Dr. Mary: Build Your Child’s Immune System

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Even though the child’s immune system begins it’s development while still in the womb, most parents tend to ask me about strategies and methods as their little ones approach their first day of child care and/or school. Having said that, even after one, two or three years into their lifetime, it is never too late to focus on building their immunity.

 I am a firm believer that when you invest in building your child’s immune terrain, their immune system is given the opportunity to develop appropriately and with the greatest strength. This does not mean suppressing symptoms or trying to prevent them from ever catching a cold (children need to get sick!), but rather, giving their immune system the tools to build their immune system.

Without the inevitability of colds and flu, children's immune systems do not have the opportunity to learn. This type of learning is essential to their physical development and ultimately, we want their immune systems to learn how to identify pathogens and how to mount an effective response to them. 

By following the recommendations below, at any stage of their early lives, you can build their immune terrain so that it can mount an appropriate response to identified pathogens, fight them efficiently and ultimately, help your little ones make a quick, full recovery.

Nutrition

A child’s immune terrain is fundamentally dependent on their gut health. This means children have a nutritious diet with adequate and appropriate macro and micronutrients. Nutritional needs for their invaluable vitamins and minerals consist of fruits and vegetables and a balanced intake of proteins and healthy fats.

Naturally, I would encourage all processed foods including simple sugars, refined grains such as cereals and breads and dairy (especially non-organic dairy) are limited. It’s also important to keep an eye on the antibiotics used in foods, especially when purchasing meat products.

A good way to be mindful of your groceries is to learn more about the ‘clean 15’ and ‘dirty dozen’. Also, be sure to have a look at Canada’s Food Guide, which has been totally revamped to incorporate more healthy, nutritious foods.

 Lifestyle, self-care and hydrotherapy

Rest and relaxation! Children require adequate downtime and quality sleep to rejuvenate their adrenal glands which play a critical role in immune development. If your child is over-scheduled and over-stimulated with extracurricular activities, in addition to a full day at daycare or school, he or she may be having difficulty obtaining a quality amount of sleep. This will have profound effects on their susceptibility to infection and ability to make a quick, full recovery. 

Did you know that nearly 70-80% of your immunity lies within your gut’s tissues? One of the oldest naturopathic tools, that I often recommend is a castor oil pack or a castor oil belly rub. Castor oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory oil and when placed over the belly, it can have great effects on the immune system by encouraging lymphatic flow through the immune tissue [within the gut]. Castor oil belly rubs or massages are also a great way to connect with your child at the end of the day!

Another ‘old-school’ remedy are the Magic socks’ also known as ‘warming socks’. These are an excellent first line of defense at stimulating your lymphatic system to relieve any upper respiratory congestion. This easy to-do home remedy will likely take some convincing at first, but can be a very effective tool in relieving any chest or sinus congestion at the very first signs of an infection.

Just before heading to bed for the night, ensure that your child’s feet are warm. Apply a pair of cold, wet cotton socks over their feet. Quickly cover those cotton socks with a pair of dry, wool socks. Bundle up and time for rest. By the morning, you will notice that the feet and both pairs of socks will be warm and dry, and the sniffles will significantly be diminished if not entirely gone. 

Supplementation

Lastly, ensure that your child’s vitamin D status is adequate. As Canadians, our bodies typically require vitamin D supplementation, at minimum, from September to April. Please work with your healthcare provider to determine appropriate dosing and form.

Remember that not all vitamin D supplements are created equal, so search for a supplement that is, at the very least, liquid form in a carrier oil. In addition to vitamin D, other nutrients and herbal remedies which you may want to consider include:

·       Vitamin C, 

·       Pre and probiotics

·       Cod liver oil, 

·       Elderberry syrup

·       Echinacea and other botanicals, most especially gemmotherapies. 

 I always encourage you to work with your naturopathic doctor to determine which remedies are safe and effective for your family. Most importantly, do what works best for you and your family. Until next time, stay warm and stay healthy


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Dr. Mary Peric is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND), Lactation Educator and mother to a Kindertown child! 

Paul Russumanno