Pediatric Health: Fevers, Runny Noses, Swollen Glands, and Supporting Your Child's Immune System Naturally

Pediatric Immunity: Why Fevers, Runny Noses, And Swollen Glands Are All A Normal Part of Childhood, and How to Support Your Child’s Immune System With Natural Medicine

During the early years of life, children rely primarily on a more rudimentary, “non-specific” immune response, which typically exhibits as fevers, runny noses, and swollen glands.  These are the defenses we are born with, and they all play a role in what is called innate immunity.

As a child’s immune system develops, they become armed with a specialized response to pathogens including bacteria and viruses that have been encountered in the past.  At this stage, specific antibodies are produced to help fight off foreign invaders. Typically in the first few years, we see far more innate immune symptoms in children, and the instinct is often to suppress, rather than support these processes.  It is important to recognize that until adaptive immunity has reached full maturation, it is quite normal for children to primarily use their innate immune defenses, and that this is an important and healthy part of immune system development.  

In the first few years of life, children will encounter a lot of “bugs”, and when we support rather than suppress their natural defenses, a strong and healthy immune system is established for preventing recurrent infections and optimizing health in the teenage and adult years.


1.  Mucous Membranes

Have you ever noticed that children always seem to have runny noses?  Children have very active mucous membranes that function to trap pathogens so they cannot enter the body.

Natural Support:

  • Help children to blow their noses frequently to eliminate bacteria and viruses from the body.

  • Use a steam inhalation or warm, steamy bath to help liquefy respiratory mucous secretions, increase circulation, and decrease congestion.

  • Diffuse essential oils such as eucalyptus and thyme, which have antimicrobial effects, helping to support the elimination of airborne bacteria and viruses.

2. Fevers

Fevers serve an important purpose and have many beneficial effects.  They are children’s main immune defense mechanism.  A fever is defined as a body temperature above 38°C (100.4°F). A fever works in several ways to stimulate the immune system.

a)   An increased temperature stimulates increased immune activity.  White blood cells are released to help fight the infection.

b)   Blood flow is increased through the liver to help break down and filter out invading pathogens.

c)    Heart and lung activity are increased to support circulation of immune cells and the elimination of waste products.

d)   A fever supports the full maturation of the innate immune system.

Natural Support

  • It is not uncommon for children to use a fever to fight off an infection for a few days.

  • A fever can commonly run up to 39°C (102.5°F) without adverse effects for age 3 months to 3 years, and 39.4°C (103°F) above the age of three.[1]

  • Often at the first sign of a mild fever, I recommend giving children a warm bath to help support the natural immune response.

  • If a fever is too high, it is also not effective. Homeopathic remedies can be very effective in reducing a fever, and are prescribed based on specific symptoms that your child is exhibiting. Common homeopathic remedies for fever management include belladonna, chamomilla, and aconite, with a typical prescribed potency being 30c, 3-4x/day. A neutral temperature bath can also help to reduce body temperature. Occasionally over-the-counter medications for fever management are indicated, ideally only for short term use. These medications do have risks and side-effects and should only be used under your primary care provider’s guidelines.

  • Children should rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration. Sports drinks contain high levels of sugar which can suppress the immune system and compromise a healthy recovery. A good rehydration alternative is to mix 1/3 cup juice with 2/3 cup water and add a pinch of salt and baking soda to help replace lost electrolytes.

When To Visit Your Doctor

  • If your child is under 3 months of age and is presenting with a fever, it is always important to consult your primary care provider for a complete physical examination to rule out any medical emergencies.

  • For any age group, it is important to consult your doctor if your child seems unusually lethargic, overly upset, is experiencing a severe headache, neck pain or stiffness, persistent vomiting, or a fever that is not responding to natural treatment. These can all be signs of an underlying bacterial infection that may require addition treatment.

3.  The Microbiome  

A child’s microbiome is also a critical primary defense system.  An estimated seventy percent of immune activity in children resides in their microbiomes as healthy micro-organisms, which help to regulate the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.

This branch of the immune system is notably compromised by antibiotic use, especially in young children.  The vast majority of upper respiratory tract infections in children do not respond well to antibiotics since they are self-limiting, and viral in nature.  It is ultimately best to use natural antimicrobial formulas and immune support whenever possible.

If children do require a pharmaceutical intervention with antibiotics, it is crucial to work on replenishing probiotic bacteria to help restore a healthy microbiome.  This can, however, be challenging since our bodies have hundreds of strains of probiotic bacteria, and most probiotics only contain a few.  

Natural Support:

  • Choose a probiotic formula made specifically for children. Your naturopathic doctor can recommend an effective formula and an appropriate dosage depending on your child’s age and health history. I always recommend a human strain formula for children that contains bifidobacterium, one of the main strains of bacteria that is affected by antibiotic use.

  • Although there is not a therapeutic level of healthy bacteria in yogurt, especially for post-antibiotic care, consuming naturally fermented foods on a regular basis is another way to gently build the intestinal microbiome over time.

4.  Immune Support Cells: neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, natural killer cells      

  • Children will develop swollen lymph nodes when these basic immune cells are activated. The lymph nodes help to filter out germs and waste products and are an area of concentrated immune cell activity. Swollen lymph nodes indicate that a child’s immune system is working hard to fight off an infection.

Natural Support:

  • Gently massage from the ears down the sides of the neck to relieve lymphatic congestion and support drainage. This can be done using a small amount of castor oil (or olive oil if you do not have castor oil available).

  • Provide a healthy diet to support immune function. Focus on a whole foods diet rich in protein, healthy fats, fiber-rich grains, and a wide range of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed and genetically modified foods, and aim for under 25 grams of sugar/day.

  • Supplements: Vitamin C, D, and echinacea are safe and effective recommendations to support immune activity in children. Cod liver oil, which is rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin D and vitamin A, is also an excellent choice for supporting children’s immunity. Consult your ND for dosage guidelines. It is important to take the optimal dose for a child’s age to have a therapeutic effect.

In young children, symptoms such as fevers, runny noses, and swollen glands may appear alarming, however they are signs of a healthy immune response.  If we can support these built-in defense systems to do what they were designed to do, and provide children with natural immune support, they will increase their resiliency to the next illness they encounter.


Increasing Your Iron Levels Naturally

Iron deficiency is one of the most commonly underdiagnosed conditions that I see in my practice, especially in women.  Low iron can lead to a multitude of symptoms, and it can often be a challenge to maintain healthy levels of this nutritionally critical mineral.  The following looks at how to identify whether you may be iron deficient, why some people become more deficient than others, and how to increase your iron stores naturally.

Iron deficiency can manifest in a variety of symptoms.  Common indicators include:

·     Fatigue

·     Weakness

·     Headaches

·     Hair loss

·     Brittle nails

·     Pale skin

·     Restless leg syndrome

·     Reduced resistance to infections

·     Cracks at the corners of the mouth

·     Feeling cold

·     Pale skin

·     Hormonal imbalance (iron helps to optimize thyroid function)

Identifying Deficiency Through Lab Testing

Routine blood work usually looks at the complete blood count as an initial screening tool to assess for anemia risk, however the best test to evaluate iron deficiency is serum ferritin, an iron storage protein that represent your body’s iron reserves.  A ferritin score of under 45ng/mL is suggestive of anemia, and with low ferritin levels, you may have symptoms of iron deficiency anemia even if your hemoglobin levels and red blood cells are normal.

Building and Maintaining Healthy Iron Levels

How can you start to build your iron reserves and keep them up?  My top three approaches are to identify and treat the cause, increase consumption through diet and/or supplements, and work on enhancing absorption.

Common Causes of Iron Deficiency

·     Blood loss: During the childbearing years, iron requirements for women are about 80% higher than for men, primarily due to blood loss through menstruation.  Other causes of blood loss include ulcers, uterine fibroids, and gastrointestinal tract bleeding which may or may not be visible (this is often identified through fecal occult blood testing).

·     Increased Need for Iron: During pregnancy, a significant increase in blood volume creates a greater demand for iron.  I always like to assess women’s iron levels before they become pregnant, and to work on maintaining healthy iron stores throughout pregnancy, especially during the third trimester.

·     Diet: Vegetarian and vegan diets often contain less iron, especially the more absorbable and bioavailable “heme” form of iron.

·     Compromised Digestion: Poor digestive function and the use of antacids can significantly compromise iron absorption in the small intestine.  Health conditions affecting intestinal absorption, such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease also impair iron absorption.

·     Chronic infections: Microbial biolfilms can affect mineral balance in the body, with evidence that some forms of bacteria use iron as a fuel source.  It is essential to treat chronic infections and support a healthy microbiome in order to achieve healthy iron levels.

Boosting iron Consumption: 

·     Supplements: If your ferritin levels are low enough that you are starting to show physical signs of iron deficiency, often dietary changes are not enough to provide you with a therapeutic dosage of iron. Iron supplements are notorious for having poor absorption and often contributing to nausea and constipation. Iron should ideally be bound to a protein or carbohydrate molecule for optimal absorption, which is why trying to digest the majority of iron supplements is like trying to digest a rock. 

·     Increasing your consumption of iron rich foods: Make sure you are having a minimum of 2-3 servings of iron-rich foods/day, including red meat, chicken, seafood, seaweed, beans, lentils, and dark leafy greens (see below on how to prepare).

·     Herbal infusions: Making teas (hot or iced) out of iron-rich herbs is a great way to add bioavailable minerals to your diet.  Nettle, red raspberry leaf, and dandelion are all excellent sources of iron. Herbs should ideally be left to infuse overnight.  I use loose leaf herbs and leave them infusing overnight in the fridge.

Enhancing Iron Absorption Naturally

·     Support healthy levels of stomach acid: Iron is best absorbed in a more acidic stomach environment.  Try taking a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before meals, or taking your vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplement with iron-rich foods to enhance absorption naturally.  Adding acidic dressings containing lemon or vinegar to iron-rich foods also supports iron absorption.

·     Cook Your Greens: Although dark leafy greens are a great source of iron, steaming or cooking greens is essential for breaking down the plant cell walls to render the minerals more absorbable.  Also, raw spinach, kale, and chard are notoriously high in oxalic acid, which binds to both calcium and iron, making them difficult to absorb.  Cooking helps to reduce the oxalic acid content of these vegetables.

·     Avoid wines and teas rich in tannins, which interfere with iron absorption.

Because there can be different causes of iron deficiency, an individualized naturopathic plan is often the best approach to building and maintaining healthy iron levels naturally. Book an appointment to determine the best treatment approach for you.

Naturopathic Travel Tips

Every winter, I am often asked about naturopathic recommendations for travel.  When travelling to another country, it’s important to consider what the health risks are for that location, and to protect yourself accordingly. The general goals of naturopathic treatment are to:

  • support your immune system, with a focus on optimizing the intestinal microbiome

  • reduce your risk of insect borne diseases

  • reduce your risk of digestive tract infections caused by contaminated food or water

  • prepare you with natural treatments for acute traveller’s diarrhea

 Basic Supplements to Help Prevent Food and Water Borne Diseases

1.  Travel Probiotic: I always recommend taking a daily probiotic when travelling to reduce the risk of digestive infections.  Healthy probiotic bacteria help to reduce the likelihood of pathogenic organisms colonizing the colon.  This is especially important if you have been on antibiotics in the past year, as your protective microbiome will already be compromised.  Look for a shelf-stable probiotic with a minimum of 25-35 billion organisms/capsule, ideally containing Lactobaccilus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces genera, the latter which has been shown to reduce the risk of diarrhea during travel. Probiotic supplementation should start several days before your trip.

2.  Herbal antimicrobial formula: I often prescribe a formula containing antibacterial and antiparasitic ingredients to take daily, containing ingredients including clove, oregano, and wormwood.  Because these herbs have antibiotic properties, they should always be taken at a different time of day from your probiotics.

3. Vitamin C: One of the best researched-based supplements for general immune support. Can be taken daily.

Appropriate dosing of supplements is always recommended on an individual basis.

For Acute Traveller’s Diarrhea

Typically symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and bloating should subside within a few days. Persistent vomiting, bloody stools, and fever, especially in children, are all signs that further medical attention is needed.

Make sure you are staying well hydrated and replacing lost fluids with a low sugar electrolyte replacement formula or coconut water.  Consume easy to digest foods such as rice, nutrient-dense sweet potatoes, bananas, and applesauce.

Homeopathic Arsenicum album is a common remedy for helping to alleviate the symptoms of traveller’s diarrhea.

Increase the dosage of your herbal antimicrobial formula as per your personalized recommendations.

Avoid Insect Borne Diseases

Ticks, mites, and insects such as mosquitos can carry a wide range of diseases.  Mosquitos alone can transmit many types of illnesses, including yellow fever, chikungunya, West Nile virus, malaria, and dengue.

1. Cover up: Wear clothing with long pants and sleeves, and use mosquito netting in areas where mosquitos are known to carry the above infections.

2.  Bug Repellants: I prefer to use essential oil derived repellants instead of DEET or chemical based repellants, which carry potential health and safety risks for humans and the environment.  Look for a product containing essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, citronella, and lavender.  Note that essential oils also carry a risk of toxicity, and must always be used diluted.  Natural repellants do need to be applied more frequently, ideally every 2-3 hours.

Further guidelines may be necessary based on your personal health history.  Book an appointment to discuss the best natural travel recommendations for you!

Nut-Free Granola Bars

Did you know that most commercial granola bars are loaded with…

factory-made sugar syrups and unhealthy fats? Homemade granola bars can be a great healthy snack on the go, and can also allow you to incorporate more nutrient-rich ingredients and superfoods into your family’s diet.

I originally developed this recipe using peanut butter and chopped almonds, however I’ve since adapted it to be completely nut-free, and it’s still just as delicious!

These bars are rich in protein, fibre, and healthy fats, and no baking is required.

Nut-Free Granola Bars

  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

  • 1/3 cup shelled hemp seeds (hemp hearts)

  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds

  • 2/3 cup unsweetened dried coconut

  • 3 cups quick cooking organic oats

  • 2 tablespoons ground chia seeds

  • 1/4 cup organic butter or coconut oil

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seed butter

  • 1/2 cup honey

  • handful of chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Lightly toast first four ingredients in a skillet over medium heat. Toss frequently for 5 minutes or until golden.

  2. Combine seed butter, coconut oil or butter, and honey in a small pot over low heat. Stir until warm and combined.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together oats, ground chia seeds, and toasted seed mixture.

  4. Pour the warm honey mixture into the dry ingredients and combine.

  5. Stir in chocolate chips if using. These will melt into the granola mixture.

  6. Transfer mixed ingredients into a 9” by 13” baking dish. Pack down evenly with a spatula.

  7. Chill bars in refrigerator. Cut into squares and transfer to an air-tight container.

  8. Store in refrigerator for up to one week.


The Healing Power of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a therapy that has been used for over 4000 years...

to treat a wide range of health conditions.

Acupuncture points are located along energy meridians that are associated with different organ systems.  According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, when energy, or Qi (chi), is not flowing freely, health conditions or diseases can arise.  Inserting small, sterile acupuncture needles into specific points along these energy channels helps to regulate the flow of Qi through the body, correcting the imbalances leading to states of ill health.

From a Western point of view, the effectiveness of acupuncture can be attributed to it’s ability to enhance circulation in the area of treatment.  Studies involving MRI imaging of the brain have also shown that acupuncture has the ability to work at the level of the nervous system to help regulate the body’s response to pain.

Some of the more common conditions for which acupuncture has been shown to be effective include arthritis and joint pain, sciatica, hypertension, allergic rhinitis and seasonal allergy symptoms, headaches, and menstrual pain and irregularities.

Over the years, I have also commonly used acupuncture in my practice to help patients with smoking cessation, address obstetrical issues such as morning sickness and fetal malposition, prepare the body during pregnancy for an efficient labour, enhance the outcome of fertility treatments, support the immune system in the case of frequent or chronic infections, and calm the mind to reduce anxiety symptoms and help treat insomnia.  I often use reiki and/or cupping to enhance the healing process.

Overall, most people feel very calm, relaxed, and “rebalanced” after an acupuncture session. 

If you are interested in learning more about acupuncture, complimentary 15-minute consults are available to help determine whether this treatment modality would be a good fit for you!