Back-to-school time is here and it looks different than ever before. Like many of you, I have been pouring over the research and the news while trying to juggle children at home — and the swirling energy of so much uncertainty. Many of us feel drawn to know what we can do to ensure our families are in the best immune state they can be, should infection arise at home.
Here is a quick guide to immune support that is geared towards children, but is appropriate for all ages.
SLEEP is your best immune booster
Prioritize consistent sleep, as it’s ESSENTIAL for proper healing and immune protection! Adults need 7.5-9 hours nightly and children need more! My young teen boys have a strict bedtime once school starts in order to ensure they get 10 hours nightly. They really need it, as they are in a rapid state of growth, both physically and mentally. This is why teenaged kids do marathon sleeping on the weekends; they are always doing catch-up. It’s never too late to make guidelines (e.g. around evening phone use) that can help keep adults and kids from staying up too late.
HYDRATE in order to keep immune function up
Stay constantly hydrated with water and herbal teas. Warm/hot water is best. Add electrolytes to your water 1-2x daily, especially if you exercise or sweat. We have trained our boys that the FIRST thing they do after brushing their teeth is to drink a full glass of water. It took a year of me reminding them daily, but now it seems like it will be a life-long habit. Kids ideally are sent to school with a full stainless steel (not plastic) water bottle, and encouraged to refill often. Remember, though, that not all water is equally healthy or clean! Need support in choosing a water filtration system? I suggest Multipure’s various home filtration systems. And, for Oregonians, Deanna DeLong is an excellent resource; her mission is to get clean water to every home. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOURISH your body with real food
People know that “eating healthy” is paramount to health, but there can be a disconnect with putting it into action. Convenience often wins, which means that we are not only missing crucial opportunities to feed our body the nutrients which keep our whole body — immune system and all — running well, but we are also ingesting foods which are detrimental to our health. I’m sorry to report that there is little (or no) room for refined sugars, poorly sourced oils (canola, soy, cottonseed, hydrogenated anything), or food dyes in an immune- focused diet. Refined cane sugar puts your immune cells to sleep, and omega 6 and poorly sourced oils create inflammation. This sets the stage for a poor immune response should you come in contact with microbes. In fact, if health authorities had been focusing on promoting sound nutrition over the last year, we would be actively reducing the most significant risk factors for severe consequences from COVID: obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Tips for kids: get them to help in the kitchen!! Give them tasks or, if they are old enough, have them make entire dishes as part of their responsibilities at home, even if they don’t like to cook. (They also may not like to shower or clean their rooms, but they have to do that. And guess what? Most kids who are empowered in the kitchen end up expanding their palates, and eventually enjoying food prep!) Teach kids how to make a green smoothie (recipe at the bottom) for breakfast or whenever. Add some raw veggies (carrots, celery, jicama, bell peppers, cucumbers) to every lunch and mixed salad greens to every dinner. If you put out sliced fruit, it will get eaten over chips. And simply stop buying food that you don’t want them to eat freely. It’s never too late to make new guidelines.
We also use food as medicine to increase immune health. This means we are going really big in our dishes with fresh garlic, turmeric, ginger, and oregano. I add in shitake mushrooms where I can. We make beta-carotene foods a staple (carrots, squash, and greens) in our kitchen. (All of these go well in soup! See my immune boosting soup recipe below). We also drizzle elderberry syrup onto oatmeal and make sure we have frozen berries on hand for smoothies and dessert (defrosted blueberries and strawberries are just as satisfying as anything packaged or sugar-loaded). Every day dietary habits build up a strong immune system.
MOVE your body
Pandemic life has slowed many of us down physically. If this has been the trend for you or your family, think about what you can do now to ensure a different outcome going forward. Movement is KEY for good immunity, not to mention mental health. Exercising for 30 minutes, 3 times weekly, has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant medication for many people . Exercise increases brain circulation, and therefore attentiveness and performance in the (check out the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey, MD for more inspiration). You may have to get creative here and rebel against your own inertia to get off the cozy couch. Take walks, plug in to an online exercise class, have an accountability partner, and just get started. It’s never too late to add in some movement and build from there (nor is it too late to get kids moving; try encouraging them with an audio book while they walk, a fun online class, or 7-minute “Alexa” workouts.)
SUPPLEMENT for extra immune power
While I think food should be our first medicine, pandemic life calls for more fortification. I have been learning for over a year about the kinds of supplementation that have been shown to be very helpful against the current viruses floating about. This is what I give my family (I double or triple up at the slightest sniffle or sign of symptoms):
NAC (promotes glutathione which supports lung tissue)
Zinc (with food)
Quercetin (makes zinc more effective with fighting viral infections)
Melatonin (very interesting anti-viral research here) (before bed, lowest dose is best)
SAUNA for the ultimate immune boost
The science is overwhelmingly supportive for taking regular saunas. Sauna therapy eliminates toxins in your body and creates heat shock proteins. Together these actions basically rebuild you stronger and stronger over time. Studies in Finland show that bathing in a sauna >4 times per week reduces heart disease risk and ALL CAUSE MORTALITY (meaning all causes of death) by 40%!  I suggest taking a sauna 3-5x weekly for 30 minutes. People need to work up to it, and may need to cool down with cold rinses during (and certainly after), which is where a lot of the magic happens. We espouse sauna use to everyone we know, as it’s profoundly healing and feels totally amazing (once you acclimate, which doesn’t take much time).
Yes, saunas are a big investment. There are personal use kits available that are more affordable. If you enjoy saunas and your interest is piqued, I think they are a very wise investment for your health. I suggest the far infrared over standard saunas, as they detox deeper; I also suggest getting the biggest size your space (and pocketbook) can accommodate, as it’s nice to stretch out in there! I love the sauna kits at High Tech Health, as they use the cleanest sauna woods, have low EMF technology, and offer sizable discounts to my patients. If interested, mention my name. https://www.hightechhealth.com
Additional pointers and resources:
Tame that stress. Keep the TV off. Limit the news (you can learn anything you need to know in a few minutes 1-2x daily). Start the day with a 10-20 minute mediation or breathing exercise (check out the apps Headspace and Insight Timer). Remember that getting into nature provides really good medicine. Make time for warm baths, long hugs, listening to or playing your favorite music, watching comedy, gardening, crafting, and focusing on all the beauty you have in your life. (This is as important as all the other tips!! A stressed system doesn’t heal as quickly as a relaxed system.)
Check out the book The Immunity Fix by Dr James Dinicolantonio.
Check out this website: https://avivaromm.com
Dr. Romm keeps the sound health advice flowing. She goes much deeper than immune support with a library of books, podcasts, and blogs to support your whole-body health.
For supplements: Whole Foods and natural health stores (not Costco) carry good brands for your supplement needs. You can also utilize Fullscript’s discounted supplement site (my people get a 10-15% discount).
I’m wishing you all my best. Please reach out if I can help you navigate the choppy waters right now. I sincerely believe we were made for these times. We are strong, resilient, and resourceful – and we have each other.
I’m getting really close to officially announcing the publishing date for my two-book set entitled The Nourish Me Kitchen. It’s a comprehensive holistic healing guide and wholesome cookbook that will empower you to take good care of yourself! Please sign up for my newsletter to ensure you are among the first to know! This book is my third baby; it's been 15 years in the making, and I hope that it finds as many hands and heads and hearts as possible. The Nourish Me Kitchen contains a huge amount of the information I've gleaned as a naturopathic physician, and has information to support and change people's lives. More on that soon. 💜
For more delicious and nutritious recipes like these, sign up for my newsletter to be notified when my long-awaited cookbook drops!
Super C Smoothie Makes 3 cups Vitamin C deserves its popularity! It has been shown to lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of colds and flu. In addition, vitamin C is great for treating allergies by reducing histamine release. This tart and creamy smoothie is rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids like quercetin — the perfect combination for anyone sneezing and sniffling. The lemon helps thin out mucus, and the ginger and flax oil calm inflammation. I suggest this smoothie to folks who have hay fever or other environmental allergies. Start your day with this gorgeous and green allergy-busting smoothie, and take the rest with you to sip on throughout the day.
1 cup orange or papaya juice
1 kiwi, sliced in half, flesh scooped out
1 cup fresh or frozen berries
1-2 big handfulsl spinach (or 1 cup packed fresh nettles if you have them!)
1 cup chopped unpeeled apple (about ½ large apple)
½ small avocado, pitted and peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
One ½-inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon raw local honey, plus more to taste
A few shakes of cayenne (optional)
protein powder (optional)
additional water to desired taste and texture Blend well and let food be thy medicine.
Bubbie’s Chicken Soup (aka Immune-Boost Soup) Serves 6 to 8 My grandmother (whom I did not call Bubbie, but Mom-Mom) made the best chicken soup, and she made it all the time, not just when we were ill. I know that as kids we all think that our grandmas make the finest soup around, and we are all right, because you can’t replicate the love they put into it. Anytime I even smell dill, I think of my Mom-Mom; she would put fistfuls of it in her famous soup. To avoid competing with her, I changed up my recipe a bit by highlighting some immune-boosting ingredients, like a hefty amount of ginger and garlic, to warm the body and drive out infection. I also added shiitake mushrooms, which are a symbol of longevity in Asia because they increase white blood cell action and fight cancer. The soup is made even more special with the addition of fresh orange juice. This is Grandma’s chicken soup of the new world, and it is off-the-charts delicious. For a vegetarian version, just leave out the chicken and add a can of chickpeas.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 1/4 -inch dice (about 2 cups)
¼ cup finely chopped garlic (about 1 head or 11 medium cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh turmeric (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 large carrots, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 large celery ribs, cut into 1/8-inch dice (about 1 cup)
6 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms (about 20 large mushrooms)
8 cups broth (or 8 teaspoons Vegetable Bouillon dissolved in 8 cups water)
½ store-bought rotisserie chicken, shredded (about 2 cups; see Note)
¾ cup roughly chopped fresh dill (about 1 ounce)
Zest and juice of 1 large organic orange (about 1 heaping tablespoon zest and ½ cup juice)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent the garlic from burning.
Add the carrots and celery to the stockpot and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the shiitakes and cook until softened, about 5 minutes more.
Reduce the heat to low and add the broth, chicken, dill, orange zest and juice and butter; season with salt. Cover and slowly bring to a simmer.
Simmer for at least 30 minutes, covered, to allow the flavors to develop. Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.
 Kvam S., Lykkedrang Kleppe. C., Hilde Nordhus, I., Hovland, A. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 202, 67-86. ISSN 0165-0327, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.063.
 Laukkanen, T., Khan, H., Zaccardi, F., & Laukkanen, J. Q. (2015). Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(4), 542. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187