Cold weather is upon us, and for many kids the change of seasons can signal the start of cold and flu season, along with the unwanted side effects of missed days of school and work, and sleepless nights for parents caring for sick little ones.
Most people are familiar with the basic requirements for a healthy immune system: a whole food, minimally processed diet, clean water, outdoor play in fresh air, and a good night's sleep. Regular hand-washing for at least 20 seconds with plain soap and water reduces the spread of respiratory illnesses by about 20% and diarrheal illnesses by about 30%. Skip the antimicrobial chemicals like triclosan - the FDA recently announced they will be phased out of hand soaps and sanitizers by September 2017 due to concerns that their harms outweigh their benefits.
For children who are prone to colds, coughs, bronchitis, strep throat, ear infections and sinus infections, a few additional measures may help them stay healthier and avoid the need for higher interventions like antibiotics, as well as missed days of school or special events.
Consider a probiotic supplement.
Clinical research has shown that children ages 3 to 5 years who attend day care centers have significantly fewer influenza-like respiratory symptoms when given a combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.
Probiotics reduced risk of fever, cough, or runny nose by 45% compared to placebo, and duration of symptoms was also 2 days shorter in kids taking this combination. They were also significantly less likely to use an antibiotic for their symptoms.
In addition to probiotics, prebiotics such as Arabinogalactan from the Larch tree help increase favorable gut microflora. Larch Arabinogalactan is thought to exert immune support activity by increasing natural killer cell activity and non-specific immune cell activity. For colds and flu, one teaspoon of larch arabinogalactan powder in juice or water is usually taken 2-3 times daily at the first sign of symptoms, until symptoms are relieved.
In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial, a total of 199 healthy participants who had a self-reported cold infection rate of three in 6 months were randomly assigned to receive a total of either 4.5 g of an arabinogalactan preparation (n = 101) or placebo (n = 98) over a period of 12 weeks. Researchers concluded that larch arabinogalactan increased the body's potential to defend against common cold infection.
Elderberry Extract is a traditional botanical immune herb that garnered additional interest several years ago when it was found to inhibit binding of flu virus (including H1N1) to cells in vitro. Since a virus can only replicate inside host cells, this can quickly interrupt or limit an upper respiratory infection. Elderberry also appears to increase production of cytokines, or immune messenger molecules, in the body.
One Elderberry formulation has reduced flu-like symptoms by about 56% when given within 48 hrs of onset, and provided significant symptom relief from fever and muscle aches within 2-4 days.
Cod Liver Oil has a long history as a traditional source of vitamin D in the United States, and was used to prevent and treat rickets. Cod Liver Oil also contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamin A, and has the added benefits of supporting neurological development, mood, learning and achievement.
In a clinical study of infants and young children, Cod Liver Oil along with a children's multivitamin/mineral supplement decreased the number of pediatric visits per month for upper respiratory illness during the winter and early spring, by 36%-58%.