Keeping children healthy in this modern age
by Ilene Cristdahl, ND, LAc
As viruses become more virulent in winter, keeping children healthy can be more difficult. As the medical community increasingly recognizes the limitations of prescribing antibiotics for every cold and ear infection, parents are turning to natural therapies to make the cold and flu challenge easier to handle.
Younger children often become sick due to an undeveloped immune system. They are also exposed to a plethora of germs, especially at school, daycare, or other after-school activities. Oriental Medicine suggests that children have their own physical idiosyncrasies as well:
They generate heat, making them susceptible to fevers and infections.
They may have inherently weak digestive systems, and may thus overproduce phlegm that can harbor bacteria or viruses.
Since children’s symptoms are so changeable, it’s most effective to treat their specific conditions with safe, effective therapies such as homeopathic remedies and herbal formulas designed especially for children. As a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist, I believe in treating the whole person, which means considering other factors such as diet, stress, and emotions to see if they are contributing to the problem. This is especially relevant when repeated ear, nose, throat, and upper respiratory problems have led to a cycle of antibiotic use that can be hard to break. We know that antibiotics can wipe out not just the bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria that are essential for optimal immune function. With a depleted microbiome, kids become even more susceptible to inhospitable microbes that can work their way in (where the good bacteria used to live) and make them feel under the weather. This situation can be magnified in children due to their picky eating habits, busy schedules, and other aspects of our modern lifestyle that are not congenial to good health.
It is crucial for kids to avoid certain foods when they have colds, flus, and respiratory infections. These include sugar, which, according to Oriental medicine, weakens the digestion by generating moisture and fluids, and according to Western medicine, decreases the ability of the white blood cells to fight viruses. Dairy should also be avoided as its moistening nature leads to mucous formation. Most children also benefit from eating less of any type of bread made with flour, which has been shown to increase inflammation, acidify the body, and act upon it in the same way as sugar.
I recommend that children with a cold or flu also avoid cooling foods such as raw fruits and veggies, fruit juices, chilled or frozen foods, and rich heavy foods. Until their condition improves, their diet should focus on onions, garlic, ginger, veggie broths/soups, well-cooked grains, and small amounts of protein.
When one knows that a child isn’t able to consistently take in adequate nutrients from whole, unprocessed foods, or if a child has a greater need, then I recommend that parents consider supplements. I suggest supplements that include those nutrients which are hardest to get through diet alone, and which address the most chronic deficiencies we see in adults and children. These include Vitamin D, B12, fiber, and omega-3 EPA and DHA. Both prebiotics and probiotics are also a key part of a preventative health regimen.
Though keeping children healthy may be challenging, these suggestions can make you much more likely to succeed.