As we go through this winter’s cold and flu season, parents are extra concerned this year due to Covid-19. But not to worry, not only are children naturally more resilient to Covid-19, you can implement some easy but powerful strategies to shore up your kids’ immune systems for advanced protection. These are the same strategies I use with my patients in our clinics, one of the largest autoimmune practices in the country, and that I learned while conducting my own coronavirus study in Utah earlier this year and as part of my post-graduate education in public health through Johns Hopkins University.
I understand that implementing new health strategies for kids comes with more challenges than it does for adults. Therefore, as a father myself, I have put a kid-friendly and parent-tested spin on the following five strategies to keep kids healthier during the pandemic.
Perhaps one of the single most important nutrients you can provide your child is vitamin D. The average American is deficient yet it’s a vital compound for immune health and has been shown to be very protective against coronavirus. I recommend 2,500–5,000 IU a day of vitamin D a day for children. Make sure you buy the cholecalciferol form. The good news is there are plenty of kid-friendly ways to deliver vitamin D, including chewables (which are extra nutritious if you can get one that also includes immune-enhancing omega 3 fatty acids) or drops you can add to their food.
The second powerhouse nutrient when it comes to protection from Covid-19 is glutathione, the body’s “master antioxidant.”[3, 4] Although our bodies make glutathione, we all are at risk from low levels as environmental pollutants, sugars and sweeteners, processed foods, sleep deprivation, and other stressors deplete the body’s glutathione stores. My favorite forms of kid-friendly glutathione include Trizomal Glutathione from Apex Energetics and Tri-Fortify Orange by Researched Nutritionals. Both are sweetened with glycerin and are often well tolerated by children or can be mixed into a drink or smoothie. I have my adult patients take three to four times the recommended dose–for children give the recommended dose or double that. Glutathione is safe and there’s no risk from taking too much, however, people who do not tolerate onions, garlic, or other sulfur foods may not do well with glutathione as it’s a sulfur compound. If that’s the case, cordyceps mushrooms, Gotu Kola extract, and milk thistle are other compounds that raise glutathione levels.
The most powerful immune support doesn’t come in a supplement bottle or a food. Instead, research shows plenty of sleep is one of the best ways to keep your immune system strong. I realize with the pandemonium of the pandemic that getting a kid to bed on time can seem unreasonably challenging, however, making sure your child gets all the sleep they need will pay off significantly.
Health experts recommend the following hours of sleep each day for each age category:
0–3 months: 14–17 hours
4–12 months: 12–16 hours
1–2 years: 11–14 hours
3–5 years: 10–13 hours
3–5 years: 10–13 hours
6–12 years: 9–12 hours
13–18 years: 8–10 hours
Play, preferably outdoors and in nature
Although people were advised to stay indoors when the pandemic began, the truth is spending time outdoors is healthier and will better support immunity.[6, 7] Regular play is vital to proper neurological and immunological development in children, even more so if it’s outdoors (Pro tip: Adults need regular play too to stay healthy, so find something that is fun for both you and your kids).[8, 9] If it’s cold out, bundle up instead of letting it force you indoors. Play stimulates necessary brain development pathways, the outdoors activates the immune system so it stays robust, and regular exposure to sunshine helps make vitamin D and maintains regularity in the body’s metabolic rhythms.
For my adult patients who want to optimize their immune resilience, I put them on a diet that is anti-inflammatory and nutrient dense. This diet is basically a paleo diet that eliminates grains, sweeteners, and processed foods and consists of ample vegetables, meats, and healthy fats. I realize for the average family this is going to be a tall order for children, especially around the holidays.
Instead, here are some principles to keep in mind when it comes to dietary strategies to support a child’s immune health:
Balance blood sugar: Because they are growing and burning so much energy, kids love sugar, sweets, and simple carbs like pasta, white rice, potatoes, and breads. However, the blood sugar spikes from these foods tax the immune system and promote inflammation.[11, 12] Try and keep sweets and processed foods to a minimum and instead focus on healthy meats, produce, and whole grains. If your child does eat something sweet or starchy, adding some fiber, protein, or fat can help slow down how quickly the sugar hits the bloodstream (starchy foods are immediately converted to sugar in the body). For instance, ice cream that is higher in fat or a fruit smoothie loaded with fiber is going to deliver less of a sugar shock than hard candy, soda, or fruit juices.
Minimize inflammatory foods: Some children already struggle with chronic immune conditions, such as gut problems, neurological issues (tics, OCD, ADHD, mood disorders, etc.), skin rashes, respiratory issues, or even listlessness and fatigue. Many children these days also have autoimmunity, in which the immune system is attacking a tissue in the body (though it’s typically under diagnosed or misdiagnosed).
Such children may be more prone to viruses because their immune system is already overburdened.[13, 14] In these cases, I strongly recommend you seek out IgG and IgM lab testing to screen for food intolerances, such as from Cyrex Labs. In my practice of treating primarily adults with chronic health conditions, almost 100 percent of them have an undiagnosed food intolerance driving their inflammation and symptoms. When we identify and remove the offending food from their diet, most experience a profound improvement of symptoms.[15, 16]
Eliminating a child’s favorite foods, such as gluten or dairy, is challenging at first, but I can tell you from first-hand experience it’s usually not as bad as parents think it will be. Children often feel so much better that they come to willingly embrace their new diet. It works best if the entire family can adopt the same diet, so the child does not feel left out of family dinners and gatherings (the rest of the family usually ends up feeling much better too!).
Children’s immune health today
Any health care practitioner today will tell you we are seeing increasing numbers of children with chronic health conditions, and the numbers seem to keep growing. Today’s children are dealing with unprecedented immune challenges from environmental toxins, industrialized and processed foods, lack of play from excess screen time and busy schedules, and frequent sleep deprivation.
The good news is children’s bodies and immune systems are wonderfully responsive to even the slightest shifts toward better health, it’s just a matter of understanding the basics.
To learn more about how to keep your family healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, please check out the free articles and ebook at my site drjoshredd.com. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a patient at one of our seven clinics, please visit redriverhealthandwellness.com.
About Dr. Redd
Josh Redd, DC, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, is a chiropractic physician and the founder and owner of RedRiver Health and Wellness, which currently consists of seven functional medicine clinics serving patients in the western United States as well as from across the country and around the world. Dr. Redd uses evidence-based functional medicine techniques and works with his primary care physicians and endocrinologists to help his patients achieve and maintain optimal health.
Dr. Redd’s experience in working with a large patient population led him to begin a Covid-19 study in his area to investigate immunity to the virus. The data from that study is on track to be compiled into a preliminary report for the public and the state’s health department, and then published as a retrospective study.
He is also a MaPHB candidate at Johns Hopkins with an emphasis on Healthcare Epidemiology and Infection Prevention and Control
Dr. Redd is the author of the Amazon bestselling book The Truth About Low Thyroid.
- Ansel Hoang, Kevin Chorath, Axel Moreira, Mary Evans, Finn Burmeister-Morton, Fiona Burmeister, Rija Naqvi, Matthew Petershack, Alvaro Moreira. COVID-19 in 7780 pediatric patients: A systematic review. EClinicalMedicine, 2020; 100433 DOI: 1016/j.eclinm.2020.100433
- Grant, William B et al. “Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths.” Nutrients 12,4 E988. 2 Apr. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12040988
- Checconi, Paola et al. “Role of Glutathionylation in Infection and Inflammation.” Nutrients 11,8 1952. 20 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11081952
- Horowitz, Richard I et al. “Efficacy of glutathione therapy in relieving dyspnea associated with COVID-19 pneumonia: A report of 2 cases.” Respiratory medicine case reports, vol. 30 101063. 21 Apr. 2020, doi:10.1016/j.rmcr.2020.101063
- Ming Kuo. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in Psychology, 2015; 6 DOI: 3389/fpsyg.2015.01093
- Bae SA, Fang MZ, Rustgi V, Zarbl H, Androulakis IP. At the Interface of Lifestyle, Behavior, and Circadian Rhythms: Metabolic Implications. Front Nutr. 2019 Aug 28;6:132. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00132. PMID: 31555652; PMCID: PMC6722208.
- Koh, Ara et al. “From Dietary Fiber to Host Physiology: Short-Chain Fatty Acids as Key Bacterial Metabolites.” Cell 165,6 (2016): 1332-1345. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2016.05.041
- Albert Sanchez, J. L. Reeser, H. S. Lau, P. Y. Yahiku, R. E. Willard, P. J. McMillan, S. Y. Cho, A. R. Magie, U. D. Register, Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 26, Issue 11, November 1973, Pages 1180–1184, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/26.11.1180
- Freeman, Clara R et al. “Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior.” Frontiers in bioscience (Landmark edition) 23 2255-2266. 1 Jun. 2018
- Schett, Georg et al. “COVID-19: risk for cytokine targeting in chronic inflammatory diseases?.” Nature reviews. Immunology 20,5 (2020): 271-272. doi:10.1038/s41577-020-0312-7
- Butler, Michael J, and Ruth M Barrientos. “The impact of nutrition on COVID-19 susceptibility and long-term consequences.” Brain, behavior, and immunity, S0889-1591(20)30537-7. 18 Apr. 2020, doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2020.04.040
- Whalen, Kristine A et al. “Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Balance in Adults.” The Journal of nutrition 146,6 (2016): 1217-26. doi:10.3945/jn.115.224048
- Abbott, Robert D et al. “Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet as Part of a Multi-disciplinary, Supported Lifestyle Intervention for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.” Cureus 11,4 e4556. 27 Apr. 2019, doi:10.7759/cureus.4556
- Caio, G., Volta, U., Tovoli, F. et al.Effect of gluten free diet on immune response to gliadin in patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. BMC Gastroenterol 14, 26 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-230X-14-26
- Myles, Ian A. “Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity.” Nutrition journal 13 61. 17 Jun. 2014, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-61