- Flu season is here, which means families need to take extra precautions to keep children from getting sick.
- Jaya Vas, who has a PhD in immunology, advocates for standard preventative measures, including vaccines and consistent hand washing.
- The mother of one also encourages parents to test their childrens' vitamin D levels and consider giving elderberry and turmeric.
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Flu season is here. But I'm not all that worried. I have a PhD in immunology and have put that training to good use in protecting my now 5-year-old daughter from getting sick. I take all the standard precautions to safeguard against the sniffles, by vaccinating and practicing sensible hand washing (while still largely avoiding hand sanitizers), but there's still a lot more to do to keep sickness at bay.
Make sure your child's Vitamin D levels are not low
One issue that may affect your child's ability to fight infection is a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D has a three-fold role in the immune system – it fights infections and curbs autoimmune processes as well as inflammation. Vitamin D deficiency increases risks for a number of health issues, including repeatedly falling ill.
The main source of Vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is somewhat common, and worsens in winter when people don't get outside as much.
Between 12% and 24% of infants, children, and adolescents are Vitamin D deficient, with breastfed babies being at a higher risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that in their first year of life, babies get 400 IU of Vitamin D daily. The AAP advises parents to give an oral Vitamin D supplement to breastfeeding infants and to those who consume less than 1 liter of infant formula a day.
By conservative estimates, children and adolescents need 600 IU each day. It's ideal for children and adolescents to get Vitamin D from natural sources, experts say.
If you're concerned that your child isn't getting enough from sunlight exposure, or is showing warning signs like being tired or falling ill often, consult your pediatrician about a potential Vitamin D deficiency.
I give my daughter the recommended dose all year round with a probiotic called BioGaia that is fortified with Vitamin D.
Serve foods rich in Omega-3s
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Omega 3s play a crucial role in brain and vision development, and we're just beginning to understand the role they play in the immune system. As with most things, getting some but not too much is prudent. Ensuring your child's diet has some omega 3s, either regularly through food — including wild-caught salmon and walnuts — or supplementing periodically is a good idea. A breastfeeding mom should also eat a generous amount of foods containing omega 3s so that the nutrients are transferred to the baby.
Try a protective probiotic
Part of my child's "regular maintenance" protocol is taking a probiotic — Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938, marketed as Biogaia. Originally discovered in breastmilk, part of its potential protective mechanism is the broad spectrum of antibiotic (reuterin) it produces, which may limit colonization by pathogenic bacteria.
In small research studies, it has been shown to protect against both GI tract and respiratory infections, reduce colic in breastmilk fed infants, and potentially protect against cavities. Taken together, the evidence suggests the probiotic microorganism may improve health in a variety of contexts.
Given the limited evidence, there is no recommendation for regular use. But since Biogaia's safety is well-established and the cost is reasonable (about $30 for a two-month supply), I elected to give it regularly to my child since birth, and will continue doing so. (Be aware: the majority of probiotics have minimal to no research to back up their claims).
Give turmeric when you see signs of illness
Turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes in India for centuries. As modern science is now discovering, its main component — curcumin — has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-cancer properties. It could potentially help in fending off both viral and bacterial infections and combat the deleterious effects of inflammation.
However, drinking a turmeric extract in water (in say, a latte or smoothie) is close to useless because it absorbs poorly when dissolved in water. What little is absorbed is then rapidly eliminated by the liver.
Turmeric should be dissolved in oil, ideally, for absorption. For maximum effect, pair it with piperine, a component of black pepper that prevents the rapid elimination.
When my daughter is ill, I serve her either a home-brew of turmeric in coconut oil with black pepper (taken with manuka honey, milk, or both), or a supplement that contains liposome-encapsulated turmeric plus piperine three to four times a day until her fever breaks.
Turn to elderberry to help fight flu and other viral infections
Elderberry extracts have also been used medicinally for centuries. In studies in vitro, and in mice, and humans, elderberry has been shown to help reduce the severity and length of the flu, and can help in fighting other viral infections too.
Some parents go so far as to give elderberry to their children every day. However, this is both unnecessary and potentially dangerous: Elderberry has medicinal properties that could actually interfere with normal functioning. For example, elderberry extracts inhibit functioning of ribosomes, which are required for protein production. They may exacerbate autoimmune diseases and their long-term safety has not been studied.
Consult with your pediatrician to determine the appropriate dose for your child.
How has all this helped? While it is impossible to be sure, I can say for certain that my daughter has never had ear infections, colic, or constipation. We've almost never had an infection that required antibiotics. Illness rarely strikes, and when it does, it subsides quickly. We have gone years without a fever, and when it comes, it usually resolves within 24 hours.
That's good enough for me.
- Read more:
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- You can't sweat out a cold, and trying to could make it harder for you to recover
- The flu vaccine is not 100% effective but you should still get it every year