Lawrence Rosen, MD, director of the Whole Child Center in Oradell, NJ, and author of the popular book, Treatment Alternatives for Children, says he begins by stressing the basics: eat more organic fruits and vegetables rich in immune-supporting antioxidants, keep the kids exercising, and engage them in fun "mind-body" activities like yoga to improve resilience and overall health. Make sure they're well-hydrated, and getting enough rest.
"I also recommend daily specific nutrients like vitamin D, omega-3's and probiotics to reduce the risk of catching respiratory infections."
A Natural Hand Sanitizer
During flu season, many people become almost compulsive about hitting the hand-sanitizer sprays. But a lot of those products contain alcohol and other irritating chemicals. Dr. Rosen offered the following natural, non-irritating alternative:
• Fill a 4-ounce glass spray bottle near to the top with sterile water.
• Add 1 teaspoon of aloe vera gel.
• Add in five drops each of cinnamon, clove, rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils.
• Mix in 10 drops of either lemon or wild orange essential oil.
• Shake gently, and use two or three sprays on your hands, as needed.
In addition to providing a safer alternative to commercial sanitizers, making this formula can be a fun family project.
Oscillo & Elderberry
Like a growing number of clinicians, Dr. Rosen has found homeopathic medicines to be a good option for children. "At the first sign of flu symptoms, I recommend Oscillococcinum, a time-tested homeopathic remedy. It's safe at any age and potentially can limit the severity and duration of flu symptoms."
He's also partial to elderberry syrup as a natural alternative to prescription medications like Tamiflu. "I recommend the syrup three times a day when flu symptoms begin. The berries possess potent anti-influenza virus properties.
Don't underestimate the value of hydration, Dr. Rosen says. He recommends coconut water, a natural alternative to artificially colored and sweetened sports drinks. Of course, there's always grandma's favorite – chicken soup--which has been demonstrated to aid neutrophil activity.
"I find that these natural alternatives have few potential adverse effects and, in my experience, are more effective. They work with our bodies' natural resources rather than simply suppressing symptoms. Additionally, many are not just specific to flu treatment or prevention but can help build a healthy, natural immune system for those tough winter months."
Chuck Dumont, MD, an integrative pediatric specialist at Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern, Chicago, says he rarely recommends pharmaceuticals, particularly due to the risk of adverse effects in children.
Like Dr. Rosen, Dr. Dumont is also a fan of Boiron's Oscillococcinum. "It has evidence supporting its effect on shortening duration of viral illness symptoms. I recommend it routinely because I have seen this work so well personally in my own family, and because of feedback from my patients. I have seen Oscillococcinum stop the symptoms when given at the onset. Other times, it decreases the severity and duration of symptoms."
He sees the best results when Oscillococcinum is taken at the very beginning of any viral illness. One vial is given every 8 hours for total of 3 doses. "Of importance (especially for children) is that there are no adverse effects and no drug interactions from Oscillococcinum."
Dr. Dumont also recommend other homeopathic medicines for cold or flu symptoms for the same reasons of exceptional safety and effectiveness. I recommend the products by Boiron and Hylands. "At home, we have the product called Coldcalm, as well as Oscillococcinum.
Avoid Sugar, Stock Up on Soup
Payam Hakimi, DO, director of the Body of Harmony clinic in Beverly Hills, CA, offered a host of recommendations for reducing exposure to viral pathogens, strengthening immunity, and managing symptoms. Among his key suggestions are:
• Avoid or at least minimize intake of foods with processed sugar. Even small amounts of sugar can significantly impair immune function, making kids more susceptible to a flu infection.
• Keep the kitchen stocked with canned soups or, even better, ingredients including herbs to make organic and fresh soups, which are warming and nourishing.
• Reduce stress. Too much stress has a highly negative impact on overall health and, over time will make kids much more susceptible to flu.
• Exercise in moderation. Activities that increase heart rate, breathing rate and induce sweating are good, but make sure the children don't overdo it.
• Drink green tea, which studies have shown has antiviral and antibacterial properties.
• Eat garlic, raw or cooked, or take garlic supplements. It is nature's most efficient antibiotic and will increase immunity.
• Use fresh ginger soaked in hot water and drunk as a tea. This is another natural immune-system builder.
• Use a nasal saline rinse or clean the nostrils with saltwater twice daily. Influenza virus replicates in the nasopharynx, so washing the throat and nose can decrease the viral load. For small children, use Q-tips soaked in warm saltwater to clean nostrils.