As we prepare our kids for going back to school, many moms and dads are dreading the upcoming cold and flu season.
More and more parents are asking the question, “How can I prevent this and keep my kids healthy this year?”
On average, school-age kids in America experience eight to 10 colds a year, according to The Children’s Hospital Guide to Your Child’s Health and Development.
With six kids in our family, we have no choice but to keep our kids cold- and flu-free. If my kids each got just six colds a year—well under the national average—and each cold lasted ten days, that would be 360 days a year with at least one sick kid in the house. Assuming mom and dad never get sick, we would enjoy a whopping five days of good family health a year.
Over the years, I have streamlined five basic lifestyle tips based on a 5000-year-old, time-tested medical system called Ayurveda. They are all outlined in my book, Perfect Health for Kids, and I have summarized them here. These tips are designed to help kids stay healthy in the first place. If they do get sick, it will be only for a day or two, rather than a week or two.
Read on to learn five essential tips to keep your kids healthy this year!
The remedy for avoiding colds and flus is actually very simple. It starts weeks, months, and even a season or two before the dreaded cold and flu season hits. Let’s start with a look at what makes our kids susceptible to an infection in the first place.
There are always two factors in this cold-causing process:
• The first is the exposure to the bacteria or virus. For all practical purposes, there is nothing we can really do to prevent our kids from being exposed. In a classroom or school cafeteria, every child will be exposed to every bug, but only a small percentage will typically get sick.
• Why? This has to do with the second factor in the cold-causing process: susceptibility. Keeping your child’s immunity strong enough so they do not succumb to ever-present infectious bugs in the first place is the goal. It is here that parents can keep their children healthy, in school, and out of the doctor’s office. Enjoy these five immune boosting tips!
During these first weeks of school, the exposure to cold-causing bugs is certainly higher. What is also happening in early fall is that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. Cold autumn nights bring hints of winter with dry and cool air. Night heaters may dry the air even more and soon, the mucous membranes in the sinuses dry out. When this happens, the respiratory mucous membranes produce large amounts of reactive mucus due to the dryness. Seasonal pollens and pollutants can also act as irritants to the sinuses, which can cause excess mucus production. As excess mucus is produced, this provides the perfect breeding ground for a viral or bacterial infection. Most cold remedies, like Sudafed or antihistamines, will attempt to dry out the reactive mucus in the sinuses, thus making the original cause of infection worse.
Solutions: Keep sinuses moist with cool mist humidifiers at night during those early back-to-school days, and keep them running right through the winter. Sinuses generally begin to dry out in mid-August, so the end of summer is not too early to break out the humidifiers.
Ear oil is another cold remedy that antidotes the end-of-summer and fall dryness. It is an absolute must in my house. Preventively, from September to March, I will drop warm ear oil in my kids’ ears while they sleep, twice a month. If they catch a cold, I will use garlic-based ear oil twice a day until they are well, usually a day or two. Ear oil lubricates the Eustachian tubes, which helps support better lymph flow through the cervical lymph, which governs upper respiratory immunity. Your local natural foods store likely carries a variety of ear oil products.
One of the most difficult parenting tools for moms and dads is to get their kids to bed early. When one of my children gets sick, I can usually track it to lots of staying up late, sleepovers, school stress, and excessive after-school activities that just wear them out. Pre-high school kids should be in bed by eight o’clock. For high school kids, lights should be out by ten.
This may sound difficult, but if a child is up past these hours on a regular basis, they will wake up fatigued and soon, when the stress mounts, their immunity will suffer.
If you like botanical remedies, I use an herb called Ashwagandha (sometimes spelled “ashwaganda”) which means, “the strength of ten horses.” I use the whole herb, not the extract. It is a great and very safe adaptogen for kids. It can give them energy during the day and at the same time, if taken before bed, it can support a deep and restful night’s sleep. It is not a stimulant, nor a sedative—it is a true rejuvenative that can help a child weather a stressful time.
Solution: Get those kids to bed early!
In 1850, the average American drank one can of soda per year. Today, kids drink two to three cans of pop per day. A report in The Lancet said that these sugary drinks increase the risk of obesity by 60 percent.
Soda, as well as any caffeinated beverage, will dehydrate the body. So to avoid dehydration, a kid must drink one 12-ounce glass of water for each 12-ounce caffeinated pop.
Dehydration in kids can cause stomachaches, bone loss, hormonal problems, obesity, fatigue, mood swings, poor focus ability, skin conditions and much more.
An average person can lose two to three quarts of water a day through non-exertion. With exercise, a child can lose twice that amount. For kids doing sports, a two percent loss in body weight due to perspiration creates a 25 percent loss of their athletic ability.
Solution: Put water bottles in your kid’s lunch—not high fructose corn syrup juice boxes. At least, have them drink a large 8-12 ounce glass of plain water every morning and evening and give them water with lunch. A good rule of thumb for active kids is to drink one half of his or her ideal body weight in pounds in ounces of water per day to avoid dehydration.
Tip Four: Colds Start in the Digestive System
I often ask my kid patients how often they move their bowels. I usually get a blank stare. They have no idea—their parents have no idea. When I tell them it is normal to go at least once a day, first thing in the morning, they often tell me they go one to two times a week. Parents have to help their kids track their elimination and know what is normal. If they know what is normal, they can be educated to tell their parents if their elimination is off.
Sluggish bowel function causes the villi of the gut to congest. The villi feed both nutrition and waste into the lymphatic system on the outside of the gut wall. It is here that experts believe 80 percentof the body’s immune system lies. So, regular bowel movements are key to optimal health and immunity.
1. Veggies are critical for optimal elimination. Remember, the cellulose in veggies literally attaches to toxins and escorts them into the toilet. Kids innately mimic mom and dad, so if your kids see mom and dad eating a ridiculous amount of veggies at each meal, just watch those once-disgusting vegetables get gobbled down by your kids. It’s a monkey see, monkey do thing!
2. If sluggish bowels are a chronic concern, try an herb called Triphala (sometimes spelled “trifala.”) This bowel muscle tonifier helps the intestinal wall function efficiently without the use of habit-forming laxatives.
3. Avoid late heavy dinners. They are tough to digest and a fast pass to constipation. Of course, sometimes you cannot avoid a late meal. In my house, if we splurge and have a late pizza delivered and watch a movie, I give my kids an herb called Trikatu before we eat. Trikatu supports upper digestive strength so the heavy meal will not sit there and cause one to miss their morning bowel movement.
Tip Five: Controlling Mood and Focus with Food
According to Ayurveda, the middle of the day represents the best time to eat the largest meal of the day, as this is the time when the body can digest a meal most efficiently. This can be tough for school kids.
In the afternoon, when America is craving chocolate and coffee, the brain is demanding the lion’s share of the available blood sugar. If all they had for lunch was a cookie or a snack (a common lunchtime meal), then the blood sugar may crash in the afternoon. This is why kids are ravenous when they come home from school. If possible, leave a good healthy meal on the stove for them when they get home from school. Try not to just give them a sugary snack at this time. If they are craving sweets in the afternoon, it may be due to low blood sugar. A sweet snack here will only start the high/low roller coaster of unstable moods and blood sugar.
When blood sugar is low in the afternoon, the body and mind must strain to muster the energy needed for afternoon activities. This low afternoon energy may lead to ups and downs in mood, low energy, lack of focus and eventual weight gain. When a child is then asked to do homework with crashing blood sugar, this is an impossible task.
The Solution: Plan on feeding them well shortly after they come home from school! No sugary snacks at this time!
Also, if possible, pack your kid(s) a big, healthy lunch to provide the energy necessary for afternoon activities.
This article is based on principles from John Douillard’s book, Perfect Health for Kids
Editor: Kate Bartolotta