Don’t wait until school starts to boost your child’s immunity. With the school year starting in less than two months, summer time is the best time of year to build up your child’s defense system. Here are my top five recommendations to help boost your child’s immunity and get them ready for another successful school year.
1. Fresh vegetable and fruit juices
By now most parents have heard about the health benefits of juicing. Fresh juices provide live enzymes, vitamins, and minerals to the body that are often lacking in most diets. As children begin the school year they often require a lot of energy to adapt to the stresses of learning new material, making new friends, having a new teacher, etc. Their bodies are also exposed to many new pathogenic microorganisms. And if their diets have already been lacking in essential nutrients, it makes them highly susceptible to catch a cold or shut down cognitively and emotionally.
Start the school year right by putting in the work now to build up your child’s immunity with juicing. There are many recipes you can find in books or online, but my go to favorite this time of year is juicing carrots, watrermelon, lemon, spinach, apple, celery, and beets, with a sliver of ginger. It doesn’t really matter how much you juice of each fruit or vegetable, but carrot juice should be the main ingredient as it packed full of the most important nutrients and enzymes your child's body needs. And you’ll obviously need to juice more if you have more than one child. You should juice enough for your self too and reap the rewards as well.
Also, it is important to note the difference between juicing and blending fruit and vegetables, as these are not the same. Unlike juicing, which separates the liquid of the fruit or vegetable from the pulp, blenders liquefy the pulp and juice together. While some will argue that blending offers more benefit because it includes the fiber, fruits and vegetables that have been liquefied in a blender are not digested and assimilated as fast nor as well as when they are juiced. The juicing process extracts the finest essence from fruits and vegetables, which provides the quickest and easiest assimilation of live enzymes and essential nutrients. In my opinion, if you want to take advantage of the fiber in fruits and vegetables, it is better to consume the fruit or vegetable whole and use the teeth to grind and crush the fruit or vegetable into roughage.
2. Avoid highly processed sugar
Staying cool in the summer is often a challenge, especially here in Southern California where we get long days of intense dry heat. As a result, we often burn a lot of energy and fluids, and crave foods that are high in sugar to help us stay hydrated and energized. But during this time parents too often allow their children to snack on sweet junk foods such as ice cream, sodas, and candy. These types of foods make the blood and lymph acidic, obliterate the beneficial flora of the gut, damage digestion, and put the cells of the immune system to sleep.
While the effects of eating and drinking in this way may not be seen during the summer, it is setting up the perfect biological terrain for viruses and bacteria to nest and grow later when the school year has begun. Remember, building up a healthy immune system, or making it weaker, does not happen overnight. If you absolutely must give your child a treat, or allow them to indulge in some junk food this summer, be reasonably moderate and do not allow them to overdo it.
And try to avoid junk food with highly processed sugars and harsh chemicals, especially the ones you can’t pronounce. Offer your child more fresh fruit instead, such as watermelon, strawberries, pineapples, and grapes, which are loaded with vitamin C and other essentials nutrients that strengthen the blood and immune system. You can even put these types of fruit in the freezer for a few hours and serve them chilled, or use them to make a smoothie or sorbet.
Another option might be to make your own home-made fruit-filled ice cream or frozen yogurt using the best ingredients you can find. And if you need a thirst-quencher in the summer try freshly squeezed strawberry or watermelon lemonade instead of sodas, concentrated juices, or sports drinks.
3. Absorb Pure Sunlight:
These days most children spend most of their day in closed buildings with little to no natural sunlight. And during the summer, most people hide their children from the sun because they are afraid of the damage ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause. But as much as we often try to avoid the hot sun in the summer, it is important to not forget that our bodies use the radiation from direct sunlight to remain in good physical and mental health.
Direct sunlight regulates the rhythm of many physiological processes, such as food and water consumption, hormone secretion, and sleep. It also aids in the body’s production of vitamin D, which not only is very important in having a positive effect on healthy bone growth, but it also regulates the immune system. Not having enough vitamin D in the body is related to an increase in autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. While there are well known food sources of vitamin D, studies show that one of the best ways the body produces vitamin D is through direct exposure to sunlight.
Under no circumstances should your child be left unprotected and unmonitored under the sun for long periods of time as it can be harmful, especially in the high temperatures of the summer here in Southern California. But this doesn’t mean you need to block your child from the sunlight altogether, all the time, especially if you want them to be able to take advantage of the beneficial radiation from the sun that helps strengthen the immune system. Studies show that depending on skin tone the body generally needs between 5-15 minutes of direct exposure to the sun’s radiation to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D. People with darker skin tone often need more exposure to sunlight while people with lighter skin tone often need less.
To maximize the use of sunlight this summer in building your child’s immune system, allow your child to go out under the sun for a little while during the middle of the day at least a few times a week without sunglasses, a sunblock shirt, or sunblock lotion. Every child is different so keep a close eye on them to make sure to avoid their skin or eyes getting burned. Bear in mind the most beneficial radiation from the sun is absorbed in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Sitting them underneath a shaded tree, patio, or near a well-lit window (unless it’s made of 100% quartz), or in the early morning or late afternoon sun, without protection, will likely have little to no benefit in producing vitamin D. Ideally you should also try to get somewhere out of the city, near the beach, a regional park, or in the mountains, where the most beneficial rays will not get blocked by pollution. Once you have assessed they’ve had the necessary exposure, cover them with an all natural sunblock lotion and sunblock clothing, being sure to reapply the lotion according to the manufacturer’s directions for the remainder of the time that they are in the sun.
4. Take Herbs:
Too often I hear from parents who wait until their children become ill during the beginning of the school year and then request a prescription for an herbal medicine remedy or formula. While herbal formulas are generally safe and often very helpful during these situations, parents have to be reminded that the strength of herbal medicine revolves around long-term use and prevention.
There are hundreds of herbal formulas from the Chinese medicine pharmacopeia that display a wide range of pharmacological effects, including many that display immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. But taking herbal formulas before rather than after an illness occurs is generally more effective because there is more time for the beneficial properties of the herbs to be assimilated into the body.
Although very powerful and effective for many specific acute diseases, herbal formulas excel at keeping the immune system strong and balanced over a long period of time. When taken longterm, they are an excellent choice for minimizing the effects of common infections and shortening a child’s recovery time, possibly even warding off an infection before it begins to take a foothold.
Summertime is a great time to start a daily regime of an herbal formula that will help strengthen your child’s immune system so that they can more easily adapt to all the changes the new school year will bring. If you’re here in Southern California, you can start your child now on a classic formula such as Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling, which are time-tested formulas used to combat the early stages of colds and flus. The herbal formula Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang is also a well known choice as an excellent general tonic to build immunity, particularly when slightly modified or combined with Yin Qiao San or other herbs. Consult with your provider for more details, dosing instructions, and to make sure these formulas are the safest and most effective for your own child’s situation.
5. Receive Acupuncture:
Parents want what is best for their children, but will often snub acupuncture because of their own fears. Anyone who has read up on acupuncture will tell you it is arguably one of the best natural choices for relieving pain, alleviating stress and anxiety, and balancing various bodily functions. However most parent’s apprehension for trying it, or having their children try it, generally revolves around a fear of safety or the idea of experiencing pain from being needled.
In general, the pain associated with the insertion of acupuncture needles, if experienced at all, can be likened to the pain experienced when plucking a single hair from your head- a small sharp sensation that dissipates quickly. Acupuncture needles are in fact very much like a single fine strand of hair- flexible, solid, thin, and light- and like hair they generally only insert into the most superficial layers of the skin. And it feels nothing like being needled with a hypodermic syringe, which is large enough to hold several acupuncture needles inside its hollowed shaft.
Once parents realize acupuncture is generally painless, the issue becomes worrying about safety. Research shows that acupuncture is generally very safe when performed by a qualified licensed acupuncturist, seldomly producing a small amount of minor side effects such as drowsiness, bruising, or soreness, if any at all. In fact, research in acupuncture rarely focuses on safety, instead it revolves around trying to understand how and why it is just as, and in some instances more, effective in treating a wide variety of conditions than prescription drugs, counseling, or surgery.
While the scientific mechanism for how acupuncture works remains unknown, recent research suggests that acupuncture activates the immune system, which may explain not only the mechanism behind acupuncture's pain-reducing effects, but also its wide diverse therapeutic effects in regulating stress, anxiety, and other inflammatory conditions and chronic disorders now linked to inflammation. By activating the immune system, acupuncture may be used to help improve the body’s natural response and adaptation to mental and physical stress, harmful pathogenic micro-organisms, and cellular waste, while also reducing pain and other symptoms related to the inflammatory response.
So if you’re worried about the safety of acupuncture, you’re very likely asking the wrong questions. You should be more interested in learning how it can support optimal immune system function in your child.
However although generally safe, effective, and virtually painless, not every child is a good candidate for acupuncture. The reason? Children often have a very hard time laying still, which does pose some risk of safety and uneccesary discomfort. So not all children should be rushed to an acupuncturist for treatment. It’s better to have a consult first to find out if your child is a right fit for acupuncture. If they are, summer time is a great time for beginning an acupuncture regime in time for the start of the upcoming school year.