Family Friendly Immune Hacks

Is Your Family Sick of Being Sick?

Cold and fluIf you have children (or are pregnant!), chances are you have noticed that you are getting sick more often!

During pregnancy, the immune system becomes more tolerant and therefore we can be more susceptible to infections. Combine this with the additional physical stress pregnancy places on the body and possible changes in diet or sleep and most pregnant women will find themselves sick at some point and not sure what to do.

Once you have children, they like to touch and lick EVERYTHING and will bring home a parade of germs that your adult body may not have seen in DECADES. Plus you are probably eating worse and getting less sleep than you were pre-kids, so your immune system is vulnerable to invasion – the result is that most parents of young children will get sick far more often that they have become accustomed to!

I’ve been asked by many patients for the best immune hacks they can use to keep their whole family healthy, so I was inspired to write this article just for families!  If you’re struggling this winter and want to get well, book an appointment with me at my Midtown Toronto or North York location for your personalized immune support plan.

Got Germs?

When my daughter started daycare last September, I knew she would likely get sick and that this is in fact a NORMAL and HEALTHY part of her development, as I highlight in my article Kids Need to get Sick.

And so I was prepared in advance, taking some basic steps to keep our whole family healthy through the fall and winter…

Sick baby

You know your child is sick when…

I was not prepared for the TSUNAMI of illness that would wash over my entire family for the ENTIRE MONTH OF SEPTEMBER and persist for ONLY ME through much of OCTOBER as well! We immediately all got sick with a cold which resulted in missing her entire second week of daycare. She and my husband got better after a couple of weeks. I, on the other hand, would get a day of rest, feel better, then work a day and by the end of that day be exhausted and develop a post-viral only-at-night cough. Rinse and repeat for about 5 weeks total.

There was a point at which I said to my husband: “What if I never get back to feeling normal?” Thankfully I did recover shortly after that and immediately reassessed and boosted our family’s immune support plan.

What can I do that is SAFE?

When you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, it can seem like EVERYTHING you used to eat, do, or take is now off limits! This is because we lack much data PROVING what is actually safe during pregnancy and there is even LESS data on what is safe while breastfeeding! Because developing humans are so precious, it is best to be extra careful and avoid anything that isn’t definitely SAFE.

And many of your usual remedies are also off-limits for tiny humans.  But not to worry because there are LOTS of ways to support your immune system that are SAFE and HELPFUL for pregnant or nursing moms and babies/toddlers.

Immune Hacks and Habits

Wash your Hands

I know, I know! Hand washing is the first thing everyone tells you to do and there are lots of reminders out there for this one. But guess what? It can help a lot, so here are some more specific guidelines

1. Use soap and water

More effective than hand sanitizer and better for everyone’s long-term health since hand sanitizers contain ingredients that are toxic and can increase antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Save the hand sanitizer for those rare situations when you need to clean your hands and have ZERO access to soap and water and make sure to choose a non-toxic product by consulting the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.

2. Make it a habit

Wash your hands consistently in these situations – doing so regularly will make this a habit that takes little to no effort and will significantly reduce your exposure to bacteria and viruses:

  • Upon arriving at home, work, or any other destination (because on your way you no doubt touched germ-laden surfaces)
  • Before and after eating (to avoid transferring germs from your day into your mouth and to avoid transferring food particles onto other surfaces where germs can eat them and grow strong)
  • Before and after using the washroom yourself, pottying your child, or changing your child’s diaper/underwear (to avoid transferring germs from all those surfaces to yourself or others)

Sleep, sleep, sleep

I think we all know by now that when we are chronically sleep deprived we get sick more often.  Even 30-60 minutes extra sleep per night can make a huge difference in how you feel and how well your immune system can protect you.  Check out my article Tips for Sound Sleep for help improving your sleep.

Fruits and vegEat your fruits and veggies

Your body needs many nutrients to operate optimally, including your immune system.  Most adults and children fail to eat the recommended 5-6 servings of fruits and veggies daily (that is 1 serving of each per 3 meals daily!).  Bumping up your fruit and veggie intake will go a long way to preventing illness in both the short- and long-term!

Check out my article Superfood Smoothie Right for your Type for an easy fruit and veggie smoothie recipe.


Supplement Safe

ProbioticsProbiotics: Gut Guardian

Probiotics are organisms that maintain the natural and healthy environment of your body.  From the moment we are born, our bodies are colonized by a diverse ecosystem of bacteria and other organisms (called the microbiome) that acts as a major barrier to infection by disease-causing bacteria and viruses.  If you’ve ever experienced digestive upset or a yeast infection after taking antibiotics then you have seen how disrupting the microbiome left your body vulnerable.

Many factors in modern life (C-section birth, formula feeding, antibacterial agents in our environment, antibiotic use, pharmaceuticals, poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, I could go on forever…) disrupt our microbiome.  Replenishing and nurturing your microbiome via ingesting probiotics (via supplements or fermented foods) has been demonstrated to reduce the incidence of common viral infections. 

Good for: Everybody in the family! Consult your Naturopathic Doctor for the appropriate brand/dose for your family.

Vitamin DVitamin D: Immune Enhancer

Vitamin D is made by our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight and it plays a major role in immune function (among many other areas of health).  Due to several factors detailed in my article How Much Vitamin D is Best?, most of us need to supplement this essential vitamin.  Ensuring you are vitamin D replete helps your immune system function at its best.

Good for: Everybody in the family! Consult your Naturopathic Doctor for the appropriate brand/dose for your family.

Elderberry: Cold-Crusher and Flu-Buster

Elderberry is a powerful anti-viral herb easy to supplement for both adults and children!  I first wrote about Elderberry in my article Tasty Flu Shot and I still use it with my whole family all winter to prevent illness and increase our dose as soon as any of us starts to get sick.  Check out these articles about Elderberry and the Common Cold and Elderberry & Immune Support.

Good for: Everybody (adults, nursing moms, children).  Consult your Naturopathic Doctor for use in children and for the appropriate brand/dose for you.

Echinacea: Herbal Sidekick

This one is for all the pregnant and nursing mamas who feel like they can’t take ANY herbs. Guess what? Echinacea is one of the 5 herbs considered safest in pregnancy and one of only 3 herbs with actual clinical trials proving this safety! Check out Herbal Medicines in Pregnancy: What’s Safe & What’s Not by Dr. Aviva Romm, MD for a great summary.

Before I was pregnant I found out that many NDs take Echinacea through their whole pregnancy to prevent illness. Once I was pregnant and the entire time I’ve been nursing I’ve continued with Echinacea daily for prevention and increase my dose as soon as I start to get sick.

Look for a product made from the ROOT from two species of Echinacea (angustifolia and purpurea).  Most products are made from the flowering parts of the plant and/or other species and are less effective.  Learn more about the benefits and actions of Echinacea via MediHerb’s Clinical Trials page.

Good for: Adults INCLUDING pregnant or nursing moms. Consult your Naturopathic Doctor for use in children and for the appropriate brand/dose for you.

Zinc: Bring in the Ringer

Zinc, like vitamin D, has a wide variety of uses in the body, including fighting infections.  This mighty mineral has been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold and the number of upper respiratory tract infections. 

The first step is to ensure you are getting enough zinc in your diet and consider testing to ensure you are not deficient (as a naturopathic doctor I can help with both of these).  Next, consider bringing in a zinc supplement or lozenge when you start to feel sick. 

Good for: Adults INCLUDING pregnant or nursing moms. Consult your Naturopathic Doctor for use in children and for the appropriate brand/dose for you.

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