7 Back-to-School Immune Boosting Tips for Kids’ Health


It’s so much easier to prevent illness than spend time on visits to the doctor’s office and go through endless rounds of antibiotics that often don’t really work anyway!

While a lot of kids don’t need much more than whole foods, play, and love to be healthy all year, some kids are prone to colds, sore throats and strep, coughs, ear infections, sinus infections, and flu, making their autumn and winter — and yours, a lot tougher than it has to be. It can sometimes even be downright miserable with missed school, missed special events, and missed work for you. Also, feeling sick is a bummer for your kids,  and it’s stressful as a parent whenever our kids don’t feel well.

Further, in young children, over-the-counter and prescription cold medications have been a leading cause of adverse events and even deaths, so we need safe, gentle options for preventing illnesses, so we don’t even have to reach for potentially harmful medications unless absolutely necessary.

If you’re kiddo happens to be one of those who gets sick more often than you’d like, or if you just want to do some immune boosting, here are my top 7 tried and true cold and flu prevention recommendations for kids. Immune boosting doesn’t just happen over night, so you can start doing these things now, and then safely continue throughout cold and flu season (autumn into late winter/early spring), to boost optimal immunity, ward off illness, and keep your child healthy all year. These tips have good quality scientific evidence behind them, are affordable, safe, and you’ll be happy with the results!

Dr. Aviva’s Top 7 Natural Immune Boosting Tips for Kids to Start Now! 

1. Tweak the diet

Here are the dietary changes that can keep your kids healthy all fall and winter, at any age, by removing the foods that block immunity, and upping the game on those that boost immunity:

  • Eliminate most sugar, and all fruit juice (homemade veggie juice with some fruit is okay a few times per week) and all soda.
  • Eliminate most dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt) if it tends to make your child get congested or phlegmy.
  • Increase leafy green veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens) and fresh or frozen berries (organic blueberries, organic strawberries), and make sure your child is getting 2 servings of veggies or fresh fruit at each meal.
  • Make sure you child is getting high quality protein (beans, lean meats, fish, poultry) and high quality fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado) at each meal.

2. Give Zinc daily

Zinc is an immune boosting mineral found in oysters, beef, and lamb, and to a lesser degree in pumpkin seeds, cashews, and beans. Taken daily for up to 5 months, zinc reduces the likelihood of viral infections, especially colds, absences from school, and antibiotic use in kids. It can easily be given as a flavored lozenge to older kids; for younger children try a liquid.

Here’s the dosing by age:

  • 6 months to 3 years old 2-3 mg per day
  • 4-8 years old 5 mg per day
  • 9-13 years 8-10 mg per day
  • 14-18 years 10-15 mg per day

A children’s or teen’s multivitamin with zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D may contain all that your child needs, so check the label before adding extra. If it does not contain the doses mentioned in this article, then consider supplementing to meet these amounts.

3. Give Vitamin C daily

A review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a major medical data review group, showed a 13% decrease in cold symptoms in children who took one gram (1000 mg) of vitamin C daily for prevention. The form and dose are “buffered ascorbic acid,” 250-500 milligrams 3 times a day, given with meals.

4. Give a Probiotic daily

Probiotics, especially lactobacillus taken alone or with bifidobacter – which is another species – during the winter has been shown to reduce daycare absences because of fewer colds, are reduce the incidence of fever, cough, runny nose, and the use of antibiotics. Look for a brand that is in a powder or liquid form for younger children  so you can hide it in a smoothie, yogurt, or apple sauce, and that contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter strains. Ther-Biotic brand is one example. They also make an infant formula, which you would give to babies (check with your child’s doctor first!) 1⁄4 teaspoon 1-2 times a day, or a children’s chewable that you can give 1-2 tablets a day in children 2 and older. Kids 12 and older can take an adult probiotic. Additionally, for strep prevention, there is a probiotic that’s made for kids called ProbioMax ENT and is in a chewable form – which has been shown to help reduce strep infections in kids.

5. Give Vitamin D3 daily

Vitamin D can help support the immune system and is important for overall health. We tend to get less of it in the winter because we’re indoors so much more, and the sun is a major source, so I recommend supplementing starting in the autumn! All babies 1 year old and under should get vitamin D supplementation regardless of time of year.

Dose:

  • Babies up to age 1 year old, 400 units per day
  • 1-5 years old, 500-1000 units per day
  • 5-10 years old, 1000 units per day
  • Over 10 years old, 1000-2000 units per day.

6. Use a Saline Rinse twice weekly

Using a nasal saline rinse has been shown to reduce respiratory infections in kids significantly. It’s tough with young babies, but kids over 4 can give it a try, and it’s something older kids can get the hang of. You can either go to the pharmacy and purchase a saline rinse kit, or a neti pot. I don’t recommend adding any herbs — just use the recommended saline solution. Use the rinse 2-3 times each week.

7. Give Gentle Herbal Remedies

What are some of the herbs you can use daily for cold prevention in kids? The ones that I recommend are:

  • Echinacea, and the dose of that in kids 2-5 years old is 7.5 milliliters a day. That’s about a measured teaspoon and a half, and you can give that in two divided doses, so about three quarters of a teaspoon twice a day. And then for kids 6-11 years old, that would be 10 milliliters a day or about 2 measured teaspoons twice a day. Use that same dose for kids over 12 and for adults as well. Echinacea has been shown to support the immune system, prevent the frequency of upper respiratory infections and bronchitis, and also prevent secondary infections, so preventing infections from turning into more entrenched bacterial infections.
  • Another herbal medicine called Andrographis has also been shown to boost immunity and reduce the frequency of upper respiratory infections, and also help to shorten their duration when they do happen. And that’s given at 50-200 milligrams a day, generally for 5 days if you’re trying to ward off a cold.

If you prefer to listen, check out this episode on Natural MD Radio where I discuss Back to School Immune Boosters.

I want you to be able to spend more time with your kids being healthy this autumn and winter, and less time in the doctor’s office! Sound awesome? Want to take a deep dive in learning how to boost your child’s immune system using natural approaches, safely and from home? If YES, check out my online course Healthy All Year. You can study all of this with me and other mommas who share your concerns! 

 

 

Bronstein AC, Spyker DA, Cantilena LR Jr, Green JL, Rumack BH, Giffin SL. 2009 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 27th annual report. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2010;48 (10):979-1178.

Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, Reifer C, Ouwehand AC. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Pediatrics. 20 0 9 ;124 (2) : e172- e179.

Office of Dietary Supplements. Nutrient Recommendationshttps://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/nutrientrecommendations.sec.aspx

Pratter MR. Cough and the common cold: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2006;129(1 suppl):72S-74S.

Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(2):CD001364

Slapak I, Skoupá J, Strnad P, Horník P. Efficacy of isotonic nasal wash (seawater) in the treatment and prevention of rhinitis in children. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 20 08 ;134 (1) : 67-74.

Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter medications for acute cough in children and adults in ambulatory settings. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(1):CD001831.

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Kim Anderson

I have a 3 year old. What are some brands/product names you would recommend for all of these supplements?

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    Elizabeth

    BioGaia is a brand that has tested clean and is great for children's probio, zinc and C

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Jenna

Thank you for this timely article! I have a 6 month old and I was just wondering which supplements are safe for me to use to keep her healthy through this upcoming cold and flu season. Are there particular brands that you would recommend? I've been looking for supplements that are as pure and safe as possible for my baby to take. She is exclusively breastfed and I take some of these supplements myself but I'm not sure if she gets any of the benefits of my supplements through my breastmilk. What is the safest way to give her these supplements? Can I mix multiple supplements into breastmilk in a bottle?

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Michelle

I've heard that vitamin D3 should be given with K2 for best absorption to the right parts of the body. (I think I read that calcium and potassium also affect vitamin D absorption....) Do you agree and if so, would you go with supplements that deliver both at the same time, like Thorne Research liquid, or TwinLabs dots? That's what we've been using, but it may be for adults. . . Thanks!

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    Dr Maggie Luther

    Hey Michelle- you are right. Vitamin K2 works to put calcium into bones (the bones act as a storage reservoir for calcium), whereas vitamin D helps the body absorb more calcium. Potassium also helps with calcium absorption into the body. Taking large amounts of vitamin D without sufficient K2 should be avoided. Vitamin D acts more like a hormone in the body. K2, not so much. K2's role (over simplified) is to increase receptors for calcium absorption into the bone, so you either have sufficient receptors or not enough (if you aren't taking or eating K2). There is toxicity with vitamin D (really should dose to your specific needs based on labs), whereas there has been little toxicity noted with vitamin K2 (everything in moderation though!). I use a liquid D/K2 with my 4 year old, the only thing is sometimes liquid over delivers, so that is the only thing to watch out for (you give 4 drops instead of 2 sort of thing). Hope that helps!

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Antonia

Dr Romm, thank you! Do you have some recommendations for the zinc ? I use a whole food based powder vit C from a company called Synergy vitamins. Would that be a good choice( in the dose you recommended) for my 18 mo?

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Antonia, This is Megan from Dr. Aviva's team. In her practice she usually recommends zinc citrate. Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Tracy

Be careful with echinacea and do a little research on it before you give it. If your child has an allergy to ragweed, mums, marigolds, or daisies, it could cause an allergic reaction. It also interacts with other drugs. Not saying it won't help with immunity building, just saying to read up on it before you give it to your kid to be sure it's the right thing to be giving him/her. Some people may not be aware of the possible side effects/interactions. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-981-echinacea.aspx?activeingredientid=981&activeingredientname=echinacea

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Cosmina

Hello Dr. Aviva, Thank you for your wonderful advice. I have a healthy 1 year old daughter:). Do you recommend to give her zinc, vit C vit D and probiotic, all together, daily?! preventive? Thank you for your answer, Kind regards, Cosmina

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MamaV

Is that an echinacea tincture? tea? lozenge? thanks!

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi MamaV, This is Megan fro Dr. Aviva's team. Most often tincture is best. I hope this helps! Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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FC

The big question: do you recommend the flu shot?

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi there! This is Megan from Dr. Aviva's team. Here is an article that Aviva wrote specifically on the flu shot. It is geared towards pregnancy, but in general, much of the information is applicable for those who are not pregnant. http://avivaromm.wpengine.com/flu-vaccine-in-pregnancy-whats-a-girl-to-do I hope this helps! Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Jennifer

Thank you for such a helpful article about preventative things we can do to help our kids be resilient to illness during the school year. I keep learning more and more about the importance of reducing sugar and including probiotics. This was a helpful reminder to stick with it!

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michael

Hi, I noticed on the herbs that you did not reference what type of herbal supplements were. tincture, Glycerin, tea, or decotion .... What do you suggest.

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    Megan Liebmann

    Tinctures can be made in alcohol or glycerine, depending on the extractability of the plant. I prefer alcohol (better overall extraction) but often use glycerites in kids, or in those who can’t tolerate alcohol. Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Chance

Thank you for reminding me to get ahead of autumn and winter illness. You recommend Echinacea, but you don't actually mention what form. I can tell you're indicating a liquid... Tincture? Thank you!

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Chance, This is Megan from Dr. Aviva's team. Tinctures can be made in alcohol or glycerine, depending on the extractability of the plant. I prefer alcohol (better overall extraction) but often use glycerites in kids, or in those who can’t tolerate alcohol. I hope this helps! Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Care

Thank you Aviva for sharing your wisdom with all of us....I have such gratitude for you & your intensive and continuous research! I Find comfort in your blogs as I did years ago when a trusted professor of mine gave me as a gift your book "the natural pregnancy book" thank you for being accessible to all who are seeking sensible, intelligent, beautiful herbal means of caring for ourselves and our families. ????

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Jaime

HI Aviva! I love all the information you share and I have a passion for spreading this knowledge as well. I wanted to check in on how you use Echinacea. I was under the impression it was best used to super charge the immune system at the first sign of a cold and was not as effective if used over a long period of time. I was expecting to see Elderberry on the list to keep cells protected from viruses. What are your thoughts? Appreciate your wisdom! Thank you, Jaime

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Zara

Hello Dr. Romm, I am getting ready for the upcoming fall/winter season and I would like to add zinc to my daughter’s supplements this year. She is 2 ½ , so I am looking for the appropriate doze for her (2-3mg daily), however, all the lozenges I find are of a higher doze and, for some reason, I cannot find any zinc in liquid form (which is actually what I would prefer to give her). Any brands that offer the doze appropriate for her age that you can recommend? I greatly appreciate all the invaluable knowledge you that generously give to all of us!!! Thank you!!!

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Bethany

What about Elderberry? I've heard a teaspoon a day keeps the immune system strong. But I'm not sure if it has those exact vitamins and minerals.

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Bethany, This is Megan from Dr. Aviva's team. Elderberry is wonderful!! -Megan- Dr. Aviva Romm Nutritionist

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Rita

I'd love for my kids to take zinc citrate. The only liquid form I can find is made by Pure Encapsulations but there are some nasty ingredients. Has anyone found something that I could give my kids? They are too young to swallow a pill.

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Danielle

Hi! Thank you for the tips! Is there a specific kid-safe product you recommend andographis? Herb pharm makes a tincture with alcohol but I can't find anything to give my 3yo. Thank you!

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    Danielle

    I found this nonalcoholic tincture online from the UK. Do you know this brand? https://www.mountainfresh.co.uk/product/andrographis-non-alcoholic-tincture-copy/

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      aviva

      Sorry, don't know that one.

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    Tyson

    Hi Danielle, Herb Pharm has an entire line of kid focused alcohol-free herbs. https://www.herb-pharm.com/products/45

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Kristi Mahy

Hi Dr. Aviva, I am wondering if you would recommend a multivitamin for toddlers (2-3 years old)? If so, are there any particular brands you like? I live in Canada so some brands are not as common here.

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    Megan Liebmann

    Hi Kristi, If you have not already, tune into the podcast Aviva just released on Wednesday! I believe she answers your questions there. Warmly Megan- Aviva Romm's executive assistant and online nutrition expert

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Jess

Can someone please recommend liquid zinc for my 11 month baby? Something that doesn't have nasty chemicals added!

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Alice

Thanks for all the great info!! Is there a multi vitamin brand you would recommend for my 2 year old? And should he be taking a multi? Or just using the immune boosting vitamins you recommended? Thank you.

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Caroline Lutzen

These are wonderful tips! I also use doTerra essential oils as part of my families daily health routine! I had such amazing results and had so many friends inquire about them I decided to become a wellness advocate:)

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Eleonora Garcia

Hello my daughter is in grade 7 and they are highly recommending to take the HPV vaccine Gardasil, i am not sure about it since all the side effects it may have, i would like to have some information and opinions about this vaccine, do you recommended? is it safe?

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Lauren

Hi Aviva, I am not sure if you are still responding to this thread but I'm desperate, so I thought I would give it a try... I have three girls, 2, 4 and 6 who have been sick with the flu and I have recently been diagnosed with pneumonia. I am trying to find reliable sources/brands for the zinc, probiotic and vitamin c. I have been giving them the rainbow light multi but it's not enough zinc or vitamin c, especially for my older girls. If you could give me a trusted brand for these three, that would be so helpful. I came across a recipe you gave for a cough reducer that calls for anise tincture- i can't seem to find that anywhere... Thanks for taking the time to reply, I know this is a busy week for you, can't wait to read your book!! Lauren

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    Amanda Swan

    Hi Lauren! I am the nurse practitioner in Dr Romm's practice, and I often hop in to answer comments and questions since Dr Romm doesn't always have time to get to them all! We hope that your girls are feeling better! You can access Dr Romm's supplement formulary by clicking here: http://avivaromm.wpengine.com/supplements/ There is a section for children's health and you may find some of the products you are looking for! All the best, ~amanda, APRN

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Susie Creel

Hi Dr.Avia, Thanks for your great advice. I have a 3-years-old child, her health is pretty good but she still has some respiratory problem. I think the biggest reason is because of the tropical monsoon climate in my country, and OMG it made me very miserable. I have looked through some products on your website and I have some questions. Your products are medicines or functional foods? Can you give me more information about that? And one more thing, I’m not living in US, so how can I buy your product, or can you give me some suggestions about any products that fit for my daughter? Appreciate, Susie Creel

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    Aviva Romm

    Hi Susie, Some online companies do provider deliver in Europe and Asia (monsoons so assuming Asia). But it is tougher and so easier to often use dietary changes and standard vitamins and minerals, and look into local traditional medical practices (just make sure they're safe!) . MAny of my patients around the world have a relative living in the US, Uk, etc and have them order the products to be delivered to US, UK, etc respectively and then the relative will mail to the more remote location. Garlic, ginger, and many other helpful herbs can be found around the world quite easily.

    Reply