My son started school last week. Senior kindergarten. He’s in the same class as he was last year (they do split JK/SK at his school). He has the same teacher and a lot of the same kids in his class. But, there is one significant difference this year. His mother. Last year she was a naive and overly confident naturopathic doctor, certain that she could keep him healthy with a few tweaks to his diet and a few supplements. This year, she is a grizzled and wizened warrior, who knows, who REALLY knows just how many viruses one relatively healthy little boy can bring home and then give to his pre-school sister. And this year, she is going to war.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I in no way think that kids shouldn’t get sick. Getting colds, flus and some of the other common viruses are important in developing hearty and complex immune system. An immune system learns to be an immune system by getting sick. For it to successfully tackle the serious illnesses that will be thrown at it (cancer, autoimmune diseases…) it has to have had practice. Lots and lots of practice. But maybe not quite as much practice as it got last year.
So here is my new plan. It’s not actually all that different from my last plan. Just a few adjustments and a splash of wishful thinking.
- Hand washing. Lots and lots of hand washing. For everyone in the house. I know that at school they have this covered but I have been a little lacking in this department. Sure we wash hands when we get home from the park (usually), but starting this week – after school, before eating, and after going out to play. Good old regular soap will do. We use glycerine or Castile soap. Anti-bacterial soaps do so much more harm than good and have not been shown to be any more effective for reducing illnesses (in fact, they contribute to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria so really they are more likely to make you more sick).
- No sugar. No fruit juice. Sugar depresses the immune system and feeds the bacteria and viruses. Our first week back at school was a colossal failure on this front. There was gelato on the day before school, a cookie on the first day of school, a macaron on the second day of school and a coconut ice-cream bar on the weekend after the first week of school – because, yay school! Oh, and Rice Crispy squares in there somewhere because we had a bag of marshmallows left over from a bonfire night and what the hell else are you supposed to do with marshmallows? This week has been much better.
- Probiotics, vitamin D and vitamin C. I use a product called HMF Fit For School at home and in my practice. It’s a blackberry flavoured chewable with a therapeutic dose of the above. But any high quality probiotic with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species will do. I like higher rather than lower amounts, so 10-15 billion is what I shoot for. As for vitamin D – 500-1000 i.u. depending on age.
- Bone broth. I have long extolled the virtues of bone broth – in office, at home, here on my blog, to strangers on the street… Chalk full of amino acids that support the gut and the immune system, it’s a great addition to everyone’s diet come fall and winter. For my last rant on bone broth, and my own recipe read this post.
- Vitamin A. Important for the immune system and regulating the fever response, vitamin A can be taken directly, indirectly and through food. Direct vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that it can be stored by the body and is therefor possible to have too much. Four times a year for one month, I give my kids a weekly dose to make sure they are replete. Indirectly, vitamin A can be synthesized by the body from beta-carotene. Many multivitamins contain beta-carotene and orange vegetables are also an excellent source. Cod liver oil also contains vitamin A. We use Nordic Naturals Children’s DHA strawberry flavour liquid.
- Zinc. Zinc is not only an integral mineral when it comes to the immune system, but it is also one of the most common minerals deficiencies that I see (second only, perhaps, to magnesium.) Have an overly picky eater? A zinc deficiency may be a contributing factor. I like a liquid zinc supplement, though there are lozenges that may be suitable for older kids. The dose is 5-15 mg daily, depending on age and general immune status.
- Herbs. Echinacea, Astragalus, various mushrooms (not herbs, I realize), and many other herbs have long been used to support children’s (and adults) immune systems. Again, dosing depends on age and immune status. I also love herbs when kids get sick. Elderberry, Elder flowers, Boneset, Usnea and Licorice are wonderful for fevers, aches and immune modulation (drumming up an immune response).
If you have kids going back to school this month, I hope that the transition was easy. If you are going back to school this year – all of the above applies to adults as well (though different doses). If you work in an office with people who have kids – this is all probably in your best interest as well. No one is safe from the school germs.
Don’t even get me started about lice…