This time of the year is especially challenging to stay healthy – after a long winter, the lack of daily fresh air and sunshine providing vitamin D tends to find our immune systems weakened. This is the time of year we often see influenza on the rise.

This season, there’s another viral threat, the coronavirus. Understandably, this new virus has many worried about what it might mean for their families. You may be wondering how you can keep yourself and your family healthy during this outbreak, and what to do if you or your loved ones become sick.

There are many practical things that can be done to help keep healthy and avoid spreading viruses. Many of these things are common sense, practical measures that are often simple but can make a big difference. Sometimes, they are so simple that we overlook them completely.

Simple health measures to keep your children’s immune systems healthy

  • Get plenty of sleep. In our go, go, go society, it can be hard to remember to get enough sleep each night. Create a nighttime routine by counting back from your projected bedtime and including everything your children need to do before bed. Do they like to wind down with a bedtime story? Add that into the time line. Or perhaps a bit of snuggle time to talk through the day’s events. Be sure to add enough time in for that as well as the usual baths, tooth brushing, and getting out clothes for the next day. Once you have a routine planned, set an alarm on your phone for the appropriate time to start the routine. It’s especially important that you and your children get a good night’s sleep to keep that immune system strong.
  • Avoid sugar and processed foods. Remember that saying, you are what you eat? It’s true! Your body runs more effectively when you put good fuel into it. Cut back on processed foods such as chips, sodas, candies, etc. Food dyes, preservatives, and processed foods all weaken and suppress the immune system. Increase fresh, whole foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. I find that if I whip up a batch of fruit salad or a veggie tray with hummus and leave it sitting on the counter, much of the contents disappear within a few hours. Kids love those things, they just don’t love looking for them in the fridge and will grab a bag of chips instead because it’s more convenient. Place healthy food in convenient locations and less healthy food (if you have it in the house) in less convenient locations.
  • Pay attention to food sensitivities such as gluten and dairy intolerances. Even if you don’t suspect any food sensitivities, try to cut back on foods such as gluten, dairy, and corn, as they often cause digestive issues that you don’t realize are happening. I recently discovered this for myself. I never felt I had a dairy sensitivity until recently when I stopped eating dairy and discovered I had better digestion, a complete reduction in fatigue, and a clearer complexion.
  • Incorporate nourishing broths into your meals, whether it’s bone broth, mushroom broth, vegetable broth, or miso. Add in immune boosting herbs such as garlicastragalusreishiturkey tailmaitake, and fire cider.
  • Get some fresh air and exercise every day! For example, instead of driving to school, walk to school if it’s not far. Or park further away from the school so there’s a 10-15 minute walk. Alternatively, take an afternoon bicycle ride or walk around the block.
  • Don’t over schedule activities. Allow your children to have regular downtime so they can relax and recharge. Planning too many back to back after school activities can lead to fatigue, weakening the immune system.
  • Drink plenty of water. Limit sugary and caffeinated drinks like soda, tea, and juice and aim for your children to drink at least half their body weight in ounces daily.
  • Remind them to keep their hands off their faces. Touching eyes, noses, and mouths can spread germs that they’ve picked up directly into their bodies. Help them to be aware of these actions and how they can impact their health.
  • Let them play in the dirt and get muddy! I hear you cringing but really, mud is good for them. There is beneficial bacteria in the soil that can help our immune systems grow and become resilient. Clothes are easily washed and so are kids so let them enjoy the outdoors to the fullest.
  • Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands! This meme has been bouncing all over the internet but it’s a great time to remind your children to wash their hands often. I’m not huge on hand sanitizers but I do like the Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer and keep a bottle of it in my car. It’s great to use after you’ve been to a public location and touching shopping carts.

These are all general common sense things that we should be practicing every day, regardless of the season or viral outbreak, but often getting caught up in the daily grind can make us forget the importance of these things.

Supplementation as another immune building tool

The next step to keeping your children’s immune system strong comes in the form of supplements. It’s always best to get nutrients out of food, but sometimes a little extra supplementation is helpful, especially this time of year when we can’t necessarily get them naturally.

I use these for my family to keep our immune systems strong during the winter months. When we slack off, we always notice a difference. My partner didn’t take his vitamin D this year and has been sick twice, once with influenza that took him out for over a week. I’m linking my favorites with my Amazon affiliates link.*

  • Vitamin D3/K2. I like a combo and use this brand. Vitamin D is technically a hormone but we receive it through sunlight, which is impossible during the wintertime unless you live near the equator. Everyone in my family takes one a day (except my partner who slacked off). Vitamin D is fat soluble so get your levels checked at least once a year. My levels were so high this winter my practitioner asked me to back off taking it.
  • Vitamin C. USDA recommendations are 40 mg but alternative doctors are saying 1,000-2,000 mg is not unreasonable. It’s water soluble so no worries on taking too much, other than getting diarrhea if you take too much too fast. Normally, I don’t supplement with vitamin C as my kids enjoy drinking homemade ‘hot lemonade’ but as a precaution, we have decided to take it to boost our levels. We’ve been using this brand and I really like that it’s made with food instead of a chemically concocted version. But again, there are lots of natural food sources for vitamin C, including lemons, limes, oranges, berries, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, and pine (makes a great tea) so if your children consume them regularly, it’s not as important to supplement. However, many alternative doctors are stating that high doses of vitamin C can make all the difference in treatment of viral infections so keep some on hand.
  • Zinc. The daily requirement of zinc for children ranges from 3-11 mg depending on their age and we can get zinc in a variety foods including nuts, beans, red meat, poultry,  and oysters. In supplemental form for fighting off illness, 20-40 mg is suggested. This supplement is often taken at the first sign of a cold to reduce the duration up to 4 days. This is the brand we use to increase our immune system response. Avoid zinc with citric acid in the ingredients as it binds with the zinc, making it unavailable for our bodies to utilize. This is the brand that we use.

These are the basic vitamins and minerals that can help support and strengthen or boost the immune system. If you feel your children aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals through their meals, you might also consider giving them a good multivitamin. I don’t give my children any but if I did I would opt for Naturelo’s Whole Food Multivitamins (they have gummieschewable, and a version for teens) or Nordic Naturals’ Nordic Berries, though there are many other brands out there that are reputable.

One final supplement to think about offering is a probiotic. A healthy digestive system is important for keeping a healthy immune system. Look for probiotics that are refrigerated with live cultures for the best options.

*If you choose to purchase them, I’ll get a small percentage of the money you pay Amazon without any extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Herbal options for boosting the immune system

As this is getting quite wordy, I’m only going to focus on herbal support for the immune system. In the next issue, I will follow up with herbal antivirals and how they can be used to help fight off viral infections. But for today, let’s take a look at herbal immune boosters and modulators.

First, let’s talk about the difference between an immune booster and an immune modulator. Immune boosters are herbs that boost an immune system, putting it into overdrive to help kick out disease and infection. Immuno modulators have the ability to ramp of the immune system if needed, but also to help slow down an over zealous immune system when it’s already kicked into overdrive but shouldn’t be.

There are lots of herbs that are considered immune stimulators and modulators. The following are my favorites. (The links will take you to the corresponding zine issues in case you want to learn more about any of them):

  • Astragalus is a slow immune system builder and great for using after a long illness. After my family had pertussis, I put us all on Astragalus for the following year. Astragalus is slow to act but very nourishing and supportive for our immune systems. It has a sweet flavor, making it an herb that even children don’t mind consuming. A few root slices can be added into soups, broths, etc. as Astragalus is best extracted with water. Making a strong decoction then adding alcohol to preserve it can give a large quantity of tincture to have on hand for long term use. Astragalus is best taken when you are well, so if you find yourself or your children starting to come down with something, stop using Astragalus and switch to another immune boosting herb then restart once well again.
  • Echinacea is often combined with Goldenseal which is poor combination. It’s better to combine Echinacea with Elderberry in rotation (1 hour take Echinacea, next hour take Elderberry) for better results. When taken at the first signs of illness, the combination of the two often help to knock out the virus before any real symptoms set in. Echinacea is generally taken as a tincture in large amounts for his immune system action.
  • Elderberry syrup is one of the best things to have on hand year round for fighting off viruses! It’s easy to make up, tastes great, and stores well in the fridge. As an immune modulator, Elderberry helps to boost the immune system when needed but also has the ability to slow down an immune system when it’s ramped up too much.
  • Fire Cider is a combination of several herbs steeped in vinegar then sweetened with a bit of honey. It contains GingerCayenne or other hot peppers, GarlicHorseradishOnion, and often Lemon, all chopped and steeped in Apple cider vinegar for a month. A shot of this every couple of hours when you feel something coming on generally kicks the virus to the curb. Adding honey to sweeten this concoction helps it to go down easier for kids.
  • Mushrooms – Maitake, Shitake, OysterTurkey Tail, and Reishi are a few of my favorites but there are others such as Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps too! All these mushrooms have great immune boosting actions and many can be added to foods, making them easy to sneak into your family.

Hopefully this will help to ease your mind about the current viral season. By combining common sense lifestyle and dietary actions with some supplements and herbs, you are able to easily create an arsenal to help keep your family healthy!

Do you already have a regimen for keeping your family’s immune systems boosted? If so, share them with us in the comments!