By Sarah Harris

Back to life, back to reality! Back to school, back to the petri dish?

“If your child is ill or is feeling unwell, they must not attend school. They must remain home and seek medical advice.” The message from our schools is clear. Beyond practising “good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene”, what can we do to limit even mild symptoms that may leave our children at home? 

There’s plenty to keep in mind when formulating a return-to-school plan. 

But the immune health of your children should be paramount. 

Empty shelves at office supply retailers tell the story of the millions of students who’ve endured restructured homes to accommodate the requirements of their new virtual school.

There are benefits and challenges of schooling from home. Isolation has kept our children away from the typically common colds and coughs. However, because of the nature of the interruption, little time has been available to plan for the end of the episode – the return to school. So what exactly should that plan look like? How do we retain the good track record?

Your (Natural) Medicine Cabinet

Did you know that natural medicines have double benefits when fighting an infection? Not only do they help our kids feel better quicker by reducing symptoms, they can also boost  their immunity and reduce their chances of getting sick in the future. Now that is good for keeping our kids at school.

Be Prepared

Make sure you are prepared this cold and flu season – and remember, prevention is better than cure! Have all the essential immune nutrients on hand this winter. You may want to include zinc, vitamin C & D, strain specific probiotics and echinacea in your immune first aid kit, to keep you and your family well this winter.

Ask your Paediatric & Family Naturopath whether these four cold-busting remedies are suitable for the particular needs of your child:

  1. Echinacea
    A potent herb that can help to prevent infection, reduce the symptoms of colds and flu by stimulating your body’s own immune function; improving your runny nose, cough, fever, headache and fatigue. You or your loved ones can take this herb as a preventative to keep your immunity strong; it can also be used acutely as soon as you get cold symptoms.
  2. Medicinal mushrooms
    Coriolus, reishi and shiitake can provide symptomatic relief of upper respiratory tract infections by helping to reduce congestion and mucus, helping you breathe easier. They also enhance the strength and function of the immune system.
  3. Probiotics
    These friendly bacteria live in your digestive system and enhance health, and even immunity. Did you know that there are specific probiotic strains that have immune boosting properties to reduce chances of infection and are able to help you fight off a cold? The probiotics Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LGG), Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracasei have been shown in multiple scientific studies to help reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold and to enhance immune responses. By providing healthy gut immunity, you are providing the best defence against inhaled and ingested pathogens.
  4. Nutritional supplementation:
    Optimal levels of zinc in the body have been found to inhibit the common cold and influenza viruses. Reducing both the duration of infections and the severity of symptoms, helping to get back to normal activities sooner. Having adequate zinc levels also decreases the likelihood of you getting sick in the future; meaning fewer sick days needed annually.
    Vitamin C
    Supports healthy immune function by enhancing the activity of your immune defence army of white blood cells; also reducing severity and duration of symptoms.
    Vitamin D
    A vital nutrient required by your body for a wide range of jobs, like helping to boost your immunity so you are less likely to end up in bed feeling sick.

Do-It-Yourself Prevention

Whilst herbal and nutritional medicine, in conjunction with probiotics, are invaluable in maintaining a health, the following diet and lifestyle measures also support optimal immune health:

Minimise your child’s sugar intake
Eat less canned food, processed breakfast cereals, baked goods, desserts, sweetened dairy products, condiments, fruit juices, lollies, chocolate and fast foods – these often contain sugar which encourages the growth of harmful pathogens in the gut, reducing immune strength.

Keep on top of stress and combat the impact of returning a busy school life
Have you ever noticed your digestion and immunity plays up during stressful periods? Through a complex network of nerves and tissue, it’s a two way street as the gut and brain communicate with each other; also influencing your digestive and immune function. Stress busting techniques include gentle exercise such as yoga, regular meditation and ensuring an adequate restful sleep each night.

Be mindful of pharmaceutical overuse
Whilst over-the-counter medicines may be required in some circumstances, unnecessary overuse of these agents may compromise the microbial balance within the gut and reduce immunity over time.

Do-It-Yourself Prevention & Recovery

Alongside taking your natural medicines you can improve your resistance and get yourself get well by using these seven DIY preventative and symptom-relieving strategies:

  1. Ease nasal congestion
    Kids can use a nasal spray containing antimicrobial essential oils (ask your Naturopath for a recommendation). Also, try a steam inhalation or have them take a steamy hot bath or shower, so they can breathe easier and be more comfortable.
  2. Gargle with warm water regularly
    This can help ease a sore throat. Add a teaspoon of salt for added antiseptic and gentle anti-inflammatory benefits.
  3. Drink plenty of fluids
    Dehydration can occur easily in kids if they do not replenish fluids lost through sweating, having a runny nose, or having a fever. Being dehydrated can make you feel sicker than you need to. Choose water rather than sugary drinks which can increase inflammation.
  4. Eat regular meals to keep your energy levels up
    Try nourishing, cooked and vegetable-rich foods like soups and stews (they also help keep you hydrated). If your child doesn’t feel like eating, a simple chicken broth can help provide the electrolytes and minerals (such as magnesium, calcium and phosphorus) the body needs to function well.
  5. Use ‘food as medicine’ principles
    Chicken soup can also help reduce mucus congestion, especially if you add warming and pungent herbs and spices such as cayenne, ginger and turmeric. Add plenty of garlic too as it’s considered ‘natures antibiotic‘, helping reduce the chance of developing a secondary bacterial infection that can follow a viral cold or flu.
  6. ‘Eat a rainbow’
    Include lots of colourful fruits and veggies where you can, to give their immune system the antioxidants and vitamins (such as vitamin C) it needs to support healthy immune function and keep fighting the infection.
  7. Take time off
    Don’t feel guilty about keeping your kids home from school. Convalescing will give the body and immune system the chance to recoup its energy – getting kids back quicker and fighting fit again. Teachers and parents will also thank you for keeping germs at home!

I’ve saved the best tip for last.

See Your Paediatric & Family Naturopath…

…for a personalised immune-boosting treatment plan.

As everybody is different, I can tailor an effective strategy for your situation. Maybe you or your children also have a history of catching every cold and flu there is – so ask me how you can also address the factors that may be weakening your immunity, such as a nutrient deficiency, stress or lack of sleep. Rather than wait for your child’s cold or flu to run its course, be more immune savvy this time around. Support yourself and your family with these natural tips and tricks, and get back to enjoying all the activities you all love.

Sarah Harris

Specialist Naturopath, Holistic Nutritionist, Herbalist, Homoeopath

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