As school begins and crisp fall days turn into cold winter months, even for homeschoolers, most of us want to prevent a slew of colds and flu bugs from raging through our homes! Recently, you may have been reading or hearing about what is being called a rare respiratory virus that has hospitalized hundreds of children in ten states so far.
Enterovirus 68, which is believed to be the cause of this illness, was first identified in 1962 in California. It has been around for over 50 years. As the Fox News Report says, it can go from a mild cold to something serious in a young child, especially one with asthma, very quickly. Compared to the regular, run-of-the-mill cold virus, it is rare, but the same principles for keeping your kids cold and flu free apply to protecting them from this and other more unusual bugs we may encounter.
Here are 7 simple, easy ways to boost your child’s immunity and side-step the usual respiratory problems this winter:
1. Cleanliness is Next to Healthiness: I know you’ve taught your children, from the time they were preschoolers, to wash their hands often, but now is the time to really focus on the importance of keeping their hands as germ-free as possible. Cold and flu viruses enter the body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes or mouth. Every time they rub their eyes or touch their nose or mouth, they risk infecting themselves with a virus.
I recommend plain old soap and warm water. Overusing antibacterial cleansers can create resistant bugs so I suggest you save the antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers for occasional use when plain soap, water and a sink are not available.
Also remind them to cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough. Using tissues which are disposable or coughing/sneezing into their sleeve are good practices to get them in the habit of using.
2. Keep Them Hydrated: Drinking adequate water is critical. All our systems, including the immune system, function more efficiently when we are well-hydrated. That means replacing sugary juices (even orange juice!) and sodas with clean water. One more benefit is that water is a natural antihistamine so if they complain of a stuffy nose, drinking plenty of water will help. If they balk at drinking plain water, there are flavored stevia drops that are delicious. You can also offer healthier, herbal “iced tea” sweetened with a bit of stevia or even lemonade made with fresh lemon juice and sweetened with stevia.
3. Get them moving. The lymph system is made up of a network of organs such as tonsils (yes, they do have a purpose!), thymus gland and spleen; lymph nodes, which allow the infection-fighting fluid to flow through them to be purified as well as strengthened; ducts, and vessels. They form a major part of your child’s immune system. As lymph moves through your child’s body it identifies bacteria and toxins, isolates and destroys them. The health of this system is critical for your child’s ability to heal from injuries as well as to ward off illness.
The only way their lymphatic system is exercised is when they move their bodies. Any sustained, consistent exercise gets lymph flowing. One activity I've found to be especially good and that most kids can (and love to) do is rebounding on a mini-trampoline. It moves lymph very effectively and of course that is where lymphocytes fight off those bugs trying to invade their bodies. In fact, some studies have shown that frequent, gentle rebounding (as little as 2-3 minutes 4 times a day) can actually halt the onset of a cold. So if you have a mini-trampoline, encourage your children to take a few bounce breaks throughout the day to keep their immune systems boosted. Otherwise, anything that gets them moving for a few minutes at a time will work!
The forced-air heat in many homes can tend to dry out mucous membranes, making us more susceptible to colds and the flu. Getting your children outside for a healthy dose of fresh air each day (weather permitting) can help reverse this process. Just be sure they dress appropriately, especially in cold weather.
4. Shun Sugar. This includes too many starchy carbs which are converted into sugar very quickly. According to Dr. Sears, “eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of two- and-a-half 12-ounce cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40 percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours.” The reason for this was discovered by Dr. Linus Pauling. He found that glucose and vitamin C are structurally similar so when there’s too much sugar in your system white blood cells begin pulling in sugar instead of vitamin C when fighting viral or bacterial invaders.
5. Keep it Real: What I recommend for overall health, not just avoiding colds and flu, is to focus meals around alkalizing veggies, especially leafy greens, fresh fruit in moderation, clean proteins, healthy fats and fiber. In other words real food. Keeping your child’s body as alkaline as possible makes it less vulnerable to those nasty invaders. Eating meals made with fresh, high quality, real foods rather than packaged and processed, ensures they get nutrition needed to keep their immune system humming along. Including plain, fermented dairy like yogurt (I recommend Greek as it has more protein), kefir and Amasai will provide plenty of probiotics to tip the balance of bacteria in favor of the good!
6. Optimize Vitamin D3 Daily. Researchers have concluded that the flu may very well be a Vitamin D3 deficiency! It makes sense as flu season coincides with the time of year when the weather is cold and time in the sunshine is very limited.
According to results of a recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study vitamin D appears to be 800% more effective than vaccines at preventing influenza infections in children and significantly reduces asthma in children as well! The study used 1200 IU per day – you can check with your doctor – but this is such an easy, effective strategy. You can find vitamin D3 in convenient drops you can add to their food or drinks.
7. Don’t Let Them Skimp on Sleep: I find if my husband and older son especially don't sleep enough for two or three days, they become very susceptible to catching whatever germ is lurking. My husband is a teacher and surrounded by kids who cough and sneeze, so he's especially vulnerable. It’s been proven by research: People getting a good night’s sleep were 550% less likely to contract a virus. Without adequate sleep, the immune system is severely compromised – if not totally crippled!
Your digestive system in particular, is loaded with bacteria – good and bad. When your system is in balance, the good bacteria outnumber the bad and protect you from these invaders. Adequate sleep keeps us in balance with these friendly microbes. Actually when endotoxins released by the bacteria in the digestive system reach a certain necessary level, it triggers the immune system to kick in. Without enough sleep, this won’t happen. So the first order of business is to be sure your child gets adequate sleep every night.
I hope these tips help keep you and your children cold and flu free this winter. If you want even more tips, strategies and supplements I have learned (and use for my family) over the years for staying healthy, you will find them in my e-book, Natural First Aid Kit.
What are your best tips for staying healthy during cold and flu season?