Wintertime is traditionally the season we think of as cold and flu season. Why is this? Most people think the cause of this is just because it’s cold outside. But in Nordic countries like Sweden, babies take their nap outdoors in freezing temperatures, and in Siberia, children run outside in the winter in their underwear and pour cold water on their heads, all to improve immunity!
So if it’s not the cold, what makes our children (and us) sick?
As the weather gets colder, people stay indoors more, where there is less ventilation and more close contact. As activity lessens, lymphatic system function decreases. The lymphatic system is responsible for transporting infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body, and helps rid the body of toxins. It relies on skeletal muscles for moving lymph (the system’s fluid) along. So the more sedentary we are, as more people are in the winter, the more stagnant the lymphatic system gets. Therefore, more exposure to viruses and less ability to fight it off causes more respiratory symptoms.
Also, as the temperatures drop, the holidays begin, and with these come an increase in sugar: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Easter--these are the holidays that mark the cold season, and sugar consumption skyrockets, which only weakens the immune system.
In addition, foods high in Vitamin C, D and B12, like the fruits and vegetables eaten during the summer months, are less available and less nutrient-dense during the winter months. For example, have you ever gone to the grocery store in the winter and bought a very orange looking orange, only to cut it open and it’s pale? It’s likely been painted to look in season. Good produce is just not as available during the winter because it’s out of season.
So, what’s good practice to prevent colds?
To avoid sickness when it’s cold outside, you have to be conscious of and creative with your vitamin sources, your movement, and your food choices, especially sugars. Incorporating immune-boosting foods such as turmeric, cumin, garlic, and onion, as well as natural probiotics such as kombucha or sauerkraut are good regular practices to help prevent sickness. Supporting the immune system is very important, which previous blogs have talked about (see our blog on vaccines for immune system support protocol). Avoid foods such as dairy that increase the production of mucus and phlegm. While sometimes people are intentional with these practices once they’re already sick, this isn’t as effective as daily practice preventatively.
Two other good preventative measures during cold season are an ENT probiotic and elderberry syrup. An ENT probiotic specifically cultures the ears, nose and throat, which take the biggest hit when children get sick. When giving it to your child, make sure it’s dissolved in the mouth rather than chewed and swallowed. Elderberry syrup can be administered to children ages 2 and over, and can reduce the severity and duration of a virus. If you or your child has any autoimmune issues, either refrain from using elderberry, or pair it with a heavy dose of turmeric. Elderberry can increase autoimmune responses and induce a flare-up. Also, use cautiously in pregnancy and with breastfeeding (see our blog on elderberry for more information).
How should I treat a cold?
When your child does get sick, their immune system is exercising itself. When they get through it, it actually helps their immune system become stronger and remember how to fight the illness better next time. It takes roughly five years to develop a good immune system memory and completely culture the gut. In fact, the bacteria in the gut can actually help train the immune system. While we can’t do much about time and age, we can help culture the gut, making sure to rotate probiotics in order get a variety of strains of bacteria, as they perform different jobs (see our blog on probiotics for more information).
There are some great tools for treatment to have on hand during cold season:
Wild cherry bark tincture (appropriate for children 1 year old and up) soothes a cough and is beneficial for immune and throat support.
Eucalyptus essential oil (appropriate for infants 6 months old and up) is a cough suppressant. Diffuse 5 drops for 30 minutes at bedtime, or put 3 drops in a bath. Use small doses, as too frequent or large doses can become toxic, and using cough suppressants around the clock can induce pneumonia.
Vitamin C (appropriate for infants and up) helps thin mucus secretions so a child can cough them up easier. For ages 0-12 months, administer 800 IU daily, for 1-3 years, administer 1,600 IU daily, and for 3 years and older, administer 2,000 IU daily. Dr. Suzanne Humphries also has a high dose vitamin C protocol that I recommend.
Vitamin D (appropriate for infants & up) should be increased for the duration of the illness. Give 4,000 IU daily while sick, then return to 1,000-2,000 IU daily following sickness. This can also be dosed based on weight by your physician. Vitamin D works best when used long-term rather than just during an illness. Yet, Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning that the body will keep absorbing it, even when it’s had enough, so periodic blood serum checks are recommended.
Increase fluid intake. Not enough can be said about drinking more water. The body loses moisture through coughing and excess breathing, contributing to thickened phlegm secretions. Water is also important for the lymph system to do its job fighting the infection. If a child is breastfeeding, this is an appropriate time to offer breastmilk more often. They need the additional fluids, and also the antibodies the mother’s body is producing automatically in response to the child’s illness.
A good nasal aspirator. NoseFrida and Zoli both make very effective and non-irritating nasal aspirators. To watch how to safely use a NoseFrida, click here. Keep in mind that too much suctioning can actually cause more mucus production, so do it when they really need it, but don’t overdo it.
While most colds can be managed at home, some can lead to croup or bronchiolitis, and sometimes children’s immune systems aren’t able to tolerate these worsening symptoms very well. If you see any of the following symptoms, call your pediatrician: intercostal retractions, supraclavicular or suprasternal retractions, flaring of the nostrils, cyanosis (blue coloring around the mouth), or rapid breathing (see chart below for normal ranges). Your child needs to be seen for further treatment.
As always, we’re here to help during cold season. We carry most of the above-mentioned products at our office, and can direct you to reputable sources for purchasing the few that we don’t. If you're an established patient, feel free to call us with any questions or concerns as you navigate the winter as healthfully as possible.
Jaimee´ Arroyo, FNP