Immune Boosters

Old pharmacyMany people mistakenly believe that germs cause colds and other infectious illnesses. The state of our immune system, however, is what really determines whether or not we get sick. The specific bacteria or virus is not nearly as important as the medium in which it is allowed to flourish.

Boosting your child’s immune system is critical to his good health–especially during the winter months, when children spend a lot of time indoors, breathing in germs. Here are some preventive measures to use during cold and flu season as well as at the first sign of illness.


Vitamin C plays a vital role in enhancing immune functions and tissue healing. During cold and flu season, give your child extra vitamin C. Overdosing on this water-soluble vitamin is not likely, but avoid a sudden decrease in dosage, which can cause increased susceptibility to infections.

Food sources of Vitamin C include: citrus fruits, berries, pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwi, peppers, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower,

Zinc has been shown to protect against and help fight colds. High doses, however, can depress immunity. Give your child five to 10 milligrams a day during periods of susceptibility to colds. (Zinc is best absorbed at the start of a meal, and drinking citrus juices for a half-hour before or after taking zinc inhibits its absorption.)

Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Other food sources of zinc include: beef, crab, lobster, baked beans, chicken, and pork.

Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and the B-complex vitamins (B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, biotin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and folic acid) also contribute to optimum immune functioning. Give your child a multiple vitamin that contains a balance of these vitamins as extra insurance against illness.

Food sources of Vitamin A include: liver, fish oils, milk, eggs, leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomatoes, fruits, and some vegetable oils.

Food sources of Vitamin B include: whole grains, seeds, nutritional yeast, leafy green vegetables, beans, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, and green beans.


Echinacea (purple coneflower) has been shown in clinical studies to be a highly effective boost to the immune system because it stimulates the production of disease-fighting white blood cells. The key is to administer it liberally–a dropperful every few hours–at the first sign of a sudden chill, sore throat, or sneezing. Once an infection has already set in, echinacea is not as helpful. Often the timely administration of echinacea can prevent sneezing or a sore throat from turning into a full-blown cold. Echinacea should not be given on a continual basis, as that decreases its effectiveness.

Other good immune-boosting herbs for children include astragalus (good for treatment of stubborn respiratory infections; available in a blend with echinacea), licorice, marshmallow root, red clover, and bee products including bee pollen, propolis, and honey (bee products should not be given to children under a year old).


Garlic is both a preventative and a remedy. Proven to destroy viruses and bacteria—including those responsible for colds, flus, and strep throat—garlic also effectively reduces fevers by inducing sweating, and it relieves coughs and colds by helping to expel mucus.

Garlic is most effective if eaten raw—in a tablespoon of honey (only for children over a year), in salad dressings, in hummus or tahini dips, mixed with plain yogurt and grated cucumber, or crushed with olive oil or butter to spread on toast. Or make garlic and lemon tea:

Pour a cup of boiling water over a crushed garlic clove; add the juice of a lemon and a few peppermint leaves. Brew for five minutes, and add honey.

To counteract the odor of garlic on the breath, eat raw parsley. Garlic capsules or extracts have not been shown to be nearly as effective as raw garlic.


Your child needs strong reserves of vitamins and minerals, which only a wholesome diet can supply, to fight infection. Foods with a high sugar content compromise the ability of white blood cells to fight bacteria.


Consider avoiding dairy products if your child is prone to congestion or ear infections. Dairy intolerance is one of the most common and under-diagnosed childhood ailments. Dairy products can aggravate ear infections, respiratory congestion, and asthma.


Liquids can help loosen coughs and clear stuffy noses, as well as replace fluids that may be lost during vomiting, diarrhea, or fever. The best choices for liquids are water, weak herbal teas, diluted fruit juices, and, of course, breastmilk. And your mother was right: Chicken soup not only contains lots of nutrients, but it has been shown to lessen cold symptoms. Add chopped raw garlic to it for extra healing powers.


A humidifier moistens the cold, dry air of winter, which can irritate throats and nasal passages, and increase vulnerability to infection. Be sure to clean humidifiers frequently to keep them effective. Children should not be exposed to tobacco smoke, which puts them at increased risk for respiratory infections.


Illness is sometimes a signal that life has become too hurried. At the first sign of illness, keep your child quiet and snug, and spend lots of time together reading, listening to music, and cuddling.


Massage can lower stress levels, stimulate circulation, relieve muscle aches, and provide overall soothing. You may want to avoid giving your child deep massage during a fever, as it can increase circulation and elevate body temperature.


Have your child relax in a warm, quiet place. Then help her to imagine herself getting better, by envisioning her white blood cells as her favorite kind of animal attacking the germs, or by breathing in beautifully colored, healing air, and exhaling “bad” air.


The therapeutic use of water is a time-honored treatment for colds, sore throats, and flus. Healing herbs in water are absorbed very well through the skin, as well as when inhaled in the ambient steam.

Give your child a hot footbath with a cold compress on the forehead to encourage sweating and rid the body of toxins. Or put your child in a hot bath to which herbs or essential oils have been added. After 10 to 15 minutes, wrap your child in towels and put him straight into a warm bed. A period of rest and sweating will maximize the treatment’s effectiveness.


For respiratory infections, add three drops of eucalyptus oil or a bundle of aromatic herbs (eucalyptus, sage, thyme, rosemary, or wintergreen) to steaming water, and have your child lean over the steam, with a towel covering her head, to breathe in the inhalation. The eucalyptus inhalation will loosen mucus and fight infection.

Be cautious with eucalyptus as it may be too strong for children under 10. Sage and Rosemary should not be used on children under 6.


To use this age-old technique for drawing out fever and toxins, soak a pair of cotton socks in cold water, wring them out, and put them on your child’s warm feet (warm the feet up first if they are cold). Slip a pair of dry wool socks over the wet socks. As soon as the wet socks begin to warm up and dry out, repeat the process.

About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.


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Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

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