Latest posts by Jessica Peatross, MD (see all)
All parents want to keep their children healthy and happy. But in today’s world, its rather difficult. From maneuvering the toxic additives in the cereal to sorting out the endocrine disrupters in shampoo, the world of self education on safe children’s products and lifestyles can be daunting. Here are some easy tips to keep in mind.
1. GET DIRTY!
As a child I grew up in the countryside of West Virginia and my favorite past time, considering I was a tomboy, was to play in the dirt (much to my parent’s chagrin.) My parents were both healthcare workers so I was exposed to the hospital often when visiting them as a child. My mother was a dietitian so we were educated on the importance of food. Today, despite being a hospitalist who is around the most ill of patients, I am rarely if ever, sick. I credit this to a healthy diet and early dirt and germ exposure. Say what?
Yes, studies are now showing that we have been over sanitized. Ditch the antibacterial soaps and sterilily bleached house! Don’t worry. You don’t need to be messy or a slob, but you do need to understand how exposure to dirt is important to the development of the human body. As counter intuitive as it might sound, exposing a child’s young immune system to a wide array of bacterial bio domes is the correct way to naturally boost immunity. If not exposed young when their immune system is being “educated” about what to defend itself against, this same adult may not be as competent at fighting of illness. Why? If they’ve never seen the bacteria or virus before, their body will have to start from scratch to build its immunity. These naturally occurring bacteria that live in the soil do help strengthen the immune system.
Moreover, these naturally occurring bacteria in the soil “set off” our serotonin receptors and increase serotonin levels that promote restful sleep and better moods. Studies are now showing that exposure to these germs help prevent children from developing allergies and asthma. (www.nature.com/news/early-exposure-to-germs-has-lasting-benefits-1.10294) Autoimmune conditions have also been linked to high prevalence of antibiotics. We have destroyed the delicate gut bio dome with antibiotics which wreak havoc on immunity, as nearly 75% of our immune cells are contained within the gut lining. Antibiotic use is at an all time high in western countries where it not only goes to patients, but factory farming as well. It is then fed back to the population. Incidentally autoimmune disorders are more common in developed countries. This goes hand in hand with the stripping of the soil because illness is produced when humans are not exposed to a wide array of natural and symbiotic microbes.
Recent evidence has also shown that “earthing,” or walking barefoot on the earth, can help reduce the disproportionate amount of positively charged ions that our body collects due to exposure to EMF, electricity, cell phones, computers, etc. Electrons on the earth’s surface help ground out this overload of protons and produce less anxiety and better sleep.
2. Diet, Diet and More Diet…ok and Some Herbs Too
Kiddo’s immune systems will eventually falter if overloaded with constant food additives, dyes, preservatives or sugar and devoid of nutrition. When the immune system is triggered, inflammation sets in and the body will have a much more difficult time fighting off any outside invaders. Sugar has been shown in many clinical trials to feed tumors and suppress immunity. Limit intake of sugar, food dyes and additives and food like substances. Instead, opt for organic (avoid pesticides which can cause leaky gut) fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, or eggs. To beat out pathogens, I recommend trying kefir water, kombucha, or even probiotic juices or lemonades. Kids love them!
Ensure that your child is taking a helpful probiotic. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in our guts and help regulate immunity. If the bacterial balance becomes disrupted, the child may be more susceptible to infections, therefore regular supplementation is recommended. Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria are the two most important bacterial strains in a probiotic and can truly benefit a child’s immune system.
As far as herbs go, elderberry, astragulus, nettles, dandelion root, echinacea, zinc and a good multivitamin are invaluable in fighting off respiratory infections and in boosting immunity. Vitamin D and C are so efficient at increasing immunity that they both have been used in some cancer treatments. And that brings me to my next point…
3. Go Outside!
Experts today have literally scared us into the dark when it comes to sun exposure. Yet, vitamin D REQUIRES sunlight to activate. As I previously stated above, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a number of cancers, including breast. Wearing sunscreen can block the body’s ability to activate Vitamin D. Moreover, many sunscreens contain toxic endocrine disruptors or carcinogenic substances that can be just as unhealthy as sun exposure. Many studies have linked incidence of rising skin cancer to outside factors besides sun exposure as more people are spending less time outdoors and are diligent in using sunscreen. Kids especially need vitamin D for proper bone development, growth, hormone and immune function. Be wise about sun exposure but don’t completely limit your child’s exposure. Try out some DIY sunscreen recipes or opt for an organic and natural brand like Badger Organic Baby Sunscreen.
4. Epsom Salt Baths for the Win
I am a huge fan of Espom salt, or magnesium sulfate in a bath. Its often a remedy to migraines, fatigue, muscle pains, and boosts immunity. Due to depleted and stripped soil, many of us are now magnesium deficient. Unfortunately, allopathic medicine’s lab results are abysmally incorrect. They are only capable of measuring 1% of the total magnesium in the body because the other 99% is bound to proteins and hence, immeasurable. Magnesium is used in almost every reaction in the body and will help kids relax and sleep well at night.
There is also some supporting evidence that magnesium supplementation can help with allergies and skin reactions, like eczema or psoriasis. It is well known in the medical world that other electrolytes, specifically potassium, will not stay stable in the body if magnesium levels are also low.
5. Don’t Forget Proper Sleep and Stress Management
When we are over stressed, we often transfer that same energy and feelings onto our children. They not only have to contend with a fast paced world, but adult stresses as well. Children, in response to their outside stressors like the standard American diet and pesticides release cortisol and epinephrine. Continual stress can burn our adrenals out and children are no exception. The adrenal glands, which sit above the kidneys, is responsible for making the stress hormones. Imbalanced hormones from stress can lower a child’s immunity.
Be sure your children have creative downtime and plenty of sleep. Try to foster a calm and stress free household. Happiness is a choice and children are very tuned into our nonverbal and verbal cues.
Children also need much more sleep than adults. Younger children need up to 12-14 hours. Its also important to make sure your children are sleeping with all the lights off. After the sun sets, they should not be in front of a television or iPad. Pull the night lights too! We are surrounded by EMF as mentioned above, and subjecting our pineal glands to this at dusk can interfere with correct melatonin production.
6. Don’t Freak Out Over a Fever or Other Natural Immune Reactions
Even the 1968 Merck Manual recommends NOT treating a fever until its up to 104! Ok so I don’t expect most moms to wait that long, but I would advise at reaching for the Children’s Tylenol at the slightest sniffle or night sweat. Fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, or skin reactions are the body’s way of alerting us that there is a foreign offender inside. Without these symptoms, we would miss many root causes of illness. This is also your body’s natural immune system as most pathogens can’t withstand heat, emesis or other inflammatory reactions. Often times, children get better faster due to these natural immune reactions.
Avoid antibiotics and unnecessary vaccines. Antibiotic exposure in children is linked to diabetes and obesity due to the marked destruction of gut bacteria. The vaccine schedule has drastically increased and now children receive nearly 40 vaccines before the age of 4. This is detrimental to a child’s delicate immune system.
Always see your healthcare professional for any concerning symptoms. And remember, our minds, bodies and spirits are all connected. Keep all well for total health.
1. 1968 Merck Manual
4. Manual of Pediatric Therapeutics