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!