‘Tis the season when I am like, “EVERYBODY GET AWAY FROM MY NEWBORN!” My boys have had sniffles and stuffy noses over the last few weeks, but in comparison to my friend Diana’s household, where everyone has been vomiting in a bucket by the couch for the last week, I’m feeling fortunate.
But, it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to come, right? This is just the beginning of cold and flu season.
Last year over Christmas, we were attacked by a terrible cold and flu virus that decided it was not going to go down easy. And, even though I was nursing Rad back to health 24 hours a day and was seven weeks pregnant, I didn’t get sick. My mom did, my Dad was on the outskirts of it, and it rocked Radley. For three weeks. My mom – a nurse – had never experienced anything like it. What saved me? I swear it was a consistent daily intake and build-up of Suro‘s immune-boosting elderberry extract.
I found out about Suro elderberry syrup through my friend Jenna on Instagram and I was so happy that I had.
This year, I want to take the same approach. I should have started back in October or November but, it’s worth it to start now.
I messaged Jenna – a nurse in Ontario’s public health system – to see if she could share some of her top tips for building up our kids’ immunities. She decided it would be great to put me in touch with a naturopath’s office – the office where her former naturopath works, actually.
One of the naturopathic doctors – Dr. Laura Smith, ND of The Root Natural Health Clinic in Mississauga, Ontario – has compiled a great list of immunity-boosting tips for us. Dr. Smith explores what can help, why it can help, and, what’s really great is if you’re interested in looking into any of these therapies further, she posted her reference information.
Dr. Smith works alongside Dr. Lauren Wedlock Brown, ND, as well as a registered massage therapist and a holistic nutritionist at the health clinic. “We have a general family practice, where we see all ages and conditions, although [Dr. Wedlock Brown and I] both especially love women’s health and seeing little ones. We strive to focus on preventative medicine, and take every effort to approach each patient holistically and individually. Considering each individual’s needs, we develop plans for health with each patient to help empower them to make sustainable healthful changes. We fully believe that finding the root cause of what’s going on in the body is the best way to address concerns and start building foundations for optimal health and wellness.”
Before we launch into her post, I will say that Dr. Smith wanted to make it clear that before you start any of these therapies with your kids, be sure to check in with their doctors – and, naturopathic doctors are likely going to be more attuned to using the below therapies. As always, every body is different and has a different history, and at minimum you want to make sure you’re giving your kiddos the right dose for the right age.
And, while we hope we can stave off any bad illnesses this season, here are Dr. Smith’s warning signs for when it’s absolutely necessary to take your babes to the doctor straight away.
- Fast or difficult breathing
- Lack of thirst or lack of tears when crying
- Not being as responsive as usual or complete loss in desire to play
- Fever with rash, stiff neck, severe headache, or nausea and vomiting
Building Little Kiddos’ Immunity
With Dr. Laura Smith, ND, The Root Natural Health Clinic, Mississauga, Ontario
“Supplementing with probiotics, or increasing intake from fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, or kimchi can help prevent immune-mediated illnesses,” says Dr. Smith. “Probiotics work by activating immune system cells like macrophages, natural killer cells and lymphocytes. [The activated cells] all play important roles in killing off any viruses and bacteria, and in getting rid of them.”
If you’re seeking out a probiotic (and remember, touch base with your child’s doctor first for information and recommendations) these are the super-star words that will be listed on the bottle. (They might look familiar from tubs of yogurt too!) Lactobacillis and Bifidobacterium. “[These] strains have been studied and shown to prevent the common cold and flu-like symptoms,” says Dr. Smith.  “With administration during winter months, probiotics have not only been shown to reduce the occurrence of illness overall, but the actual duration of the cold as well.”  
Sounds like a win to me. In our house, we have Udo’s Choice Infant’s Probiotic in stock and it’ll work for both Radley and Ace. And, yes, probiotics for infants is safe. “They can start right away on probiotics,” says Dr. Smith. “It’s at this time that they’re developing all of the ‘good bacteria’ and starting to colonize their guts. Helping support with the right strains of probiotics can increase their immunity and resiliency. It’s better to start supplementing early and preventatively rather than as a reaction to conditions, like eczema or constipation,” Dr. Smith explains.
Also to note, yogurt has received a lot of attention lately as a good source of probiotics but Dr. Smith made some important points about yogurt and kids. “Dairy increases mucous and limits nutrient absorption, and is also the top food sensitivity in kids,” she explains. Even for adults, dairy can make it difficult for a body to absorb nutrients, such as iron. So, for myself, who happens to have low iron now and then, my midwife has cautioned to, at the least, not eat any dairy when I am consuming iron or taking my prenatal vitamins. It can inhibit my body from getting to the good stuff. Since I am breastfeeding and I want as many good nutrients as possible to be in my system, I just err on the side of less dairy overall. (Truth: I was just eating gingerbread pancakes doused in whipped cream though, so.)
“Herbs can work in a few different ways for preventing illnesses,” says Dr. Smith. “As direct antimicrobials – killing bacteria and viruses, as immunostimulants – boosting the immune system, as immunomodulators – immune system balancers, or as adaptogens – helping the body adapt to stresses put on it.”
Here are Dr. Smith’s top suggestions:
Garlic: “[Garlic is] mostly antimicrobial but also an immune modulator,” says Dr. Smith. And what’s an immune modulator? It helps normalize immune function. “[Garlic] has shown to reduce occurrence of colds when supplemented regularly,” says Dr. Smith. 
There are actual supplements available such as capsules and tinctures but Dr. Smith also recommends cooking with garlic as the best way to get it into your kiddos systems. “I would encourage lots of garlic in meals, especially when added towards the end of cooking rather than right from the start [because] raw garlic is stronger than cooked garlic,” Dr. Smith explains. I have also read – and this is a great book for a wealth of information on how to cook all fruits and vegetables to obtain optimal health benefits – Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson – that if you chop up your garlic and let it rest for 10 minutes before cooking with it, you save its beneficial properties.
Another neat way of giving your kids’ immunities a boost with garlic? Dr. Smith recommends making garlic tea if they seem on the verge of an infection. “It’s not the tastiest of teas,” says Dr. Smith, “But it’ll help fight off whatever is going on in their system. This can also be made into a “tea-sicle” by freezing it, which might make it more palatable for the kids and may be soothing for them if they have a sore throat,” Dr. Smith adds.
1 clove of garlic diced up (you can wait the 10 minutes to make sure the heat from the water doesn’t destroy the garlic’s health benefits)
½ tsp. of grated ginger
2 lemon wedges/fresh lemon juice
Honey to taste (only if your child is over a year old)
Mix ingredients in the bottom of a mug. Fill with water just off the boil. Let sit for 3-5 minutes.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): “Working from every approach of immune support [these have all] shown to increase the amount and efficacy of our immune cells,” says Dr. Smith. 
These flowering plants, herbs and small shrubs are where immunity boosters like the ever-magical Suro elderberry syrup come from. Once you start your search, you’ll see that there is a variety of echinacea supplements for kids and you will also often find that echinacea and elderberry extracts and concentrates are combined. And, we’re talking teas, chewable gummies and syrups.
Vitamin and Minerals
“Vitamins A, D, E, B, C, and many minerals, like zinc, all play their own important roles for immune boosting,” says Dr. Smith.
Vitamins A and E
“Vitamins A and E help the integrity and resiliency of mucus membranes and the skin [as a first line of defense] to keep out pathogens, like bacteria or viruses,” says Dr. Smith.
“B vitamins act as cofactors [a necessary complement to the function of an enzyme] in the production, growth, and division of immune system cells,” says Dr. Smith.
“Vitamin D enhances the elimination of bacteria from the body and increasing immune cell function,” says Dr. Smith. In fact, low vitamin D levels have been linked with an increased occurrence of upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, Dr. Smith adds. 
Vitamin C and Zinc
Your Child’s Diet
“Overall, it’s best to first try to get all these vitamins and minerals from a healthy and whole diet,” says Dr. Smith. “Having warming foods that are well-cooked and nutrient-dense, like soups or stews made with bone broth can support the immune system. Cook with plenty of onions, garlic, and ginger as they’re all very warming and can help directly kill pathogens. Make sure to have lots of vegetables and fruits, especially ones high in vitamin C such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, peppers, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and papaya. Ensure to include lots of good fats [such as] avocados, all sorts of nuts and nut butters, olive oil, coconut oil, hummus, fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel – ideally all wild-caught and emphasize dark, leafy greens in the diet as well, such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard.”
Dark, leafy greens for a toddler? Smoothies, smoothies, smoothies.
“[Make sure your kids] stay hydrated,” says Dr. Smith. “Lots of regular fluids [are necessary] to have all body functions work optimally. Choose water, which can be flavoured with additions like lemon, fruits and cucumber if desired, or herbal teas over juices. There are lots of sugar in juices that can damage the immune system and encourage pathogen growth,” adds Dr. Smith.
“Reduced sleep quantity increases susceptibility to the common cold,” says Dr. Smith.  Sleep is not only the time when your body repairs, lack of sleep also lessens your body’s ability to function. (i.e. Um .. any new moms out there? We are walking examples of this. I run into things, drop things, my muscles ache and my brain activity is hovering on a sub-par level of functioning.)
A good guideline for the amount of sleep your kids should be getting is:
Toddlers: 12-14 hours (including naps)
Elementary-Aged: 10-11 hours
Adolescents: 8-10 (just slightly more than an adult) but tend to establish their own schedules
“Some children may just naturally have their own cycle of waking early or falling asleep late,” says Dr. Smith. “It’s important to note any changes in sleep as well as how rested the children feel or seem upon waking.”
“Check in on stress,” advises Dr. Smith. “Worried or stressed children tend to get sick more often. Supporting their immune system really means supporting their whole mental, emotional and physical selves,” she adds.
What to look for? “In little kiddos, this might come out as changing their appetite, withdrawing from others around them, changing their bowel habits – holding in their poops or pees when they previously had no issue,” says Dr. Smith. “It could also manifest as aggression or anger in young and older children [and] sometimes, stress can also show up as general or vague health complaints [such as] headaches, tummy aches, tiredness. Of course, all these manifestations of stress should be investigated to see if there is a physical cause to them.”
What to do? “Listening to your children and allowing them an open space to discuss what’s going on is always vital. Encourage discussion of feelings and teach that feeling sad, angry, frustrated, etc. is all normal and is fine – it’s just about teaching them how to express and manage these feelings. Most importantly, acknowledge their feelings and let them know that you hear and understand them.”
“Make a habit of washing hands often, coughing and sneezing into tissues – and disposing of them – or shoulder and elbows, and avoiding close contact with others who are sick,” says Dr. Smith.
Which is the tip I often remind my husband of. (He’s probably reading this like, “Kara!”) But, for real – I’ve got these creepy, dry hands and I don’t wear my wedding ring half the time throughout the winter season because I am constantly washing my hands and lathering up with hand cream. (My current favorite is Tubby Todd’s Mama Hand Cream, by the way.) But, it’s a first line of defense. Virus germs are hanging out on a lot of stuff we touch.
All of these lifestyle tips of Dr. Smith’s really hit home for me. Radley has had a crazy sleep schedule lately – with a bit of travel and some late nights he got completely out of whack – which leads to him being stressed. So, a double-whammy on his immune system. Not to mention the amount of sugar that has crept into his diet with the holidays around the corner and playdates and parties and traveling. (Anyone who knows me well, knows Rad’s diet being out of sorts causes me an escalating level of stress.)
Current favourite question: “Cookie?”
From a healthy diet to a good night’s sleep, from the addition of supplements to making sure you’re kids are feeling happy and easygoing, a holistic approach to building strong immune systems is how you’ll get a good start on creating a healthy kiddo. And not just during this cold and flu season, but year-round.
Don’t forget your Suro, but don’t forget bedtime routines either. Don’t forget the Udo’s but don’t forget to hide the jar of Christmas M&M’s at your aunt’s house.
And the hand-washing? Yes! It’s 20 seconds or the length of singing “Happy Birthday.” Do it, do it with soap, and try to get your kids used to it. (I know, it’s hard.) But, that’s how we’ll keep these buggers at bay. If they get past that defense, at least you’ve helped your little one build up a line of walls and obstacles with a healthy, strong immune system.
Thank you Dr. Smith! This has been a great start for my family and I hope it will serve as a good base of education for other families this season.
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This post is not meant to substitute medical advice or treatment. Always speak to your Naturopathic Doctor or other primary health care provider before supplementing with vitamins, minerals, herbs, etc. Each child has individual needs and concerns that have to be addressed. There may be allergies or conditions that would make certain supplementation contraindicated for your child. Speak with your health care provider to see what kind of supplementation, and at what dose, is best for your child.