Top Ways to Boost Your Child’s Immune System

As the cold and flu season approaches, every parent wants to know the same thing…

What can I do to boost my child’s immune system?

Cold and flu season is coming, and who knows what that means. Some years it hits us hard, and other years it barely touches us at all. But one thing’s for sure – there’s always room to boost our family’s immune system to prepare for if and when the flu hits. Here are my favorite tips and tricks to keep my family, and yours!, healthy through the flu season and beyond! 🙂

Commonsense measures to strengthen your immune system

Apple Prescription

There are several commonsense measures to boost your child’s immune system and help prevent the cold/flu, which most of you are likely already doing. But just as a reminder:

  • An apple-a-day keeps the doctor away! Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. They are full of antioxidants which will destroy the free radicals that weaken our immune system and are responsible for making us feel sick when we catch a bug. Each color provides different antioxidant power – so be sure to eat a rainbow everyday!
  • Wash those hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face. Do your best to keep those little fingers out of mouths and noses!
  • Stay well-hydrated. Stick to water, coconut water, herbal teas, and bone broth. No soda or sugary drinks, please! What’s a good estimate for how much water you need at a minimum? Divide your body weight in half and drink that number in ounces! Do you come close?
  • Drink your bone broth! Bone broth has amazing immune-supporting properties. Not only is it delicious, it’s oh-so-nutritious! See Amazing Bone Broth to get started making your own! Instead of throwing them in the compost bin, use your Thanksgiving turkey bones and get simmering!
  • Eat fermented foods. The probiotics contained in fermented foods have tremendous immune boosting powers. In fact, the fermented Korean cabbage, kimchi, was found to have significant effects in preventing and fighting the H1N1 influenza virus! Here are other examples of yummy fermented foods to try – sauerkraut, pickles (try “real” pickles without added vinegar like Bubbies), miso (who doesn’t like miso soup? Make it with homemade bone broth for an even more powerful immune punch!), kefir (a delicious yogurt-like drink that can be made with coconut if you are dairy-intolerant), and kombucha (a tangy fermented tea – my personal favorite is GT’s Guava Goddess).
  • Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. Did you know that your blood shows lab evidence of a lowered immune system within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars (like glucose, refined sugar, and fructose), and causes a 50% reduction in your white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs? White blood cells are our “army” cells that fight off germs.  This effect is most noticeable 2 hours after ingestion, but is still present 5 hours later! Maybe that’s why your child always seems to get sick after those birthday parties full of birthday cake, juice and soda. On the other hand, keeping blood sugar levels healthy has been shown to improve immune system activity.
  • Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise. Moderate exercise can boost the production of macrophages, the kind of white blood cells that “eat” bacteria and viruses. However, intense exercise can actually temporarily decrease immune function – so don’t overdo it!
  • Get adequate sleep. An increase in sleep actually increases the number of your white blood cells. On the other hand, loss of sleep even for a few hours at night, increases inflammation in our body which makes us more susceptible to catching the flu and having more severe symptoms. So make sure your whole family is getting enough zzzz’s. For tips on getting a good night’s sleep, see Eat Yourself to a Good Night’s Sleep and The 3 Things You Need to Know to Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
  • Minimize stress. Emotional stress creates physiological stress in our bodies that lowers our immune defenses and makes us more vulnerable to illness. Stress has been shown to lower our white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs, and actually creates more inflammation that may make us feel even sicker. No, it’s not just in your head! For guidance on how to help manage your child’s stress naturally, take a look at Back-to-School, Back to… STRESS!!! for some great tips.

Nutritional supplements to boost your child’s immune system

Fish oil supplement capsule on wooden spoon and wooden backgroun

Apart from these commonsense measures, there are a variety of nutritional supplements that can further boost the immune system and give your child’s body that extra defense to more effectively ward off and fight colds and flus. Some of my favorite include:

  • Fish oil – of course! While not specifically shown to prevent cold and flu, omega-3 essential fatty acids have a host of immune benefits too long to list!
  • Probiotics – One study showed a dramatic reduction in fever and upper respiratory symptoms in children who took a probiotic with a specific combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium daily throughout the cold and flu season. This particular combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can be found in Metagenics Ultra Flora Children’s Chewable probiotic, Ultra Flora Synergy powder, and Ultra Flora Balance capsules. The recommended dosage for children and adults is ¼ tsp 2x/day, 1 capsule 2x/day, or 1 chew 2x/day. Probiotics are why fermented foods pack such a punch, so if your child’s palate hasn’t expanded yet to include a lot of fermented foods, be sure to give her a probiotic supplement to keep her gut and immune system healthy! If you want to know more about which probiotic supplement is right for your child, be sure to download my FREE Guide to Choosing Your Child’s Probiotic!
  • Vitamin C – The studies looking at vitamin C for cold/flu prevention have mixed results, but the bottom line is that vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which assists our ability to ward off and deal with infection. I have been using Metagenics Ultra-Potent C because it has added ingredients such as lysine and glutathione which assist in fighting viruses. In general, I recommend Vitamin C 500mg 1-2x/day.
  • Vitamin D3 – There is speculation that rates of illness increase over the winter because of the widespread deficiency of Vitamin D. Studies have shown that people supplemented with adequate levels of Vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season had significantly lower rates of infection. Vitamin D3 increases our body’s production of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial compound, to help fight viral and bacterial infections. The Vitamin D Council recommends a maintenance dosage of 1000IU of Vitamin D3 per 25 pounds of body weight (the dosage may be higher in people with Vitamin D deficiency, which is epidemic and can be measured through an easy bloodtest). **Vitamin D3 is one of the supplements that I am “religious” about giving to my kids.**
  • Zinc – Zinc is required for the normal functioning of white blood cells. Supplementing with just 15mg of zinc per day in adults has been found to improve our immune cells’ ability to ward off infection.
  • Arabinogalactan – This is a natural sugar derived from the bark of the larch tree that enhances “natural killer cell” and macrophage activity – these cells are part of our first line of defense against any invading organism. Arabinogalactan is available as a powder that is easy to dissolve in any drink or smoothie. We carry the Vital Nutrients arabinogalactan powder, and generally recommend ½-1 tsp 2x/day.
  • Imu-Max – A recent study found that a preparation of echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C remarkably reduced the episodes of illness and fever when given daily during a 12-week winter period. This preparation is found in Ortho Molecular Products “Imu-Max”, with the dosage studied at 1 tsp 2x/day for children ages 1-3 years and 1.5 tsp 2x/day for children ages 4-5 years. (A word of caution: echinacea should not be used daily for very prolonged periods, and should not be used in individuals with autoimmune disease without professional guidance).
  • Oscillococcinum – Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic flu medicine that may help to prevent influenza infection. The typical dosage is one vial of Oscillococcinum once/week for kids and adults during the flu season. I also give my kids one vial of Oscillococcinum before or right after any known “germfest” – i.e., birthday parties, plane travel, etc.
  • Xlear nasal spray – One of the MOST preventive things you can do is to irrigate your and your children’s nasal passages with Xlear nasal spray at the end of every day, and after any potential exposure (work, school, playgroups, plane travel, etc.). This is a saline nasal spray with xylitol and grapefruit seed extract, both of which have antimicrobial properties. You cannot overdo it, and will not get “addicted” to it. Other options for nasal irrigation are a regular saline spray, Neti pot, other sinus rinse like Neilmed. **Apart from regular hand washing, I believe that daily and frequent nasal irrigation is one of the MOST important things that we can do to prevent influenza and other infections from taking hold.** This is because after exposure to a virus, the virus tries to invade and multiply in your nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before you develop any symptoms. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold, and thereby prevent many infections from happening in the first place!

 

So there you have it! All the tools you need to keep you and your family healthy through the flu season. Do you need to do each and every one of these things? No! But do what you can, and what feels right for you and your family, and you’re well on your way to a healthier, happier winter!

Feel free to share this post with any parent who wants to know the steps they can take to keep their family as healthy as possible during the cold and flu season, and any time of year for that matter!  And thank you for allowing me to take this journey with you to optimal health to help your whole family thrive!

Dr. Song’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2016. I’ve updated it to reflect my most up-to-date tips and tricks! 😊

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55 Comments
  1. Is there a way I can”pin” this article? I would like to save it to my health coaching tips, as I am studying to become a functional medicine health coach. Btw, I loved the Thriving Child Summit!

    • Hi Alison! I’m so glad you loved the Thriving Child Summit and this article is useful! I have a Pinterest button that is on the top of my browser screen, and when I press that, I can pin the article that I want. But yes, there should be a pin button directly on the article itself so let me ask Peter about that! 😉

  2. Hi Dr Song, I just found the pinterst button at the bottom of the Cold/flu post, but some of the other blog posts do not have the button. I look forward to sharing your articles. Thank you!

  3. Is your vitamin C dosage recommendation for kids or adults? (Metagenics Ultra-Potent C) Is this recommendation for during an active flu or daily? What about vitamin C’s potential ability to chelate copper? I love vitamin C but have been cautious with it after learning about the copper. Just curious your take on that. Thanks!

    • Hi Jill. This dosage is for kids. With low daily doses, I don’t worry about an impact on copper. And during times of illness when I would ramp up Vitamin C dosage, there’s so much oxidative stress going on that Vitamin C will work first to mop up free radicals during that brief time.
      Best, Elisa!

      • Just to make sure I have it right– 500mg 1 or 2 times per day for everyday use and increase (maybe to 2000mg/day?) during an illness. Thank you!

  4. Do you recommend avoiding flu vaccine and keeping your kids healthy thru all of these wonderful tips!?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Ashley – definitely read by blogpost “Should My Kids Get the Flu Vaccine?”. It will hopefully make your decision easier!
      xo Elisa

  5. Thank you for this great article. If your child ends up with the flu how long would you recommend taking the Oscillo. The package say 3x a day but for how many days? Also if there is improvement but still a cough and not full energy would you continue? Thanks

    • Hi Johanna! Oscillococcinum just needs to be taken 3x/day for one day (3 doses total). You don’t have to continue to take it for the duration of the illness. I add on other symptom-specific homeopathic medicines for things like cough and chills. I’m working on getting that info out to everyone ASAP! 🙂

  6. This was my first exposure to your blog. I consider myself fairly informed about staying healthy but I definitely learned a few things. Love this post! Thank you.

    • Thank you, Leslie! I hope I continue to post information that you find useful!
      🙂 Elisa

  7. Is oscocillocoinum safe to take while breastfeeding? Also, for two year olds?

    • Oscillococcinum can be taken safely while pregnant, nursing, or at any age. 🙂

  8. Would you recommend all of these to be given daily? With the exception of the Oscillococcinum of course.

    • I have to be honest and say that I don’t do things daily with my kids, and typically get to supplements a few times a week. That being said, they are super healthy (knock on wood!), and if they were more prone to illness, I might be more vigilant about daily supplements…

  9. Hi:)
    Thank you for a great article..
    What would your best tips be for babies… I have 11 month old twins.
    Thank you:)

    • Any of these tips should be applicable for babies, as long as a lower dosage is used!

  10. Do you recommend vitamin K2 (MK7)be taken with vitamin D3? The recommendations I have seen on how much vary. We are doing about 50-75mcg of K2 with 1000IU D3 daily. Does that sound about right to you?

    • I am also curious about this! I am seeing a lot of information about giving k2 with d3, what amount would you recommend for a child?

      • The dosage totally depends on the child and what’s going on with them. I prefer to do vitamin D testing to know exactly how much a child needs – it can be shocking how deficient or insufficient kids are and how much vitamin d3 they need, even if they’re spending all day long outside during the summer!

  11. What age child can you start giving Oscillococcinum? Also, what age for nasal rinse please?

  12. How about elderberry syrup ? I used wellness mama’s reciepe . I gave my kids both elderberry syrup in the morning during flu season. Also, they take probiotics daily and I do notice the result .

    • Elderberry is awesome, and Katie Wellness Mama is awesome. And the power of probiotics never ceases to amaze me!

  13. Here in Melbourne, AUS we’re just on the tail end of our dreadful flu season! Not a fan of the flu jab, I’m pleased to say we do a lot of what you suggest and I would have to agree that nasal irrigation has been the gold nugget this year. We persevered as it’s not a nice feeling and now the kids ask for it because they know it’s helped so much.

    • woohoo! i heard the flu season was a doozy in AUS! But yippee for staying strong and making it through naturally! 🙂

  14. Hi! My little one is 16mo. How much vitamin C would you recommend for her? Also, is the powder form of vitamin C from Metagenics okay to give her? I wasn’t able to find a liquid form.

  15. First of all, I am new to your blog and your wealth of information but I absolutely love it! We have a 2 year old and a 6 month old and we are trying very hard to get away from chemicals, to be weary of vaccines, and trying to be very cautious of what we are putting into our children’s bodies! I thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge!

    For Vitamin D3 is it 1000 IU per day?

    Is there a multivitamin for children you can recommend that would contain everything you mentioned or do you think it would be better to give individually?

    Also, for the nasal spray, can I use it on my 2 year old or is that too young?

    • Hi Megan – you’re so welcome! So, the maintenance dose of Vitamin D3, once you’re at optimal levels, is typically 1000IU per 25 pounds of body weight. I am always on the hunt for a good multivitamin. At the moment, I think Xymogen’s Active Nutrients multivitamin powder is a good choice. And Xlear can be used at any age!

  16. I used to give my daughter fermented cod liver oil (since she was a year old) during cold and flu season. I always used the Green Pasture brand but I am not sure about its quality any longer. Do you have a trusted brand to recommend for FCLO? or other fish oil that you like?

    • I don’t use FCLO. We use fish oil by various companies – Nordic Naturals, Designs for Health and Metagenics are my favorites!

  17. I have heard some negative things about Kombucha depending on your gut health status. Can you provide any more information to guide me on deciding if it will help or hurt? Yeast/Sugar/Candida/etc. Is there a clear divide that it can be good for some people vs. others?

    • There’s not a clear divide, unfortunately. Kombucha can have a lot of sugar which can feed yeast. And for many people with chronic health issues, the histamine in fermented foods can cause problems. So it really does have to be individualized. Each person is their own best experiment. So if you try something, even if it’s supposed to be awesome for you, but you react – listen to your body! 😉

  18. This is a great article w a lot of important information. Do you have a recommendation for a brand or type of Omega 3 for children? I use the Omega gummies but there’s the issue of sugar in gummies. I also read that Cod Liver Oil is the best source of Omega’s for a child. What is your opinion on that? I am interested in attending any of your summits. How can I stay informed of any upcoming summits?

    • The problem with Omega gummies is that they have so little omega-3 essential fatty acids in them that I view them more as a treat. Nordic Naturals has great easily available fish oil liquids and chewables, which is what I would use over their gummy fish. Cod liver oil has Vitamin A and Vitamin D, so is often better over the winter when added immune support is needed. And absolutely – to stay informed of upcoming summits, all you need to do is make sure you’re signed up for the Healthy Kids Happy Kids newsletter (www.healthykidshappykids.com), which I’m guessing you are since you got this article! 😉

  19. Would all of this apply for infants, as well? I have a 9.5 month old and I am looking for immune support as we head into the winter in the Northeast. Thanks!

    • yes, absolutely! this information applies to infants, kids, teens, and adults!

  20. Great article and I am so happy I found out about you. We do most of these, however, I am wondering if you have a brand of vitamin D you recommend for kids. Thank you!

    • There are many good brands. We use Orthomolecular Products Vitamin D3 liquid drops.

  21. Do you recommend a brand for vitamin D3?

    • I’m also interested in a vitamin D brand for kids. Thanks!!

      • We use the Orthomolecular Products Vitamin D3 liquid drops what are 1000IU of Vitamin D3 per 1 drop. But for Vitamin D3, there are many good brands and I’m not as concerned about brand. Other good brands are Designs for Health, Carlson’s, and Nordic Naturals. Best of luck!

  22. Hi, I was wondering if the dosages for oscillo would be the same for my 18 month old? Also how much fish oil for this age?

    • yes – the dose for Oscillococcinum is the same at any age – 1 vial 3x over a 24 hour period. The dosage of fish oil varies a ton depending on what is going on with each child – whether they have developmental or neurologic or behavioral or immune concerns, or if just for health maintenance… And now with so many different concentrations of fish oils, it’s best to work with a holistic practitioner to know what dose is most appropriate. Best of luck!

  23. This is a great article. Thank you! But what if I wanted to get a multivitamin for my 6 year old, but she is not ready to swallow big pills. Any suggestions on possibly something I can buy powder form for extra immune boosting?? I alreeady make my own kombucha, and we drink a smoothie everyday full of nutrients. Just wanted to make sure she gets enough vit c, zinc, omega 3s…

    • Xymogen has a powder Active Nutrients Multivitamin powder that many kids love – tastes like fruit punch. My kids find it a bit sweet, but it’s pretty tasty and one of the better multivitamins out there. Best of luck!

  24. What are you recommended brands for Vitamin D3, Zinc and Garlic Drops for ear aches?

    • there are many great brands, but the ones I use are Orthomolecular Products Vitamin D3 liquid drops, Pure Encapsulations Liquid Zinc and Herb Pharm’s Garlic ear drops. Best of luck!

  25. Hello – I am wondering if it is safe to use the Xlear Nasal Spray on my 15 month old? Thanks so much for this incredibly helpful article!! Will be sharing!

    • yes! Xlear also has nasal drops that you can use if your child doesn’t like the spray, although I used the spray for my kids at that age, just didn’t push down all the way!

  26. I love your posts & pass them on to friends! Curious your suggestion for a now almost 6 month old to survive the cold/flu season with a mom who works in the hospital & doesn’t sleep much due to frequent nite feedings & 24 hour work shifts. She obviously doesn’t take pills yet & hasn’t started solids either, she’s exclusively breastfed. Besides handwashing & staying away from sick people, what can we do to boost her immune system! Just mom taking these things I’d assume? We will eventually start solids, but not sure how to give probiotics or vitamins!? Would love your input. Thank you!

    • Hi Allison – I’m so glad you find the posts useful! I started giving my children probiotics and vitamin d3 since birth. While I can’t give specific dosages or recommendations, I can tell you for my children, I gave them Klaire’s Therbiotic Infant formula 1/4 teaspoon daily, and Vitamin D3 1000IU every other day. Best of luck through the winter!

  27. Hello! Im wondering what age you give Oscillococcinum for an infant, and the minimum age. Also is it a vial per week even if not sick with the flu or when sick the flu? Thank you!!

    • Hi Sonja – you can give Oscillococcinum at any age – for infants I recommend dissolving the pellets in a little water and giving with a syringe or eye dropper. For TREATMENT at the start of an illness, it’s 1 vial very 6-8 hours for 24 hours (3 doses). For PREVENTION, it’s 1 vial per week. Good luck!

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