Immune System Support: What a Naturopathic Doctor would tell her own friends and family (Part I- Homeopathy and Thinking Naturopathically)

Over Labor Day weekend, a dear friend asked me to remind her about what she can do for her kids this cold and flu season to support their immune systems. I love this question and excitedly responded, “let me blog about it!” I don’t have children yet, but I’m a proud auntie and cousin to many wee-ones and I have a great deal of clinical experience in working with children naturopathically.

Disclaimer: I am not a pediatrician and this blog post is not a replacement for seeking medical care. I think that having a licensed naturopathic doctor in addition to a pediatrician and any needed specialists, makes for a well-rounded care team for most children. I feel it’s key to have collaboration between disciplines to ensure safety and greatest health for a child. It’s also important to consult with a licensed naturopathic doctor for individualized support to ensure drug-herb interactions are avoided and that there aren’t any contraindications for using certain natural medicines.

Okay, so, why I loved my friend’s particular question is because in practice there’s another common question I often receive: “Should I get a flu shot?” or “Should I get my child a flu shot?” My response to this involves explaining where the question itself falls short. Whether or not we get the flu shot, doing preventative immune system support is important every year. With or without the flu shot on board, we each may or may not get the flu. Preventative immune system support isn’t just about preventing colds or the flu – it also includes reducing how severe and long-lasting symptoms become. If we can enhance overall health and vitality before the immune system has to deal with an acute illness, then we walk into that illness better equipped to handle it. In naturopathic medicine we call this strengthening or tonifying the terrain.

How do we do this exactly?

Let’s start with homeopathy. If you bring your child to see me, there’s a reason this will be the first item listed on their naturopathic care plan! It’s my favorite tool for supporting the body’s ability to do what it does best: respond appropriately to the environment or stressors (which includes viruses and bacteria, but also new classrooms, sports teams, etc.) and restore balance promptly. Health is not the absence of disease or illness but rather an ability to show up fully and vibrantly. What’s important to consider here first is that, ideally, we have time to use homeopathy to address anything chronic that’s going on before an acute illness occurs with something called a constitutional homeopathic remedy.

What’s a “constitutional homeopathic remedy” mean? Well, if you have three children, chances are they are three different “constitutions.” They may all be exposed to the same stress, but they will each respond in a different and somewhat predictable fashion. Therefore, they’d each need a different homeopathic remedy to help them feel better again. Selecting a constitutional homeopathic remedy for a child takes into account their physical tendencies as well as their mental and emotional predisposition. We also consider seemingly odd or irrelevant traits including food and drink preferences, fears and sleep position.

Here’s an example: Your second-grader has a history of ear infections which necessitated ear tubes. He’s about to get back to school and he’s struggling most with being away from you. He’s shy around new people, but will warm up after a little while. He’s warm-bodied and a good-natured kid in general. He sleeps well (in your bed because he wants to be close and is scared of the dark!), but thrashes about a lot. He has a strong appetite and isn’t especially picky – he loves grilled cheese and milk. Taking all of this information together would lead to a consideration that this child may do well with pulsatilla as a constitutional homeopathic remedy (to learn more about pulsatilla and other commonly used homeopathic remedies, check out Dr. Paul Herscu’s book The Homeopathic Treatment of Children). If I were his naturopathic doctor, I’d suggest a dose of pulsatilla be given upon returning to school to help him adjust to the big changes and feel more ease in making new friends. Most importantly, that dose of pulsatilla would be making him overall more resilient. Perhaps after a four-six week time frame he’d even be less fearful of the dark and be comfortable sleeping in his own bed!

To recap: Incorporating constitutional homeopathy prior to catching this season’s cold or flu is a highly effective and individualized way to support the immune system and overall health.

Next, I want to emphasize the fact that getting an acute illness a few times per year is a sign of health. It shows that the immune system is strong enough to mount a response and naturopathically we see it as an opportunity for the system to rest and recalibrate.

A big education point I work on with parents is encouraging them to not suppress symptoms of an acute upper respiratory illness, including a fever, if and when possible. Read more here from my colleague Dr. Erika Krumbeck in her article Don’t suppress that fever! (and why I don’t like Tylenol) She sheds light on an important topic: “Acetaminophen is hugely liver toxic.  And I don’t mean in a vague, naturopathic ‘oh that McDonald’s hamburger is bad for your liver.’  Acetaminophen is the number 1 cause of liver failure in the UK, and the number 2 cause in the US (of cases requiring liver transplantation).  It is more common than viral hepatitis leading to acute (sudden) liver failure.” We want to use gentle tools to keep the child comfortable and supported without suppressing their body’s inherent and wise processes during an acute illness like a cold or flu. The great news is that we have so many angles to work from. Beyond homeopathy, the following areas are where I focus in terms of prevention as well as during an active acute illness: nutrition and supplementation, herbal medicine (also called botanical medicine), home remedies and lifestyle support.

In Part II of this blog post, I will dive into these further!

Questions so far? Drop them below!

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