When Your Child Gets Sick a Lot, What Can You Do?


Over the years I’ve treated a lot of children and been asked by parents what they can do to help their kids. As a parent myself, I strive to help my children stay as healthy as they can. Being that children are in close proximity to each other in school, getting sick occasionally is inevitable.

If your child is frequently getting sick, while I don’t know exactly what he or she might be coming down with, just six diagnoses account for nearly ninety percent of illnesses in children: upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, otitis media (middle ear infection), eye infections, acute tonsillitis, and bronchitis.

An integrative approach to boosting the immune system to prevent infections or decrease their severity when they do occur includes diet, lifestyle and dietary supplements. A huge part of staying healthy includes decreasing things that weaken the immune system while increasing those that enhance it. That approach is just as important for children as it is for us adults.

Sleep deprivation and poor diet can wreak havoc on your child’s immune system. Children three to five years old need eleven to thirteen hours, children five to twelve years old need nine to eleven hours and adolescents should get at least eight-and-and half to nine-and-a-half hours each night. If your child is not getting enough sleep, this might be a good place to start.

Sugar decreases immune function. So limiting sugar intake may help. At the same time, ensuring adequate nutrition, including whole fruits and vegetables, and protein is crucial. While nutrient requirements vary depending on your child’s age, activity level and any medical conditions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published guidelines for protein requirements for children. For example, the CDC recommends children one to three eat thirteen grams of protein each day, children four to eight should consume nineteen grams and ages nine to thirteen should eat thirty-four grams per day of protein. In addition, three to five servings of whole fruits and vegetables every day provide the vitamins and minerals for the immune system to work. Optimal nutrition is essential for promoting a healthy immune system.

If your child starts getting sick, eliminate dairy products while she is symptomatic. Dairy products are mucous forming and can trap viruses and bacteria and provide a hospitable environment for them to replicate. If your child seems to frequently be clearing her throat, have gas and bloating or diarrhea, these may be symptoms of food allergies. Food allergies predispose her to other infections, so a simple food allergy test may be in order. It’s important that she be tested for IgG-mediated food allergies.

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated in numerous studies with decreased immune function. You might want to discuss with your daughter’s doctor having her vitamin D tested. If low, giving vitamin D as a dietary supplement is effective at raising vitamin D status.

If you live in a dry, cold climate, winter air can cause problems for some people. It can dry out their mucous membranes—the tissue lining their nasal passages and throat. Mucous membranes are one of our first lines of defense against pathogens. If they dry out, small cracks can develop, providing an entryway for viruses. So using a humidifier in the winter may also help.

Dietary supplements can also be used as an immune boosting strategy. There are thousands of studies on the ability for vitamins and herbs to increase immune system activity and prevent and treat illnesses. A 2004 study in The Journal of International Medical Research showed that adults taking 60 milliliters (mL) daily of the dietary supplement Sambucol, an elderberry extract, significantly decreased the severity of their flu symptoms compared to people who didn’t take it. Additionally, many herbs, including elderberry, Lomatium and white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) are antiviral and often used in botanical formulas for the flu. Additional research points to immune boosting activities of different mushroom extracts such as Agaricus blazei, Cordyceps sinensis, Grifola frondosa, Ganoderma lucidum and others. While all of these dietary supplements may be helpful, they are not appropriate for everyone. It’s imporant to discuss this with your healthcare provider for specific recommendations for your children.

For strategies on how adults can beat the cold and flu, read Dr. Neustadt’s blog, Beat the Cold and Flu with this Holistic Approach.

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