As parents we know how tough it is when little ones are suffering from illness or discomfort, or when they don’t sleep well. Fortunately, there are some (rather unexpected) things you can do to boost your child’s health (and bonus… they are easy to do!).
I go into full force with my immune-boosting regime for the kids especially before back to school and cold and flu season time. The following isn’t a whole life overhaul, but just some super simple ways to boost your child’s health throughout the year (and you are probably already doing a lot of them, so… give yourself a pat on the back!).
1. Throw Some Salt in the Tub
Due to depleted soil and water levels, many people (including children) are magnesium deficient. Adding a handful of Epsom salts and a tablespoon or two of sea salt to their bath is a great way to gently boost a child’s magnesium levels, and it will also help them relax and wind down before bedtime (so they sleep better!).
Especially for kids with allergies, eczema, or asthma, this small step often makes a big difference. In some cases, these children may need additional supplementation as well. This article explains how to look for symptoms of low magnesium and why blood tests are not a good indicator.)
As a bonus, natural sea salt or Himalayan salt contain a lot of trace minerals and is soothing and naturally cleansing to the skin.
2. Ditch the Nightlight
Exposure to artificial lights has been linked to cancer and a host of other problems. Artificial light completely halts normal melatonin production and interrupts the sleep cycle. The time during sleep is vital for tissue repair and cell growth, and interrupting the delicate hormone cycle during sleep has lasting effects.
In fact, one night of lost sleep or interrupted sleep has been shown to give a healthy person the insulin levels of a pre-diabetic. Loss of sleep or bad sleep also interferes with the pituitary gland’s proper function and the leptin cycle, both which can have tremendous consequences on a growing child.
While lack of sleep or artificial light during sleep isn’t single-handedly causing the rise of childhood illnesses and obesity, it certainly isn’t helping either!
It’s relatively easy to modify kids’ bedrooms to avoid artificial light. Some steps are:
- Remove the night lights and all other devices that have blue, green, or red light at night (digital clocks, etc.)
- Use motion-activated regular light bulbs in the bathroom and hallway, etc.
- Hang blackout curtains if needed (if city lights aren’t a problem, leave natural curtains on their windows to let in the natural light of the moon and the sun as it comes up)
- Teach kids to turn off TV or computer after dinner time so their natural hormone cycles can start kicking in
I’ve personally noticed that the children sleep much better this way and are up much less to get water or use the bathroom. Here are some other tips for improving sleep quality.
3. Let Them Play Barefoot… in the Mud
In an age where we have the means to keep our kids clean and their feet protected by “safe” rubber soles, it’s hard to think that perhaps these methods might not always be in the best interests of our kids.
As counterintuitive as it might sound to us as parents (and as completely intuitive as it will sound to most kids) there are naturally occurring compounds in dirt that boost serotonin levels and will also contribute to healthy sleep. On top of that, by interacting with dirt, kids are naturally exposed to a host of natural bacteria and pathogens that actually help strengthen the immune system. There is even some evidence that regular playtime in the dirt helps keep kids from developing allergies and asthma.
Additionally, exposure to dirt can help babies’ natural iron and zinc production, even before they start solid foods.
On a separate note, one recent study found that “earthing,” or getting barefoot contact with the dirt, grass, or sand, can help rebalance our bodies’ electrons, leading to improved sleep and reduced pain.
4. Have Fun in the Sun
From a previous post:
Wearing any sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D, which is vital for hundreds of reactions in the body (including cancer prevention).
Most sunscreens also contain toxic chemicals that can be more dangerous than moderate sun exposure. As I mentioned in a previous post:
Despite the push for more awareness about sun exposure, and the advice to use sunscreen whenever we go outside, incidence of skin cancer, especially melanoma, is rising dramatically.
On top of that, kids especially have a need for enough Vitamin D, which is important for their immune function, proper hormone development and bone and muscle growth. Even a low SPF sunscreen blocks the body’s natural ability to produce Vitamin D and often exposes kids to a host of chemicals.
As long as your kids are eating a healthy diet that won’t pre-dispose them to inflammation and burning, healthy sun exposure is important! For the times you’ll be out longer than their sun tolerance allows, just cover them up with a hat and layers, or use a homemade natural sunscreen.
5. Let them Eat
Conventional wisdom says that we should limit our intake (and our children’s intake) of saturated fats and instead give them “healthy” fats like vegetable oil. As children as young as nine are getting heart disease, this seems direly important, except that the research doesn’t support it (and those kids probably aren’t sleeping in darkness, eating real food, and playing in the dirt…). Sadly, limiting saturated fats, especially in kids, is likely to do much more harm than good, as there isn’t even a proven link between these fats and heart disease and kids need them for proper growth!
Personally, I don’t let my kids consume any franken-fats like vegetable oils, margarine, etc. (or eat them myself!) because they are chemically created, oxidize quickly, and have no place in the human body! At the same time, I give them as much (healthy) saturated fat as they like (and eat it myself) in the forms of raw organic butter, coconut oil, grass-fed meat, etc.
While it is important to get saturated fats from healthy sources, these fats are not the enemy, and we need them for proper body function. They also are great at keeping kids satisfied after meals, improving hormone levels and for supporting brain and bone health.
Here is one of my kids’ favorite recipes and they are loaded with healthy fats: Chocolate Coconut Clusters. You can also just let them snack on wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef, and hard boiled eggs to boost healthy fat levels.
6. Make Some Real Soup
Another highly beneficial food that has almost completely disappeared in modern diets is quality homemade soup with real broth and stock.
There’s a reason that chicken soup is the common food during illness… our mothers and grandmothers knew something that many of us have forgotten. Broth contains tons of minerals in easy to assimilate form, and are wonderful for immune health, skin, bone and muscle growth! Real broth (i.e. not the stuff in the BPA lined can or carton) is also very simple and inexpensive to make and there tons of different variations!
Broth can be consumed on its own as a liquid (especially wonderful during illness) or as the base for soups, stews, casseroles or other foods. Broth also contains high amounts of gelatin, which is great for muscle growth, skin health and brain development, and which is one of the supplements/foods I take every day. Gelatin is a precursor for collagen production and is especially helpful for those with skin issues or thinning hair. It balances out the high amounts of muscle meats that most of us consume and gives the immune system a boost.
Most kids naturally like homemade soups and stews, and when cooked soft enough, these are also great first foods for baby, especially since babies are naturally born with a leaky gut, which allows some particles and antibodies to transfer through the gut lining and help develop their immune systems. The gelatin in homemade broth helps naturally close the gut and prevent food sensitivities.
7. Balance Their Gut Bacteria
Babies are born with a sterile gut and (hopefully) pick up some beneficial gut bacteria from mom during the birthing process which allows them to begin culturing the billions of gut bacteria that make up the micro-system of their intestines.
Unfortunately, being born via c-section (or vaginally to a mom with less than ideal gut bacteria), taking antibiotics during childhood, or a poor diet during the early years can put little ones at a disadvantage when it comes to good bugs in their bellies.
Even though (all but one of) my kids were born naturally and I took steps to make sure my gut bacteria was optimal, quality probiotics are one of the supplements that my kids get every day. As healthy gut bacteria has been linked to stronger immune function, better digestion, and fewer allergies, it is one thing I’m not willing to skimp on.
I’ve also seen probiotics (along with Gelatin- see step 6) greatly improve eczema and allergies in several children.
8. Stop Pouring Chemicals On Them
There’s been a lot of press lately about cancer causing chemicals found in baby products, but this problem isn’t limited to baby lotion!
Many products that we use on our kids from sunscreen to bug spray to shampoo, to bubble bath, to toothpaste have harmful chemicals that can be easily avoided by using natural options. To get you started, here are recipes for:
- Remineralizing Toothpaste
- Homemade Lotion
- Homemade Lotion Bars
- Homemade Shampoo
- Homemade Sunscreen
- Homemade Bug Spray
- Natural Laundry Stain Treatment
- Laundry Detergent
- Natural Vapor-Rub for Cough and Colds
- Natural Deodorant
9. Let Them Eat Peanuts
With food allergies on the rise, prevention is much needed. Contrary to what doctors have told us for years, several newer landmark studies on childhood food allergy prevention support giving allergenic foods to kids sooner rather than later. In fact, these studies show positive results from introduction as early as 4 months!
Studies suggest that there is a specific window starting at 4 months during which an infant’s immune systems can develop either a positive or negative response to food proteins. (Read the American Academy of Pediatrics take on it here.)
If giving a peanut butter sandwich to your 4-month-old sounds a little weird, I’m with you. I did come across a fantastic new product that solves this problem. It’s called Ready, Set, Food! and it is an organic, non-GMO product that makes introducing allergenic foods like peanut, egg, and milk much easier. They’re backed by some of the best experts in this field and I wish this was around when I was feeding my babies. There are a lot of helpful parent-friendly resources here so you can share with your doctor and discuss what’s right for your family.
10. Get a Move On It
Kids have a natural tendency to move and get the right kind of exercise, and sometimes we ruin this natural drive by putting them in organized sports too early (my opinion anyway).
Most kids naturally love to sprint, do pull-ups (monkey-bars), climb things, and lift heavy things. They don’t necessarily need sports or exercise regimens to do the types of movement that naturally develops their muscles. Give them access to trees, monkey bars, ropes to climb, and heavy things to play with, and they will develop great muscle tone!
Personally, our backyard is “cluttered” with a treehouse with climbing wall, trampoline, mud pit, jungle gym, climbing ladder and rope, big containers that can be filled with dirt or sand for moving, and a huge sandbox.
So, I realize that I suggested that you let your kids get dirty while barefoot… in the sun… and feed them lots of fat… and even take away their comforting night light. Many of these things might be counter intuitive or counter cultural, but I’m confident they’ll contribute to good health for your little ones.
Learn more about how to optimize your child’s health from Dr. Talya Miron-Shatz on Medical Decision Making & Being an Informed Patient.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you already do any of these things? Think I’m crazy for suggesting them? Weigh in below!