My twin girls are always sick. Are there foods to boost their immune systems?

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I have twin girls who are 5 years old. Since they have started school it seems as if they are always kind of sick. In any given week they could each have a gross cough, runny nose, upset stomachs, and headaches. They eat fairly healthy for kids (they prefer fruits and veggies over candy and sugary foods). Are there any supplements, vitamins or superfood I could give them to help boost their immune systems? Thank You!

Well done mom as the food gatekeeper encouraging fruits and veggies. Parents decide what foods to buy and cook for their family. Eating habits learned from birth thru age 10 set the basis for life long food preferences.

Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nutrients. So it is good they prefer these foods. They also need to eat a variety of other foods like meat, poultry, fish, whole grains and cereals, dairy and healthy fats. Generally, brightly colored foods are higher in nutrients.

I reviewed human research on immune boosting foods over the last 10 years and found little, unfortunately. Foods high in vitamin A like sweet potato (not yams), carrots, pumpkin, vegetable juices (not necessarily juicing), winter squash, spinach and other leafy greens, dried apricots, and fresh not canned tuna boost immunity. Milk in the U.S. is fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D which has recently been found to boost immunity but only in high-risk populations. Outside the U.S. look for children’s milk with added vitamin A. Kefir is fermented milk much like yogurt that has been found to activate immunity (7 ounces a day) by controlling the body’s inflammatory response. Kefir is a favorite of mine and can be found in the same refrigerated section as yogurt in most grocery stores. If not ask your grocer to stock kefir.

Most children prefer raw vegetables instead of cooked. Raw veggies are usually higher in nutrients whereas B & C vitamins may be lost when cooking in water. Other foods that enhance immunity are garlic (added to recipes), green tea (not a kid-friendly caffeine-containing beverage, but good for parents), and ginger root (added to stir fry recipes or in tea for parents).

Large doses of vitamin C or magnesium are not recommended especially not for children. None of these reduce the risk of cold virus in adults either. However citrus fruits like oranges, mandarines, guava, sweet peppers (red, yellow, green) grapefruit, peaches, kiwi, tomatoes, pummelo (like a large grapefruit), lemon, pineapple, broccoli, strawberries, cranberry juice (often sweetened), and kohlrabi are excellent sources of vitamin C.

Make sure they get at least 8 hours of sleep each night which will help their body immunity.

Unfortunately, the common cold and seasonal flu are caused by a virus for which there is no cure. You can only treat the symptoms. I would highly recommend you contact your daughter’s physician for her/his recommendations for treating cold or flu symptoms as some analgesics that treat fever should not be used with children. Cold remedies should not be used in children either so talk to your daughters’ physician. Also, talk to their doctor about getting the flu vaccine before school starts in the Fall to reduce the risk of flu as well as reduce flu symptoms. At 5 years old, however, they are not in the flu high-risk group of younger children.

What your children and you can do to reduce their risk of exposure to cold and flu virus is frequent hand washing and not touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. These viruses enter the body thru mucous membranes. Shaking hands with other children or hugging other children can also expose them to cold and flu virus. Your girls should also wash their hands when they have a cold or flu after touching their nose or mouth. Teach your children how long to wash their hands by singing the a,b,c song once or the birthday song twice in their head while rubbing their hands together (back of hands, palms and between fingers). I often make a game of hand washing with children and wash my hands at the same time. Similar to role modeling teeth brushing before bed. They should wash their hands as soon as they come home from school as should you to reduce the risk of spreading cold and flu viruses from school to inside your home. Cold and flu virus can exist on surfaces up to a day and that includes doorknobs, desks, toys, phones, and any surface.

Next, teach your girls to sneeze into their sleeve instead of sneezing into their hands which can spread cold and flu virus to any surface they touch after sneezing. It is as important for parents to take the same measures to stay healthy to reduce the risk of spreading cold and flu virus to or from work.