With so many multivitamins and supplements on the market for adults and children, it can be confusing for parents to decide which supplement, if any, is best.
Check out the PedsDocTalk YouTube Video: Immune Supplements for Kids, for more information on the regulation of supplements in the U.S., fundamentals of immune health, when multivitamins are needed, vitamin C supplements, zinc supplements, and elderberry supplements.
“Does my kid really need a supplement?” “Why do all supplements claim to fight colds and viruses?” “Is this safe?” Read on for more.
Everyone wants to know that magic medicine or that magic way to avoid getting sick (is it a supplement?), including for their children. Unfortunately it’s not so easy! Our immune system is very unique and kind of complicated in a good way. There are many factors that make our immune system what it is.
We forget how much genetics play a role in our immune system and unfortunately we can’t always control our genetics. You need to also consider the environment you live in. What region of the country do you live in? What are your exposures? The foods that we eat also play an effect! Even in identical twins I will sometimes see one child get sick all the time and the other child barely gets sick and they will be in the same environment.
When a company is selling a supplement or a vitamin, and they say that this supplement or vitamin is going to fight the cold, you have to remember that supplements in the USA are not regulated by the FDA. That means that these companies are not submitting research or submitting articles to the FDA for approval. They are submitting their product onto the market and we are trusting that company for efficacy and safety.
This means their claims are not necessarily backed up. That doesn’t mean that it makes it automatically unsafe; it just means that we don’t know if what they’re saying is actually valid.
Supplements are not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to remember that we are trusting the company and the brand who’s releasing that supplement to say, “Hey we are trusting this by putting it on the market but there’s not a federal agency looking at safety and efficacy.”
The truth is, the best immune booster is free!
I’m a pediatrician and am around germs all day. My husband’s an ER doctor – he’s around germs all the time and our son is in child care and he is always around sick kids. Every few weeks he has a runny nose, if not a fever, if not croup, if not something else. This is how I look at it – there are thousands of viruses out there and his body needs to be exposed to these to develop immunity. So when kids do get sick, I don’t want you to beat yourself up over it. A daycare can do the best they can to clean surfaces but you can’t get away from a child sneezing in another child’s face. They’re going to grab an object before they can have time to clean – it happens-so don’t blame yourself.
What can we do to help our child and their immune system?
The basic fundamentals go down to sleep! How are we supposed to get sleep? We’re busy, we have a lot to do! Still, we want to manage sleep as best as we can which means prioritizing sleep. Fun, exciting things are awesome but we need to make sure that our children are going to bed at a regular bedtime. Of course during the holidays we’re going to have exceptions to this rule.
Sleep is regenerative. It allows our body to heal and allows us to fight illness. At the sign of a first illness for you as an adult and for your child I recommend making sure you try to go to bed early. When you’re ill, remember that it’s your body telling you that you need to slow down and as adults I know we can sometimes be go, go, go but you need to take that rest whenever you can.
Eat a variety of foods and vegetables!
I believe that this variety is not just vegetables and fruit but it’s also spices. By exploring different cultural food you’re going to introduce your child to various spices, seasonings and foods that can help their immune system.
Besides fruit, vegetables and seasoning, probiotics are really important as well. I do believe probiotics have a good benefit for our gut. When it comes to your child, you don’t have to give them a probiotic supplement, you can just give them probiotic rich foods.
Reduce stress as best you can & exercise
Reducing stress is vital. Stress can release cortisol and stress can also release free radicals in our body. Free radicals can lead to inflammation in our body and subsequently, illnesses so we want to try to reduce stress as much as possible. Creative things like art and play can really help our children who may not verbally be telling us that they’re stressed. Most toddlers and young children won’t be super stressed but for your school-aged child it’s important to incorporate downtime things that foster creativity and things that will allow their mind to relax.
One of the basics for our immune health is exercise! Get outdoors if you can and get outside to get some vitamin D! Exercise helps our body function, it helps us sweat out toxins and it also just helps to move. Movement is really good for our muscles and our brain.
Hydration is key!
Lastly, hydration! After six months you’re going to start incorporating water into meal times but your toddler and school age child, their primary liquid should be water.
Water helps flush out toxins and keep our cells hydrated. It’s so important and it also helps keep our mucous membranes moist. A dry throat and dry nasal passages are more likely to stick to viruses.
What does the research say about multivitamins? Zinc? Elderberry?
Look at the big picture.
I am okay doing supplements if you want to, but remember they may not be necessary for the average child. If you choose a supplement, make sure you choose a brand that is reputable that has been on the market for many years.
Also remember that gummy vitamins are delicious but sometimes you can overdo it because it tastes like a gummy bear! Only give what’s recommended on the packaging. And, make sure you brush your child’s teeth after giving these gummy vitamins because they can lead to an increased risk of cavities.
In the end, remember the basics of immune health and the foundations of hand hygiene – washing our hands and covering our mouth and nose when we sneeze. This can help reduce the transmission of spreading illnesses. Lastly, remember that our kids will get sick. I know. I am a mom of a two-year-old and it is very hard when he gets these back-to-back illnesses. We can’t control everything. We do the best that we can but we also have to understand that our children will get exposed to these common viruses.
How do I handle it? I do what I mentioned with diet, with sleep, with trying to reduce stress, etc. I also give him vaccines to help protect him against the things that we can protect against, but I also understand that illness will happen.