he is sick.” If your child’s immune system is healthy, it can tackle invaders that we will never know have been there. We may not be able to control our children’s exposure to illness-inducing viruses and bacteria, but we can help them to be ready and healthy in the face of any exposure. As always, a healthy immune system is the universal remedy.