More and more parents are asking, “What can I do preventatively now to keep my family healthy this year?”
Over the years, I have streamlined 5 basic lifestyle tips based on the five-thousand-year-old, time-tested medical system of Ayurveda.
These are all outlined in my book, Perfect Health for Kids, and I have summarized them here.
The remedy for staying healthy is actually very simple. It starts weeks, months, and even a season or two before the dreaded winter hits.
Let’s start with a look at what makes children susceptible in the first place.
There are two factors in this process:
- The first is the exposure to undesirable bacteria and viruses. For all practical purposes, there is nothing we can really do to prevent our kids from being exposed. In a classroom or school cafeteria, every child will be exposed to every bug, but only a small percentage will typically get sick.
- Why? This has to do with the second factor in this process: susceptibility. Keeping your child’s immunity strong enough so they do not succumb to ever-present bugs in the first place is the goal. It is here that parents can keep their children healthy, in school, and out of the doctor’s office.
#1: Moisturize the Sinuses
During the first weeks of school, the exposure to immune-challenging bugs is certainly higher.
In the early fall, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. Cold autumn nights bring hints of winter with dry and cool air.
Night heaters may dry the air even more and, soon, the mucous membranes in the sinuses dry out.
When this happens, the respiratory mucous membranes produce additional mucus as a response to the dryness.
Environmental irritants and pollutants can also act as antagonists to the sinuses, which can cause excess mucus production and a runny nose. Excess mucus production provides the perfect breeding ground for undesirable bugs.
Cool Mist Humidifiers
Keep sinuses moist with cool mist humidifiers at night during those early back-to-school days, and keep them running right through the winter.
Sinuses generally begin to dry out in mid-August, so the end of summer is not too early to break out the humidifiers. Heat-based humidifiers tend to breed more bacteria.
Ear oiling (Karna Purana)
Karna Purana is an Ayurvedic remedy that antidotes the end-of-summer and fall dryness. Preventively, from September to March, drop warm ear oil into your child’s ears twice per month. If you need to, do it while they are sleeping.
Ear oiling lubricates the Eustachian tubes and keeps the ear canals clean, which supports lymph flow and upper respiratory immunity. (8,9)
Use my Nasya Oil, Tri-Doshic Massage Oil—both USDA certified organic blends of Ayurvedic herbs and oils—or a high-quality ear oil from your local health foods store.
Instructions: Warm the oil by filling a dropper with oil, then holding that under warm-hot running water. After testing the temperature, place a few drops into each ear and insert a bit of a cotton for a few minutes.
#2: Early To Bed
One of the most difficult parenting tools for moms and dads is to get their kids to bed early.
When one of my children gets sick, I can usually track it to lots of staying up late, sleepovers, school stress, and excessive after-school activities that just wear them out.
Get those kids to bed early! Pre-high school kids should be in bed by eight o’clock. For high school kids, lights should be out by ten.
This may sound difficult, but if a child is up past these hours on a regular basis, they will wake up tired and soon, when the stress mounts, their immunity will suffer.
If you like botanical remedies, I use the herb ashwagandha which translates to, “The Strength of Ten Horses.” I recommend using the whole herb, not the extract.
Ashwagandha is a great and very safe adaptogen for kids age 4 and older. It can give them energy during the day and at the same time, if taken before bed, it can support a deep and restful night’s sleep. It is not a stimulant, nor a sedative—it is a true rejuvenative that can help a child weather a stressful time. (1-7)
It has been shown in numerous studies to support healthy immunity, fight stress, and boost endurance and stamina levels while supporting healthy weight in children. (1-7)
#3: Stay Hydrated
In 1850, the average American drank one can of soda per year. Today, kids drink two to three cans of pop per day!
A report in The Lancet said that these sugary drinks may increase the risk of obesity by 60%. (10,11)
Soda, as well as any caffeinated beverage, will dehydrate the body. So to avoid dehydration, children must consume more water, and either avoid or dramatically reduce their soft drink consumption.
Children and adolescents have the highest risk for dehydration and not getting adequate amounts of fluids. (12,13) Chronic dehydration in kids can lead to stomach aches, hormonal problems, weight concerns, fatigue, mood swings, poor focus ability, skin conditions, and much more.
An average person can lose two to three quarts of water a day through non-exertion. With exercise, a child can lose twice that amount. For kids participating in sports, a 2% loss in body weight due to perspiration creates a 25% loss of their athletic ability.
Put water bottles in your kid’s lunch box—NO high fructose corn syrup, sugar cane or juice concentrate juice boxes.
At the least, have them drink a large 8-12 ounce glass of plain water every morning and evening and give them water with lunch.
A good rule of thumb for active kids is to drink one half of his or her ideal body weight in ounces of water per day to avoid dehydration. For some kids, this may be too much, so another measure is to look at your child’s urine. If it is dark yellow, there is a good chance that your child is not getting enough water. The urine should be clear or a light yellow color.
#4: It All Starts in the Digestive System
I often ask my kid patients how often they move their bowels. I usually get a blank stare. They have no idea, their parents have no idea.
When I tell them it is normal to go at least once a day, first thing in the morning, they often tell me they go 1-2 times a week.
Parents have to help their kids track their elimination and know what is normal. If they know what is normal, they can be educated to tell their parents if their elimination is off.
Sluggish bowel function causes the villi of the gut to congest. The villi feed both nutrition and waste into the lymphatic system on the outside of the gut wall. It is here that experts believe 80% of the body’s immune system lies. So, regular bowel movements are key to optimal health and immunity.
Veggies are critical for optimal elimination. Remember, the cellulose in veggies literally attaches to toxins and escorts them into the toilet. Kids innately mimic mom and dad, so if your kids see mom and dad eating a ridiculous amount of veggies at each meal, just watch those once “disgusting” vegetables get gobbled down by your kids. It’s a monkey see, monkey do thing…
If sluggish bowels are a concern, introduce the 3-fruit Ayurvedic formula, triphala.
Triphala tones the bowel muscles and helps the intestinal wall function efficiently without the use of habit-forming laxatives. (14)
Avoid late heavy dinners. They are tough to digest and a fast pass to poor elimination. Of course, sometimes you cannot avoid a late meal.
In my house, if we splurge and have a late pizza delivered and watch a movie, I give my kids trikatu, aka Warm Digest, before we eat.
Warm Digest supports upper digestive strength so the heavy meal will not sit there and cause one to miss their morning bowel movement. (15,16)
#5: Controlling Mood and Focus with Food
According to Ayurveda, the middle of the day represents the best time to eat the largest meal of the day, as this is the time when the body can digest a meal most efficiently. This can be tough for school kids. (17)
In the afternoon, when America is craving chocolate and coffee, the brain is demanding the lion’s share of the available blood sugar. If all they had for lunch was a cookie or a snack (a common lunchtime meal), then the blood sugar may crash in the afternoon.
This is why kids are ravenous when they come home from school. If possible, leave a good, healthy meal on the stove for them when they get home from school.
Try not to just give them a sugary snack at this time. If they are craving sweets in the afternoon, it may be due to low blood sugar. A sweet snack here will only start the high/low rollercoaster of unstable moods and blood sugar.
When blood sugar is low in the afternoon, the body and mind must strain to muster the energy needed for afternoon activities. This low afternoon energy may lead to ups and downs in mood, low energy, lack of focus, and eventual weight gain. When a child is then asked to do homework with crashing blood sugar, this is an impossible task.
Plan on feeding them a balanced meal—not just a snack—shortly after they come home from school. NO sugary snacks at this time!
Also, if possible, pack your kid(s) a big, healthy lunch to provide the energy necessary for afternoon activities.