Welcome to another cold and flu season.
What is a parent to do when confronted with the annual onslaught of sniffles and sore throats? Consult the pediatrician? Treat symptoms with over-the-counter cold and flu medicines? Simply let the illness run its course? Lately, more families are turning to alternative remedies like homeopathy and herbal treatments to provide cold and flu relief for their children, and even conventional doctors are beginning to recognize their benefits.
“The word ‘natural’ doesn’t always mean harmless, but there are lots of ways to help with symptomatic relief in a soothing way,” says Dr. Lori Walsh, a pediatrician with Glenbrook Pediatrics in Glenview and at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “Unfortunately, no matter what you do, the common cold is probably going to take seven days to resolve.”
Here are some natural and herbal remedies moms have found effective for their families during cold and flu season-plus Walsh’s thoughts on what works (and what probably doesn’t help much). Welcome to another cold and flu season.
Lately, more families are turning to alternative remedies like homeopathy and herbal treatments to provide cold and flu relief for their children, and even conventional doctors are beginning to recognize their benefits.
Recent studies have shown that honey is more effective for children’s coughs than over-the-counter medicines containing dextromethorphan for kids older than 1 year.
Mom’s tip: Christine Escobar, an Evanston mom of two, relies on homeopathic products like Boiron Chestal Children’s Homeopathic Cough Syrup Honey. “It’s basically just honey with some added flavorings,” she says.
Dr. Walsh: “I’ve recommended honey as a remedy for coughs for years. The traditional cold medicines on the market are so thick and honey-like that I’ve wondered if just the viscosity was providing relief. I’ve been excited to see good evidence in pediatric literature that honey does in fact have an effect in reducing coughs.”
Long known for its calming effects, chamomile (usually in tea form) can also be helpful in treating upset tummies.
Moms tip: Jennifer Matuska, a Chesterton, Ind., mom of two, uses dissolved chamomile tablets calm her kids when they are cranky from sickness or teething pain. Before I reach for the Motrin, I try a chamomile tablet first. I like to be cautious and at least try the herbal remedy to see if it works before I move to something stronger, she says.
Dr. Walsh: I think that chamomile is a great remedy with no downsides. There is evidence that it really works as a soother.
For centuries, herbalists have prescribed Echinacea to help fight infection. Some research indicates that Echinacea boosts the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells.
Moms tip: Amanda Blake Soule, the mother and blogger behind the popular website Soule Mama, uses Echinacea in her Feel Better Pop recipe. Soule has found that her children are reluctant to drink plain herbal teas, so she brews up a medicinal tea, mixes it with juice and pours the mixture into Popsicle molds. To cool a fever, Soule uses a combination of licorice, Echinacea and lemon grass.
Dr. Walsh: From a strictly medical perspective, we need more evidence before we can conclude that Echinacea does or does not work.
More than just the key to a delicious pesto, garlic has been heralded for its medicinal properties as well. Many people believe it can boost immune systems and help fight upper respiratory tract infections. Studies have suggested that garlic is most effective when eaten raw.
Moms tip: Deree Kobets of Chicago and her family eat a lot of roasted garlic spread on toast to boost their immune systems during cold and flu season.
Dr. Walsh: While there is definitely no downside to garlic, I am not sure there is evidence that it will make you better. And while its true that you are what you eat to some extent, the immune system is extremely complex. So it is perfectly fine to have lots of garlic, but eating one certain kind of food alone isnt going to keep you well.
When it comes to herbal and natural remedies for children, Walsh stresses the importance of communicating with medical providers.
Parents need to provide full information so that doctors and pharmacists can look out for interactions. Be aware that when you are adding something new, there can be unintended consequences. Medicine is complicated, she says.
Walsh also advises parents not to underestimate the impact of common- sense solutions. Go back to the basics. Dont share cups. Eat well. Get extra rest. Avoid others who are sick. Those measures can really help.
Probiotics contain bacteria naturally occurring in the human gut. A daily capsule may shorten the duration of diarrhea in kids, and is often recommended for children taking antibiotics.
Mom’s tip: Matuska has found probiotics to be effective when her children are on antibiotics and also during cold and flu season. “When necessary, I open a capsule and put it into their food or drink,” she says.
Dr. Walsh: “If your child is on antibiotics or has diarrhea, probiotics can definitely help replenish flora. I do caution parents to be sure to talk to their doctors to find a probiotic that has the right combination of materials.”
Obtained from sun exposure, some foods or supplements, vitamin D is essential to maintain healthy bones. Recent studies suggest people with lower blood levels of vitamin D have more colds and cases of the flu.
Mom’s tip: Stephanie Precourt, a Valparaiso, Ind., mom of four, plans to give everyone in her family vitamin D this winter. “I personally found out through a blood test that I was severely deficient in vitamin D, as is most everyone these days. It is amazing how much better I feel, both emotionally and physically, when my vitamin D levels are higher,” she says.
Dr. Walsh weighs in: “I am very interested in the new evidence about vitamin D, although I caution parents to be careful because we still need to process all of the information coming in. I think that a calcium and vitamin D supplement is a great idea for children.”