Health Matters – Back-to-School Illness

As the cooler weather starts creeping around, It’s not uncommon to get the sniffles—or a full-on cold or even the flu. And with the kids starting school and daycare, the predisposition toward illness escalates with this whole new onslaught of germs. No wonder many parents experience change-of-season/start-of- school anxiety! Here are some tips to help your family stay well this season.

Bundle Up

Why does a change in outdoor temperature make us more susceptible to illness? Traditional Chinese medicine offers the answer: our bodies need to maintain a balanced temperature for health. A “cold” is called this because, in Chinese medicine, It’s believed to usually result as an exposure to cold. This can refer to cold temperatures in general, but more often is associated with a chill wind blowing, especially around the neck and head.

So as the weather changes, be sure to bundle up! In fact, during the fall It’s better for your child to be a little too warm in a sweater than too chilled without one. And if It’s windy, make sure that the head is covered with a hat or hood.

Eat Well

You usually can’t expect—or even bribe—your offspring into eating immune-boosting “change of season” soup, a traditional Chinese medicine soup made with broth, vegetables, and immune-boosting roots. However, there are some diet changes you can institute more easily.

The most obvious is to reduce kids’ consumption of refined sugar. Did you know that one teaspoon of sugar (the amount that’s in an oatmeal cookie or a single chocolate mint) can lower immunity for up to five hours? If your children are craving sweets in their diet, choose fruits (dried, fresh, or canned) instead.

Secondly, how many fruits and vegetables is your child actually consuming? Studies show that adequate fruit and vegetable intake helps maintain a healthy white blood cell count. Nutritional experts recommend a minimum of five servings daily.

Additionally, be aware of any food allergies or sensitivities your child may have. Now is not the time to consume these foods. Your child’s body is already under stress with the change of season, and adding a known allergen/sensitive item into her diet increases this stress. Other times of the year may allow limited “cheating,” depending on the nature of the sensitivity, but not now.

Take Your Sunshine

Another way to make sure your child’s immunity is up to par is to supplement with vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin That’s essential in maintaining healthy natural killer cells (among other things). Although vitamin D is usually made by our bodies in the summer during full sun exposure, the sun’s rays aren’t direct enough in the fall to allow for sufficient vitamin D production. This means that during the colder seasons, vitamin D supplementation is necessary. In fact, lack of supplementation is related to the drop in immunity that seems to coincide with the cooler months.

I recommend that children consume 1,000 IU vitamin D per day. Use the D3 form of vitamin D (read the label); this is the form most easily absorbed. If you have a picky eater or a supertaster, there are easy-to-administer products available. One brand even offers 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 in just a single small drop.

And If You Do . . .

Although the above tips can’t, of course, guarantee complete wellness throughout the cooler months, they can definitely help reduce the frequency of illness in your household. However, if your children do fall sick, there are some natural options to help them regain their health more speedily.

Vitamin C helps white blood cell activity, especially when illness occurs. Vitamin C crystals are an easy way to administer liquid vitamin C to children, although watch the crystals? sugar content (it varies by brand). The dose depends on the child’s age; up to 500 mg for children ages two through ten is common.

Another virus-busting supplement is dark purple elderberry liquid; there have been many studies showing its efficacy in reducing severity and the duration of colds and the flu.

The fall can mean the onslaught of germ season, but it doesn’t need to be. Take care of yourself and your family, stay warm, think positive, take vitamin D, and watch your diet. This fall and winter may be your healthiest yet!

Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.