Eczema even as painful as this child has can be healed naturally. Finding the right foods to emphasize, foods to withdraw or only use sometimes, and restoring gut health are key to naturally healing eczema. While you use soothing with skin treatments (which can help a lot by easing pain and itching), heal the underlying causes.
Eczema can hurt more than your child’s skin. Eczema can mean that inflammation is active systemically – that is, all over the body, inside and out. These widespread reactions can mean your child has more anxiety, more behavior problems, a pickier appetite, or more frequent infections. Where to start?
1) Plan on 3-4 months to see full improvement. Repair takes time. Painful eczema may mean the immune system is reacting to something deeper than skin, from the inside out. Identify the suspects, and you can repair and heal the skin. This takes good, non-inflammatory, nutritious food. Antibodies to trigger foods stay in the blood for at least three to six months after you stop eating that food. Every time your child eats even “a little” trigger food, the immune reaction is amplified. For best results, avoid the worst offender trigger foods completely. Remember, kids need food to replace what is withdrawn, and it must be of equal or greater nutritional value. Just withdrawing foods only to eat lesser ones will weaken your child and delay repair of healthy skin.
2) Get proper testing. Elimination diets won’t help after a certain point. If you’ve already tried months of withdrawing this or that, and your child still has eczema, it’s time to get properly tested. Allergy tests may not show the type of reaction that is active when a child has eczema. So if you’ve been to your allergist, and the tests looked normal, you may need a different test. I often start with these tests in my own practice, when the trigger foods remain a mystery:
Wheat/Gluten Reactivity and Autoimmunity Panel (click “Array 3” here) – Gluten (wheat protein) is so often a culprit, and so often incorrectly assessed – even by specialists in pediatric allergy and gastroenterology – that this is the panel I go to if I need an emphatic, clear, and detailed picture of exactly how a child’s body responds to eating gluten.
ELISA IgG Food Antibody Profile – Several specialty labs offer this test. I like using these labs best because they have developed a way to sample dozens (93 to be exact) of foods with a very small amount of blood, which is good for kids (who we all know hate to go for blood draws). There is even a method that uses just a few drops of blood from a fingerstick – so you can collect the sample at home and mail it in (nice option for teens or older kids).
There are many other tests out there. I review these options with my patients. Bottom line: Get tested if your child still struggles with eczema and you’ve done everything else you can.
3) Look at the gut. Emerging evidence supports the scenario that eczema starts inside, in the gut, and not outside, on the skin. Your allergist probably told you to get rid of carpet, launder sheets twice a week with hypoallergenic laundry soap, use natural fabrics only, or consider returning your dog or cat to the SPCA. Again, if the eczema is still there, or your child’s skin remains tender and highly reactive to even a puppy’s cuddle, it’s time to go deeper for answers. Humans evolved with microbes and the latest news is that these microbes are expert traffic directors for our immune systems. They may actually teach our immune systems what to react to and what to ignore, especially at the level of the gut wall. They exchange genes with us – potentially helping us write the software for our immune systems. The possibility is that this relationship with microbes gives kids an opportunity to reboot the software.
Here’s what to do: Clear any constipation, diarrhea, or bowel infections with high dose probiotics, a better diet without sugary and processed foods, and with herbs or even prescription medications to clear and balance microbes in the gut. Elimination diets can fail if this step is skipped, so don’t overlook that gut health piece. Need help? Work with me to do this safely and effectively.
4) Build with the right protein for the job. If you take out a protein source, put back a different one of equal or better value. Make sure it isn’t inflammatory – this is where testing is useful. For example, don’t replace cow’s milk with rice or almond milk. They both lack protein. Use those subs with a protein powder blended into a shake, or add a protein food, like egg, meat, nuts or nut butters if allowed, quinoa with legumes, and so on. Kids need this protein to build and repair! Another example: Don’t switch soy milk, tofu, and soy yogurt in for milk either. Both have protein, but soy is often as triggering as cow’s milk. You may even get better results with elemental (amino acid based) protein products; many are available, but knowing how and when to use them is the key.
5) Add natural anti-inflammatories. Herbs and supplements, topically and orally, can be great adjuncts or even good primary strategies. Skin salves can be great soothers, and herbs abound for this purpose. A favorite resource of mine for this is Rebecca’s Apothecary in Boulder. They can ship, and answer questions for you. For oral use, some of my favorites turmeric, curcumin, fish oils, nettles, quercetin, vitamin C in higher doses (to bowel tolerance), calendula, calcium lactate, and lots of healthy fats from coconut, organic eggs and grass fed meats, and tolerated nuts or seeds.
Long short, eczema can be healed naturally. Your child doesn’t have to suffer. Some kids have so many food reactions that they can’t possibly remove all of them from their diets and they need special supplementation until they get well enough to safely eat those foods again. I routinely navigate these options for my clients, so contact me if you need help!
Can food boost your immune system and mood? You bet! See if you can eat your way away from colds and flu this season by making a daily effort to give your kids the tools that our immune systems use to fight infection.
As fall and winter progress, and it’s darker and colder, your vitamin D levels are probably dropping. Your serotonin may be as well, with low natural light exposure. People are passing colds back and forth. Time for Winter Wonder Foods! Eat to carry you through to sunnier, warmer times ahead. You will replenish nutrients and antioxidants that your immune system and mood will appreciate. These are among my favorites for this time of year. Most are readily available and in season, with prices that may be better than in other months.
Turmeric Root – For a long time now, the functional medicine community has suggested this powerful antioxidant in supplements. Both turmeric and its popular component curcumin have been extensively studied. Curcumin comes from turmeric root. Many families of kids with autism are reporting happy outcomes by supplementing curcumin – read testimonials here, and there are undoubtedly more around the web. For my practice and my family, I love turmeric for its antiflammatory properties, supportive digestive action, and potential as an anti-microbial. When we have colds, I juice fresh peeled turmeric root with fresh peeled ginger root, whole lemon (skin and all), apples, celery, and cilantro. We also use it liberally in cooking. For curries, I like to mix at least a tablespoon of turmeric powder with a heaping tablespoon of cumin and another of curry powder, plus some red pepper flakes or powder.
Ginger Root – More fibrous and tough than turmeric root, ginger root works in a lot of places in your healing kitchen! Peel fresh root and mince into vegetable sautés: Carrot sticks seared to tenderness with fresh minced ginger and a dash of curry powder, cooked in a blend of toasted sesame oil, coconut oil, and a small dab of local raw honey, makes for a more nutritious, healthful, and interesting version than plain old steamed, without much more effort. Mince ginger into curries, simmer slices of it into chicken soup stock (remove before eating), or pour boiling water over sliced root for a tea to open sinuses and soothe an inflamed throat. Ginger’s benefits are legend, and recent work in mice showed that it reduced inflammation in ulcerative colitis. Another showed ginger’s components to be neuro-protective by lowering inflammation and inhibiting memory loss.
Winter comfort food: Meatloaf with bacon, mashed parsnip, Brussels sprouts
Brussels Sprouts – Finally! My favorite vegetable has dropped to a lower price for organic at my local grocer. February is when prices really drop on these and I have been waiting all fall. You knew these were good for you, but did you know how good? Check into these benefits: Brussels sprouts contain compounds that are protective against cancer, calcium loss and bone fractures, diabetes, and more. They also contain sulforaphane, a compound that created significant improvement when supplemented in young men with autism in this initial clinical trial.
Your kids hate these? Don’t give up. They may be won over with roasted rather than steamed Brussels sprouts. This brings out some of the sweetness while minimizing the strong bitter flavor. Rinse the sprouts and cut into halves or quarters. Toss with melted ghee, sea salt, or garlic salt. Add fresh minced garlic if that suits you, and some toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts. Roast at 400 degrees til fork-soft, 18-20 minutes. Go longer for a crispy-chip texture on the leaves. Or, make salty chips by chopping the sprouts into leaves and roast until brown and crisp, with ample salt, ghee, olive oil, or coconut oil.
Pink Grapefruit – Sounds summery, but winter is grapefruit season. At this time of year, grapefruit is tastier, cheaper, and more available. Obvious bennies are lots of vitamin C, lycopene, potassium, antioxidants, and bioflavonoids. All of these nutrients are helpful for immune function in one way or another. Even cholesterol levels appear to be directly improved just by eating pink grapefruit. The ultimate convenience food – peel and eat. Put peeled cut sections in your kids’ lunches if they’re too busy during the school day to pull these apart themselves.
Cod liver oil – One of the best sources going for natural vitamin D3, the biologically active form, is cod liver oil. I suggest children under 40 or 50 lbs use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon daily; more is okay for bigger kids under usual circumstances but check with your doctor if you aren’t sure. Fish oils vary for vitamin D content, and for processing, which can have negative impacts on the delicate fatty acids in these oils. Since CLO also contains healthy fatty acids plus some vitamin A, I prefer it over drops that only give vitamin D3 (though drops are useful in some cases too). I skip supplements entirely that only give vitamin D2. Foods that offer it are a bit scant: Fatty fish, egg yolks, beef liver, and cheeses. Debate about the vitamin D content of certain mushrooms leaves me inclined to suggest supplementation for vegans.
Our understanding of the many and diverse things that vitamin D does is far from complete. More hormone than nutrient, virtually every tissue in our bodies has receptors for vitamin D. It regulates genes that control immune response, blood sugar, cell growth, and many other functions. It’s not just about bones! In late winter, many of us lose vitamin D stores as we have less sun exposure. This may be a factor in depression. Increasing vitamin D level by just 10 points improved depression in young men in this study.
Fermented or not? This is a big debate. The Weston Price and GAPS communities won’t have it any other way but fermented cod liver oil. Some families I work with won’t go there. My next best pick is Pharmax, which processes fish oils more gently than other manufacturers, and has liquids that are palatable for most kids I’ve worked with.
Garlic – Eating fresh garlic daily (2 cloves or more) appears to reduce susceptibility to colds and flu. There are many ways to do this. You can:
• Mince and add to sautéed or roasted vegetables and stews.
• Place peeled whole cloves in 1/4 inch of olive oil, and heat gently for 10-15 minutes (until soft but not browned). Eat these whole. You can add salt if you like, and save the olive oil to drizzle on salad, veggies or bread or drink it down.
• Place raw peeled cloves in a blender with 2 cups water, a whole lemon, and 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until smooth; strain, and drink. This pungent drink taken daily will encourage liver to expel toxins and will keep colds and flu at bay. For an extra liver purgative and to make it taste a little easier, add a teaspoon of pure inositol powder.
• Try high potency allicin capsules when eating the cloves is not your thing. My top pick is AlliMax Pro, which gives 450 mg of allicin powder per capsule. Allicin is the active ingredient in garlic that has been shown to have antimicrobial and immune protective activity.
When eating fresh garlic, do so quickly to get the most from the active allicin component, which has a short half life once you crush the garlic.
2 sweet potatoes made 15 hefty pancakes
Sweet Potatoes – Here’s a food most kids like, and it’s easy to prepare: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put in potatoes. Bake 60 minutes. Done! Of course there are other yummy ways to eat sweet potatoes, but start there if you have too much to juggle at dinner time. Place them in your oven in the morning and program to turn on and bake later if you’re not home to do it. It’s worth it to buy organic sweet potatoes or yams – they taste sweeter, less bitter, just better. Whip these with butter, ghee, cinnamon, and a little maple syrup then dust with ground cashews or macadamia nuts, to incentivize for picky eaters.
Seriously though, sweet potatoes give vitamin A as beta-carotene, which is another crucial immune helper. In fact, the recent mania about measles should be talking more about vitamin A than vaccines: Even the World Health Organization and UNICEF have protocols that engage high dose vitamin A for children exposed to measles. Vitamin A has both therapeutic and preventive actions against this virus, and dramatically reduces mortality from complications of measles (diarrhea and pneumonia). For detail on the many ways in which vitamin A supports our immune systems, click here.
If baked sweet potatoes are too boring, you have a lot of options, depending on how ambitious you are. Sweet potato pancakes from scratch are delicious if you have time to make them. Quick breads, pies, and cookies are too, when made with leftover sweet potato. You can drop left over bakers in a smoothie (remove the skin first) to give a sweet and creamy texture. Or, just serve them mashed, with some orange zest or even orange juice added.
A food processor makes this recipe much easier
You may feel like hibernating, but if you do, enjoy these foods that are in season in cold months – just in time to carry you through the colds, flu, and winter blues.
The media’s obsession with pitting us against each other continues in full swing with ongoing news about the measles outbreak, now up to some ninety cases. Are you buying in? Are you mad at your neighbor? Did you blame that kid down the street, and her crazy parents? Are you a pediatrician who has vowed to break your vow of doing no harm and treating the sick, by booting a kid with measles infection out of your office? Good for you. You’re a hater.
Just like anything else where hate is involved (terrorism, racism, xenophobia, religious zealotry), ignorance and fear are the drivers. Our media loves those. It makes for great ratings.
Measles vaccine was introduced in 1963. That means that not one of these kids had been vaccinated against measles, when Disneyland opened its doors to eager throngs in July 1955:
Thousands of kids. None of them vaccinated for measles.
There were no outbreaks.
It also means that most if not all of these kids had likely experienced natural measles infection. This was back in the day when your doctor worried if you didn’t get measles by the time you were ten – not the other way around. Measles was regarded as a beneficial childhood infection, for good reason: It conferred protection against some cancers later in life, and may lower odds for chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma, allergies, or eczema later on.
We know this: Natural infection works. It creates longer lasting immunity, by years. It creates community protection, or herd immunity. Vaccines, not so much. They wear off. And they don’t seem to confer strong herd immunity. Many argue they don’t confer herd immunity at all.
Even if we don’t introduce the A word (autism), MMR vaccine has a checkered past. Since it came on the scene, one fail after another has been reported in the medical literature, including reports from the CDC itself. In 48 years (since 1967), PubMed lists 360 articles citing measles vaccine failures and outbreaks in vaccinated persons. Measles outbreaks among highly vaccinated populations have been happening for decades. In one not so unique case from 1983, all children at this school were fully vaccinated against MMR (100% uptake) and there was still a measles outbreak. Can’t blame that one on those unvaccinating parents. But you can blame it on the vaccine being too weak to work. Now that so few of us have strong immunity from natural measles infection, and so many have weak or no immunity thanks to vaccination, outbreaks are going to continue. So, get a vaccine every single year? No thanks.
You might even blame that 1983 outbreak on the vaccine itself: Measles vaccination does, on occasion, actually cause measles infection. Which, of course, can spread. Here is one example, and another here. These are not terribly unique either.
Is this how the recent Disneyland outbreak began? The CDC is vague on its story. They concluded, without presenting clear data, that a visitor from “overseas” arrived with measles and started the outbreak. Where was this person from? Where is the outbreak overseas? Shouldn’t we know, to control more outbreak? Is the CDC so incompetent that it can’t identify the actual start of this small, contained outbreak any further? I doubt it. But I do know this: If this outbreak began with a vaccine-acquired infection, such as in the two examples above, the CDC would never tell the public. It is, um, quite a bit off message for them.
It strikes me as implausible that a person could arrive in a country with 95% vaccine compliance (which is what the US has for MMR) and start an outbreak – unless (a) the vaccine doesn’t really work in the first place (which it often does not, see PubMed citations above) or (b) the persons who got infected were not vaccinated.
If (b) is true, then in this outbreak, the vaccine was more protective than not. So, vaccinating parents, why are you yelling? Your kid is vaccinated, and you can be at peace. Stop hating already. An unvaccinated person is not going to hurt you.
Me and my sibs, 1962: A buncha unvaccinated grubs. Measles vaccine did not exist at the time
If (a) is true, we have a problem. Whether kids are vaccinated or not, we have kids getting measles. Some data show that vaccinated kids in measles outbreaks get more sick than the unvaccinated ones. Nutrition status, especially for vitamin A, iron, and protein, are potent predictors of how sick a kid gets and whether complications may take his life.
MMR vaccination has not eradicated measles, obviously. And it probably never will. In fact, no vaccine has ever eradicated any disease. We still have all of ’em, from pertussis to chickenpox to polio. And it is not because some people don’t vaccinate. It’s because some vaccines work for some people some of the time, and don’t work at all for others – that is, they trigger clinical infection.
No vaccine works all the time. Some work quite badly. All of them have injured and killed innocent children.
Whose lives matter more, the unvaccinated or the vaccinated? Who do you hate more? Who deserves more care, kindness, and attention? The kid who got natural measles infection, or the kid who got it from a vaccine? The kid with polio from India who got vaccinated, or the kid without polio who got vaccinated? The twelve year old who is permanently disabled from an MMR reaction, or the kid who is disabled from a head injury sustained in a car accident? Pediatricians, which kid should you boot out of your practice?
Every kid matters. Peace out.
Me and just some of my cousins and siblings, 1963. All of us had natural measles infection or herd immunity by this time
Even though I became a mom a long while ago (1996), and so much has changed since then, I still remember how it felt to go from independent young woman to faceless market niche. Not what I expected!
I was thirty five years old and pretty comfortable in my own skin. I had graduate and undergraduate degrees in my profession, enjoyed working, and was healthy, fit, and strong. But all of a sudden, it was as if I was no longer any of those things.
Now, I was a “pregnant woman”. And, I noticed, that meant that I no longer belonged to me. I belonged to the obstetrician/midwife, to that dreadful book “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” (at the time this featured a sad, lonely woman sitting in a rocking chair on its cover), to Graco (baby stuff maker de rigeur), to Hanna Andersson, to the pediatrician, and to any stranger, friend, or foe who felt it necessary to give me advice.
I felt palpable expectations for my behavior all around me, and everyone seemed to be quite uninhibited in letting me know how “pregnant women” behave or what they are supposed to do. The only word I can conjure here is “obedient”. Pregnant women are supposed to be obedient. Obey what society would like you to do, buy, wear, and say, regarding your pregnancy and children. I didn’t see that coming. I was taken aback by it, and tried to shake it off. But it lingered.
From the get go, I was not encouraged to cultivate my intuition as a mother, or listen to my own body. The idea that perhaps I might like to tap some innate wisdom deep in myself was an embarrassment at best. I was definitely supposed to listen to everybody else. Going inward toward my own knowing was regarded as quaint but unnecessary, or, just plain selfish, dumb, or stubborn. Don’t you know? The doctor will tell you everything you need to know. Besides, aren’t you exhausted from this birth business, breastfeeding, laundry, the sleep deprivation (yes)? Let the experts drive the bus.
Some harsh events at my son’s birth and infancy made me quickly understand how deeply rooted in our own knowing women must be, as we meet this moment in our lives. It’s crucial for your well being. It’s also crucial for your baby’s safety and health, from the moment you first cradle them to the moment you launch your young adult child toward their own lives. We women need that quiet, still, reassuring connection to our intuition. How else do you communicate with your baby, before or after they arrive in our world? No one else is more equipped than you to do this!
You’re the mom, you’re the vessel nurturing this new life, from conception into the first couple of years of your child’s life. Even after that, intuition doesn’t go away. And adoptive moms will know this too, in their own fashion. Honoring and cultivating that connection will help you be a happier mom and will help your child be healthier.
In my pediatric nutrition practice, I hear time and again about struggles mothers have with medical resources that they are tapping to help their children get better. I usually meet the infants, toddlers, kids and teens who have been failed by conventional medicine, who have been through the medical ringer. Their moms are at wits’ end, they are sad, they have tried everything, done everything their doctors told them to do. They have submitted their children for procedure after procedure, surgeries, all the recommended inoculations, exams, blood draws, endoscopies, barium swallows, rounds of strong drugs, and more. But their kids are still so sick, not able, not well. Life is a blur of specialist appointments, medications, pumps for feeding tubes, and so on.
At this point, I often discover that although these moms do everything they can for their children, the one thing they didn’t do is put their intuition in charge. They have let others decide what’s best for their babies. They weighed expert opinions carefully but left out their own heart. And by the time I meet them, they realize this oversight and express regret. They were trying hard to be rational, safe, obedient. They gave away their intuitive power, and question if keeping it would have meant their children would have suffered less.
Mine would have. I deeply regret allowing his vaccinations at age two and four months, after he had already been hospitalized for an adverse reaction from his newborn hepatitis B shot. The follow up shots nearly killed my son just as he began to settle down. They triggered violent seizures, tremors, and neuromotor problems that lasted for years. He has struggled with learning, vision, and sensory processing challenges as a result. I let the pediatrician bully me. My urge to swaddle up my son and just bolt from the office before the nurse arrived with her tray of needles? I squelched it. I stood stock still – obedient. I then watched my infant son’s face contort in pain as needles sunk into his thighs and I knew I had betrayed his trust, and betrayed myself as a knowing and intuitive mother.
Honor that direct line, that hot line, straight to your own intuition. It lets you call your highest knowingest self, any time day or night, and listen in. No interference. No self doubt. Just an accepting, neutral, no-judgment you on the other end of the line, with a sureness for your next steps, as a mom. What would that be like? What would it mean for your child? What would it mean for you, to unapologetically claim your own prowess and tap your own wisdom?
You have that voice. The more you pick up the line and listen, the more you’ll feel it. The harder it will be to ignore.
Finding our feet, cozy at home
Here’s to your intuition as a mom, and to all the times you honored it. Read these amazing accounts of moms who did. Your intuition is not just for emergencies. It will guide you to know your child better than anyone, and listen to their needs when they aren’t able to communicate them to you. No doctor in the land has that ability, but that voice will connect you to providers and helpers who are here to lift your child up on their journey to good health.
Another measles outbreak made the news this week as nearly fifty cases (so far) were counted after an outbreak began at Disneyland in California. Even though “patient zero” – the individual who was the source of the outbreak – has yet to be identified, the usual scare-mongering was in force with grim reminders of deaths from measles: 123 to be exact, in the US, over a three year period from 1989-1991. What we never learn is whether these deaths happened in vaccinated or unvaccinated children, or what background health problems or nutrition deficits they may have had to make them vulnerable. We don’t know if patient zero was vaccinated, but odds are strong that s/he was – see below. We are simply (mis)led to believe that because somebody wasn’t vaccinated, somebody died, or will die. The “anti-vaccine movement” is blamed, again.
But here are the facts, straight from the CDC’s mouth:
• Nearly 95% of US children are vaccinated against measles (2014 measles vaccine coverage data)
• Deaths from measles in the US dramatically dropped to fewer than 2 per 100,000 by 1945 (see page 93 here), nearly twenty years before a vaccine existed.
• Measles vaccine has been failing since the early 1980’s, with dramatic outbreaks spreading through fully vaccinated populations. Despite this investigation being published by the CDC itself, media outlets today keep telling us that this only happens because of people who don’t vaccinate. Earlier this year, even Science Magazine made this very gaff, with a headline so dramatically wrong it’s almost comical: “Measles Outbreak Traced To Vaccinated Person For First Time “.
Even though these periodic outbreaks continue despite nearly every child in the US getting MMR shots, the CDC, your pediatrician, school principal, neighbor, auntie, and everyone else will tell you it’s your fault there’s an outbreak, if your child didn’t get an MMR shot. Even if your child is well while all the vaccinated kids are getting sick with measles, they will still believe this to be true and will still blame you for it.
That’s when you might whip out this pearl: “This outbreak demonstrates that transmission of measles can occur within a school population with a documented immunization level of 100%” (see 1980’s link above). There you have it: Every kid in the school where this outbreak occurred had been fully immunized. Every. Single. One. And this is not an unusual scenario.
If that doesn’t seem crazy enough, here’s how the CDC explained this disconcerting fail of MMR vaccine, in the carefully investigated and documented 1983 outbreak: “…this outbreak may have resulted from chance clustering of otherwise randomly distributed vaccine failures in the community.” Of course, this missive wraps the topic by saying it’s important to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, acquiring measles infection from vaccination itself has been documented.
Obviously, MMR vaccination is not eradicating measles. It may even be spreading measles. And risks from this vaccine are real. Personally, I have worked with many families who are certain that the descent into autism that their children experienced was due to an MMR shot. Reviewing their medical charts carefully, I can’t disagree. What’s a parent to do?
This is a huge topic, and I can’t begin to tackle it in a single blog. For more on why measles vaccines may be failing us more than we know, start here.
Still, I would say this: Fear not. My siblings and I grew up in the era when your pediatrician was worried if you didn’t get measles, not the other way around. Measles, chickenpox, and mumps infections were regarded as beneficial childhood milestones that developed a vigorous, healthy immune system. Measles infection was so benign for healthy children that our lexicon created the word “measly” from it – meaning, insignificant, or “contemptibly small“. How times have changed! Pediatricians today who are under forty years old may never have seen a healthy child with measles in the flesh, and may be ill-prepared to nurture and nourish that child through it.
Food and nutrition support children in having an uncomplicated course of infection. While a well nourished child who gets measles is going to be sick for a week or two, complications from measles are what can be life threatening, more so than measles itself. These can include pneumonia or encephalitis. But these are extremely rare in children who are healthy and in strong nutrition status, before exposure. This doesn’t mean that sprinkling a poorly nourished child with supplements during fever and illness will do the trick (though certain ones may help). Here’s what that means:
– Measles infection and measles vaccination as MMR both present vigorous demands for the immune system. Your child’s nutrition status before, during, and after exposure can determine the severity of illness/reaction and whether or not there are complications. While sick with measles, your child probably won’t feel like eating, will have a fever, and may have diarrhea. Measles exposure (natural or injected) triggers changes in gut tissue and immune function, causing children to lose protein in stool during this illness, when the immune system most needs it. Replenish your child daily with good food during this infection. If they feel too nauseous to eat, feed organic beef broth or bone broths that are not low sodium – your child needs electrolytes here. Stir a half teaspoon of ghee or grass fed butter (a vitamin A source) into the broth. Give electrolyte drinks and any protein rich foods they will accept. Lactose intolerance is a documented effect for some children exposed to measles, so if dairy foods that your child usually loves suddenly feel awful during this illness, switch to non-dairy protein sources like egg, meats, chicken, homemade broths, or any tolerated legumes/beans/peas. Elemental amino acid formulas and supplements are available too. Contact me if you need more information on these products.
– Your child’s weight relative to his height should be in a healthy range. Body mass index should be above 10th percentile. Underweight children, especially those with a body mass index or weight-to-height ratio below the fifth percentile, are at higher risk for infection in general and for more complications from infections. Though we often hear about childhood obesity in the US, most children in my practice are struggling with gaining weight and growing – and these are kids who get sick more often, stay sick longer, and have more complications.
– Iron status should be robust. The best way to measure this is to check a child’s ferritin level. It should be at least 30, though reference ranges drop to 10. Signs of weak iron status include pallor, veins visible through skin, shiners at eyes, penchant for chewing ice or other non-food items (sticks, rocks, sand, pens, paperclips, fabric), fatigue, intermittent hyperactivity, depression or mood swings, or poor sleep. Teen girls may have heavier menses when iron deficient. Iron is the single most commonly deficient nutrient world wide, including in US children.
– Vitamins A and C should be strong in your child’s diet every day. These are specifically protective for measles virus and will be depleted by the demands made on the immune system if your child is exposed. Cod liver oil, whole milk or butter, brightly colored vegetables and fruits are all good sources, and can add omega 3 fats also, which help modulate immune function.
– Zinc status should be strong. Eat zinc rich foods daily – raw cashews, nut butters, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, pork, lamb, beef, mushrooms, or legumes and beans are good sources. You can also use a supplement to 15-30 mg daily for children in most cases.
– Give your child strong protein status so his immune system has the building blocks needed to make globulins and other immune molecules to mount a defense. Your child should be eating at least 35-60 grams protein daily depending on age, from varied sources (that is, not just milk, cheese, and yogurt – see my blog on dairy addiction if that is your kid).
The role of nutrition in preventing measles and lessening the impact of this infection is legendary in public health circles, and has filled volumes for decades – from vitamin A status as a predictor of measles deaths, to how fish oils modulate certain immune proteins in our bodies. Your child can have marginal status for any of these nutrition factors without your pediatrician’s notice – a scenario I routinely find in my pediatric nutrition practice. Pediatricians have little training in applied nutrition, and even less time to use it in clinic, where they must turn over dozens of patient visits per day. If you’re not sure what your child needs to build strong immunity, contact me for an appointment.
So your kids got sick. Now what?
You’ve got the advice down pat from your doctor: Call if fever rises above 101 or so, if it persists for more than a day or two, if there is vomiting and diarrhea, if there are rashes. All good. Is there more you can do?
Once your child has a fever and is fighting a bug, remember that fever is the immune system’s intelligence in action. The body will turn up the heat to kill invading pathogens. Talk to your doctor about how to safely encourage a fever, and when to shut it down. It may not be necessary to medicate a fever away, if your child is comfortably resting and well hydrated through it. But, children can become dehydrated quickly. It’s important to know when it’s time for medicine to lower fever, for an urgent care visit, or some IV fluids. Meanwhile, support your child’s body during fever. It’s working hard! This is where nutrition supports can really shine. One of my favorites here is how the right form of calcium can lower fever. Read on!
• Provide potassium, sodium and other electrolytes in bone broths and vegetable broths, if you have them. Skip store bought bullion broth cubes as these often have monosodium glutamate – a common trigger for migraines and headaches. Check your supermarket’s organic foods section for full fat, full sodium broths from chicken, beef, or vegetable, like Pacific or Imagine brands.
• If your child can keep a little food down, mince garlic and ginger root (peeled) into a small pot with coconut oil or ghee. Saute gently with thin slices of celery or chopped celery leaves. Then add broth and simmer until vegetables are soft.
• For kids needing cooling drinks, coconut water is a good option because it is rich in potassium, and naturally sweet on its own. Another option: Instead of sports drinks full of corn syrup and coloring, use electrolyte mixes in water that don’t add artificial colors or flavors. Health care providers (myself included) carry products like Thorne PureLyte, but most supermarkets and pharmacies stock Alacer’s Electro-Mix, which is similar. These are easy to keep on hand.
• Vitamin C can be used to bowel tolerance during illness. Different doses of C will trigger loose stools for different people. Start at 100-200 mg three times daily. If stools remain formed, you may be able to continue up to 1000-5000 mg daily, depending on the age and weight of your child. Those with a background of constipation may find relief with high dose C. Chewable wafers or Emergen-C packets can work well, and brands abound that are gluten free with minimal to no artificial ingredients. Buffered vitamin C will be easier on the stomach.
• Check the iron supplements: If your child takes a multi with iron in it, or if your doctor has prescribed iron for your child, call and ask if it’s okay to use this during illness and fever. Don’t double up your child’s multivitamin during illness. Microbes love iron, and the body will shift iron away from serum in order to “hide” it from pathogens during fever. On the flip side, a background of marginal iron status weakens immune response and makes us more vulnerable to all sorts of infections. Boost iron when your child is well with iron-rich foods: Pumpkin seeds, beef, lamb, cashews, pine nuts, almonds, seared dark leafy greens like spinach and chard. For iron supplements, discuss withholding them during infection with your doctor. To check iron status, have this checked when your child is well, and have transferrin, ferritin, and serum iron included in the blood work to see where the iron is and how much is available. Ferritin levels below 25, in my experience, produce kids who get sick more often, but reference ranges for this parameter go as low as 6! Ideally, ferritin should be between 30-80. This means the body has a good store of iron ready to draw from during illness.
• Boost zinc: Like vitamin C, zinc can be used safely during fever to help fight infection. Zinc rich foods are nuts and meats, but if these are off limits for whatever reason, explore using zinc liquids (Metagenics makes a tasteless colorless one that gives 15 mg per teaspoon) or chewable zinc lozenges. Depending on your child’s age, weight, and iron status prior to illness, up to 60 mg of zinc may be safe to use. Give divided doses with food, as it can upset any stomach and especially a tender one.
• Vitamins A and D: The immune system needs both in a crisis and will deplete these during illness. Consider cod liver oil if your child’s stomach can handle it, Vitamin D drops if not, and vitamin A rich foods. Juicing then straining carrots plus celery and apple, with some ginger root and whole lemon, can be both soothing and immune boosting.
• Calcium: During fever, the body mobilizes calcium to aid white blood cells in fighting pathogens. It will pull this from bone if necessary, and if it doesn’t get the calcium it needs, it will demand more by building a soaring fever. Calcium appears to be a key in triggering febrile seizures. Giving calcium lactate as a supplement can modulate fever. Keep a product like Standard Process calcium lactate powder on hand to stir into warm drinks, soft foods or water. This is also available as tablets or capsules. Other forms of calcium (citrate, carbonate) are less nimble at this task, which demands that calcium be quickly available in its ionized form in the body. Calcium lactate will also calm a racing heart and muscle cramps.
• Avoid sugar during illness: We all know that sugary diets don’t help our kids. Besides the obvious stuff like candy, soda or cookies, many of us unwittingly give our kids sugar with daily foods like fruit juice, sweetened yogurt, starchy crackers (aka Goldfish), breakfast cereals, ketchup and more. Avoiding sugar may be a key to reducing the severity and length of an illness too, so do your best at pulling it out during illness. White blood cells will take vitamin C in handily, if there is not an abundance of glucose in the blood. Higher blood sugar will inhibit the transport of vitamin C into white blood cells. Vitamin C is needed for white blood cells destroy pathogens.
Use any or all of these nutrition tools to help manage a fever and support a child who is fighting illness. When the fever is gone and illness resolved, remember that your child’s body just took a big withdrawal out of his nutrition-stores bank account. This is the “bank” that the immune system will dip into again, next time an illness passes through your house, your kid’s classroom, or what have you. Frequent repeat illnesses signal a nutrition deficit that your child cannot overcome. Ample, fresh real food, organic and non-GMO if possible, with plenty of healthy varied fats, proteins and vegetables, are like money in the bank for that next rainy day, so stock up!