Winter Immune Support For All Ages
Winter is approaching and with the relaxation of public health measures like social distancing and mask-wearing seasonal viruses, including RSV, influenza, Covid-19, and many others, are causing rapidly increasing cases of upper and lower respiratory tract infections. In some places, these infections are already overwhelming hospitals.
It makes complete sense that winter immune support is on everyone’s mind right now. This article covers safe and natural immune support for all ages, including infants, toddlers, kids, teens, adults, pregnant/lactating moms, and senior citizens.
Natural Immune Support For Infants (Under 12 months)
Upper respiratory tract infections like colds, flus, and RSV are common in babies under 1 year of age. Usually, babies’ immune systems fight off illnesses, and after a few days to a week, everything is back to normal. However, some seasonal illnesses, especially RSV, can develop into serious lung infections. This leads parents to wonder: How can I support my baby’s immune system in the winter?
Immune System Development
Babies are born with antibodies given to them in utero by their mothers. These antibodies protect them while their own immune systems develop. Immune system development is aided by their microbiome, which is optimally seeded during vaginal birth, and by the special nutrition that they get through breast milk. Babies who are born via cesarean section, formula-fed babies, and babies who have been exposed to antibiotics, may benefit from probiotic supplementation. Nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals, are provided in optimal concentrations by breast milk.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with more serious infections. Vitamin D supplementation is recommended, especially for babies born in the winter months. Breastfed babies can be given 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Formula is usually fortified with vitamin D, which means that formula-fed babies don’t need an additional supplement. Check the label of your baby formula to be sure.
Should Babies Have Immune-Boosting Supplements?
When it comes to a daily immune-boosting supplement for babies, I prefer to wait until they are eating solid food around 4-6 months before starting any supplements. The most important immune booster for babies under a year is breast milk. If breastfeeding isn’t possible, the next best option is donor breast milk. If donor breast milk isn’t available, use a formula with probiotics.
After babies start eating solid food, consider adding an immune-enhancing supplement, especially if the baby is formula fed, in daycare, frequently sick, or they have school-age siblings who are bringing home all kinds of germs. However, this isn’t necessary for all infants.
In my practice, I may recommend babies take an immune-enhancing supplement at a younger age if someone in the family is sick. However, if the taste of herbs or other supplements interferes with feeding, I don’t push it. Breast milk/formula is the top priority for young infants.
Natural Immune Support For Toddlers 1-3 years
Toddlers are busy and seem to get into everything. In the process, they are developing their immune systems. It’s important to provide toddlers with the nutrients they need to develop their immune systems and to let them experience the world in a controlled way so that their immune systems get stronger without being overwhelmed.
Strategies To Support The Immune System For Toddlers
Three specific ways to support immune system development: 1) spend a lot of time playing outside and getting dirty; 2) consume a varied diet with plenty of meat, vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, and seeds; 3) support the gut and promptly treat any digestive issues that arise. It’s important to remember that acid-suppressing medications, which are frequently prescribed to young babies and toddlers to treat reflux, weaken the immune system. These medications should be used as a last option.
To learn more about how to naturally treat reflux see this article: Natural Treatments For GERD In Kids – Dr. Green Mom.
Nutrient Support For Toddlers’ Immune Systems
Young kids can be notoriously picky when it comes to eating, and some kids will resist a varied diet. If little ones aren’t eating much meat, a beef liver supplement is a good addition to their diets because they provide important immune system nutrients including preformed vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, and iron. For more information about giving beef liver supplements to your baby, see this article: Beef Liver Capsules Are A Great First Food For Babies – Dr. Green Mom. Carnivore kids that have trouble eating fruits and vegetables may benefit from a multivitamin, vitamin C, and chlorophyll.
Probiotics support the immune system as does a regular dose of vitamin D. Playing outside in the sunshine, even in the winter, helps improve the microbiome and vitamin D levels and has many added benefits for metabolism, body composition, fine and gross motor development, and mental health.
Should Toddlers Take Daily Immune Supplements?
Daily immune support supplements may help toddlers resist infections. There are many good options, and in my experience, the best immune support supplements for your family are the ones that your kids are happy to take on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there’s an element of trial and error to this. Also, as many parents know, the tastes of toddlers are fickle! Today’s favorite may be refused in a week. But on the flip side, a formerly “gross” food or supplement may be enjoyed if reintroduced in a month or two.
Natural Immune Support For Kids Age 4-12 years
By the time most kids reach school age, their immune systems are strong enough to handle all the usual winter viruses with ease. And if they are in school, they are being exposed to a lot of them! At this age, the goal with immune support is to decrease the number of times that kids get sick and accelerate healing so that they get well sooner.
Nutrient Support For Kids’ Immune Systems
For some kids, the pickiness of toddlerhood may carry over into childhood and even the tween years. Though a varied, balanced diet is ideal, it might not always be possible. Filling in nutrient gaps with vitamins and minerals can help. Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, and zinc are the most important immune nutrients in my experience.
Probiotic supplementation has been shown to decrease the number of upper respiratory tract infections and likely speeds healing. Vitamin D is also important for the immune system. Please remember that vitamin D from the sun is superior and time spent outside has more benefits for health than simply the creation of vitamin D.
Sleep & Stress Management Support Kids’ Immune Systems
Sleep and stress are underappreciated factors in immune system health. Today, school-age kids are under a lot of stress. Keep the lines of communication open, prioritize good sleep, and watch for signs of anxiety. Read more about stress reduction for kids: Stress Relief For Kids – Dr. Green Mom.
As with younger kids, the best daily immune support for older kids is the one that they are happiest to take every day. Read reviews, get advice from friends, and ask kids for input into the types of immune support they are willing to take.
Natural Immune Support For Ages 13+
The most important natural immune supports for teens and adults are stress management, good nutrition/digestion, healthy activity levels, and optimal sleep. If those factors are optimal, then supplementation just makes things that much better.
However, if stress is high, digestion is troubled, and/or sleep deprivation is occurring, then immune system supplements may be much more important, as is treating the root lifestyle issues.
The good news is that many supplements can provide benefits in more than one area.
- Probiotics improve immunity, digestion, and mental health.
- Melatonin improves sleep, digestion, and possibly immunity (though the effects of melatonin on the immune system are still being worked out).
- Echinacea is an herb best known for its effects on the immune system. Traditionally taken to improve energy and treat fatigue in the overworked and overstressed, it has a mild, positive effect on digestion.
- Ginger is another herb that does double duty in treating digestive concerns and fighting infections.
- Adaptogens, which are known for treating stress, have benefits for preventing and treating viral infections.
Immune support protocols for teens and adults should primarily focus on supporting digestion, nutrition, sleep, and stress. As a secondary consideration, protocols should focus on adding immune-supporting nutrients and herbs.
Natural Immune Support For Pregnant Mothers
Immune support is very important during pregnancy because infections can impact both you and your unborn baby. Pregnancy is also a time when immune function is weaker, as pregnant women have been observed to be more susceptible to many kinds of upper respiratory tract viruses.
The foundation of all my natural immune support protocols for pregnant mothers is a high-quality multivitamin, an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, and a multi-strain probiotic. Additional vitamin D supplementation may be indicated based on blood test levels. Research shows that these supplements are beneficial for mom and baby.
Food-based nutritional interventions also have positive benefits for the immune system. For example, research has shown that consuming more fruits and vegetables during pregnancy decreases the risk of upper respiratory tract infection. Aim for 8+ servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Many immune-enhancing herbs and spices are commonly consumed during pregnancy by people around the world. These immune-enhancing foods include oregano, garlic, basil, cinnamon, ginger, and many medicinal and culinary mushrooms. While it isn’t advised to take massive quantities of these herbs while pregnant, consuming the amounts typically found in food may improve the immune response.
Natural Immune Support For Breastfeeding Mothers
Breastfeeding mothers go through the miraculous process of creating a human, and then they create the most nutritionally perfect food on the planet: breast milk. Just typing this, I’m struck again by the wonder of it! But there’s also the intense exhaustion and depletion of it all to contend with. Exhaustion and depletion are the root causes that need to be focused on when creating an immune support protocol for breastfeeding women.
In my clinical practice, I usually recommend that breastfeeding mothers continue to take a prenatal multivitamin, omega-3 supplement, and probiotic for at least 6 months postpartum. Many new moms also find beef liver supplements give them a good nutrient and energy boost.
Of course, it goes without saying that eating well, exercising, spending time outside, getting sleep, and managing stress are important for the immune system. But as a mom myself, I know that keeping up with this level of self-care is daunting, especially in the early days of motherhood. My best recommendation for fellow moms is just to do your best, be gentle with yourself, and take each day as it comes.
Any immune-enhancing supplements taken at this time should be nutritive (meaning they contain high levels of nutrients), safe if passed through breast milk, and energizing. Medicinal mushrooms check all these boxes and they are my favorite immune enhancer for breastfeeding moms.
Natural Immune Support For The Elderly
Dr. Green Mom is focused mostly on natural healthcare for moms and kids, but I know that I have many lovely grandparents in my community as well as many people who look after the health needs of their kids and their elderly parents. This means I’ve gotten some questions about immune support for older adults.
The most important factors to consider in this population are 1) medication-induced nutrient depletion and 2) weak digestion. Medication-induced nutrient depletion can be checked on a website called Mytavin. Weak digestion can be bolstered with probiotics, digestive enzymes, and/or bitter herbs.
A solid multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acid supplement, and/or beef liver capsules can help correct nutrient deficiencies. Targeted vitamin and mineral supplementation based on medication-induced nutrient depletion and/or symptoms may be a good idea. My favorite herbal immune support products for this age group are those that improve vitality and immunity. Reishi, ginseng, and rhodiola are all great. However, both supplemental nutrients and herbs can interact with medication, so supplements should be run by both a healthcare provider and a pharmacist.
Older adults who have strong digestion and who aren’t on medication can benefit from all the information found in the above section on natural immune support for ages 13+.
Good nutrition, a healthy microbiome, sleep, exercise, stress management, and time spent outside are the foundation of good health in general and good immune health in particular. When any of these factors are compromised, it is important to address them in order to maintain strong immunity. Supplemental nutrients and immune-enhancing herbs can give the immune system an added boost through the winter months.
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