A Naturopath’s Guide to Healthy Kids

Back-to-school often marks the advent of cold and flu season. Kids are exposed to a whole bunch of new germs – through classmates, at sports, after-school care and all of the group activities that start up at this time of year. How to keep kids healthy?!?!?!? It sometimes feels like a losing battle. We spoke to naturopathic family physician and local mom of three, Dr. Lisa Ghent. She shared practical tips and recommendations for keeping all those colds at bay.

Probiotics

Possibly Dr. Ghent’s single biggest strategy for keeping the whole family healthy is taking a broad spectrum, multi-strain probiotic. She recommends one bottle of probiotic per person in the family throughout the fall. This healthy bacteria wards off both gastrointestinal illness and the very common upper respiratory viruses. She emphasizes that it is important to fully read labels as some contain sugar and/or dairy. Also look for a refrigerated option for higher effectiveness.

Vitamin D

In Canada, we simply do not get enough Vitamin D from the sun through the winter months and this powerful vitamin supports immunity. It is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that the body absorbs it best with fat, so Dr. Ghent recommends looking for an oil based supplement.

Nutrition

Good nutrition is another essential element to overall health. Focus on multiple food groups at each meal and snack, with lots of fruit and veggies, preferably with a stronger emphasis on vegetables. And don’t forget the protein throughout the day to balance out blood sugar.

And hydration is also very important to health. Dr. Ghent strongly recommends water over juice, and also points out that dairy increases mucous production, so milk may not be the best drink when kids have colds.

Sleep

Sleep is a huge factor in wellness and like all of the experts we have interviewed this week, Dr. Ghent is a strong proponent of prioritizing adequate sleep for kids. She agrees that it can be tough after easygoing summer nights to get back on a sleep schedule. Some of her recommendations:

  • Consider a cut off time for extracurricular activities. If it goes too late, it doesn’t get included in the family schedule.
  • Start wind down early in the evening. This may mean as early as 6:30 for early primary children. Dim lights to trigger the body’s production of melatonin, and draw blinds.
  • Develop some sleep cues that become part of the nightly routine. Diffuse a calming essential oil and put on some classical or quiet music.
  • Bathtime should be calming as well if you chose to include it in the evening routine. Again, dim lighting as much as possible.
  • Do some yoga or gentle stretching to settle wiggly bodies.
  • Include a bedtime snack with protein to balance out blood sugar throughout the day. Dr. Ghent suggests roasted pumpkin seeds which are full of muscle relaxing magnesium.
  • And of course, a quiet bedtime story.

Good Hygiene

The best defence is a good offence, which is exactly what good hygiene will do for kids. Parental instruction can really help kids to create healthy habits that will prevent germs from entering their immune system in the first place.

Teach proper hand washing techniques to children. They should wash their hands for the same length of time that it takes to sing Twinkle Twinkle. They shouldn’t touch the taps when they are finished washing, instead using paper towel if not automatic.

Coach your kids to avoid touching their faces when out and about, and teach them to cough or sneeze in their “pocket” (elbow).

Dr. Ghent is clear that hand sanitizer is not a substitute for good hand washing but it is a useful tool for on-the-go. She also ensures that her kids have a portable package of kleenex attached to the outside of their school backpacks for easy access.

Healthy Kids

Dr. Ghent emphasizes that it is totally normal for kids to get sick, and 4-6 colds per year are to be expected. If your child gets a cold without getting too ill and can recover quickly, it’s the sign of a healthy immune system. And if parents are concerned that their child is prone to illness or complications such as pneumonia or strep throat, she can recommend additional measures to protect wellness and improve immune function. If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Ghent or to book an appointment, head over to her website, Dr. Lisa Ghent.

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