ASK AN EXPERT: How to Stay Healthy in California Winters

  Alina Kerimbekov, PharmD

Alina Kerimbekov, PharmD

This rainy El Niño winter is bringing rain and snow to parts of California that have been quite dry for the last few years, meaning lower temperatures that can lead to dreaded colds for the whole family. It's not fun to be sick as a grown-up with all our responsibilities, but at least we can take medicines to ease our symptoms. Our kids don't have that option since most over-the-counter meds aren't appropriate for little ones, so natural options to keep the kids healthy are ideal. 

This month's Ask An Expert column is by Alina Kerimbekov, PharmD, a pharmacist with Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy (my favorite drug store ever!) Pharmaca is full service pharmacy that also carries a wide variety of natural products including herbs, homeopathy, supplements, Chinese Medicine, and a wide variety of natural products for kids as well as for adults. Alina, a mother of two living in Saratoga, graciously shares some of the expertise she puts to use for her own family and shares with her patients to stay healthy and happy in all sorts of weather!


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Having optimal nutrition is important for keeping the immune system healthy and ready to fight infections. I am strong believer in diet (as well as exercise, and nature) being the number one most important predictor of our health, however this is outside the scope of this newsletter. I will focus on a few nutritional tips that you can do at home to keep your child’s and your families immune system performing at its peak.

Eating food that are loaded with antioxidants is crucial during the cold and flu season. Such foods include ginger, garlic, berries (acai, goji), almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts and leafy greens. Foods high in vitamin C help boost immune system as well: spinach, kale, strawberries, papaya. Load up on fruits and bright colored vegetables! Try to avoid processed foods and high fructose corn syrup - especially avoid processed sugar as sugar promotes bacterial growth. A multivitamin may be a good idea during the cold and flu season if the child is not getting all their required nutrients from diet. I recommend a multivitamin that is derived from whole food sources.

Keeping your child hydrated throughout the day is very important for thinning the mucus and flushing out the system. Warm drinks work wonders to soothe the throat and clear the airways. I recommend making a tea by boiling a few slices of ginger, garlic, squeezing a lemon and adding honey for taste.

Homemade chicken broth is one of the most nutritional foods you can provide for your sick child. I recommend adding a few thick slices of ginger and a few goji berries to the broth and boil for 1.5 hours until the chicken comes off the bone. This slow boiling process will allow the immune boosting nutrients to come out of the bones. If possible, use organic chicken legs.

It's important to understand that the gut flora is responsible for the majority of our immune system. Probiotics can also help support the immune system and keep the gut flora in balance especially if your child is taking antibiotics. In the healthy individual, the essential gut flora forms a bacterial layer that covers the entire digestive track. This bacterial layer acts as a physical barrier to protect against transitional flora, viruses, parasites, toxins, and undigested food particles. The gut flora produces acids that lower the pH of the gut wall and make it undesirable for microbes that cause disease. The essential flora has a direct effect on important immune functions because it is responsible for stimulating the tissues of the lymph system that are located in the gut wall to produce lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights infections. The lymphocytes then produce immunoglobulins, which are antibodies formed in response to contact with foreign substances (viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc). The immunoglobulins destroy and inactivate invading substances that enter the body through food and drink. The essential flora also has a direct impact on the function and production of other many other cells of the immune system. When the essential flora is damaged, immune function is affected not only in the gut, but systemically as well.
A few probiotic brands recommendations for kids: (5-10 billion CFU/Day)

  • Jarrow
  • Garden of Life
  • Pharmax HLC
  • Metagenics

Vapor rubs may help kids sleep better at night and help break up the mucus. I recommend getting a rub that has essential oils such as Eucalyptus, menthol and peppermint. GaiaKids makes a wonderful rub called Warming Chest Rub. You can apply to this to the child’s chest, neck and back and feet. Peppermint oil on the soles of the feet can also help to reduce fever.

Breathing moist air will hep break up mucus and clear the nasal passages. If your humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer allows, you can add a few drops of essential oils such as eucalyptus. Otherwise, you can add a few drops to a warm bath. It is very important to always keep your humidifier clean to prevent the build up of mold. Cool mist ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers are humidifiers where this can pose a problem. These both propel water from the tank into the air and if there are bacteria in the water, those will be propelled into the air as well. Evaporative humidifiers do not send water from the tank into the air. Instead, these use a filter, or wick, which sits in the water. Above this, there is a fan which blows the moisture from the wick into the air through an evaporative process. Similar to when water evaporates off of newly washed dishes, but the fan helps speed up the process. Since the water evaporates from the filter into the air, the chances of bacteria going into the air are much less. So, humidifier cleaning and care isn't as vital, but bacteria still may form in the sitting water in the tank.

Warm mist humidifiers and vaporizers boil the water before releasing it into the air. By boiling the water, any germs or bacteria are killed so they are not released in to the air. I would recommend to invest in a warm mist humidifier if budget allows.

Saline nasal drops can help clear mucus and moisturize the sinuses. A neti pot flushes a mild saline solution through the nasal passages, moisturizing the area and thinning, loosening, and rinsing away mucus. If your child is old enough, get them their own neti pot and saline solution/ packets. Fill the pot with the saline solution (1/2 teaspoon salt per 1 cup of water).

Have your child tilt her head sideways over the sink (or in the tub) and breathe through her open mouth. Place the spout of the pot in the top nostril. The water will flow gently through the nasal cavity and out the other nostril. Remove the neti pot and blow nose gently. Repeat on the other side.

Gargling with salt water is an old remedy to soothe a sore throat. It also helps clear mucus from the throat. Have your child practice with plain water first. Tell him to tilt his head up and try to hold the water in the back of his throat without swallowing it. When he's comfortable doing that, have him try to make sounds with his throat. Show him what that looks and sounds like. Teach him to spit out the water rather than swallow it. Once he's ready for salt water, simply mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water. Try having the child gargling three or four times a day.

A few supplement recommendations: 

  • WishGarden Kick-It Immune for Kids - good herbal immune booster
  • Echinacea and Zinc decrease the duration of symptoms when taken at first signs of cold, flu.
  • Boiron Cold Calm for first signs of colds, and Occillicicum for first signs of flu.
  • Mullein and Garlic- Ear oil for ear infections.
  • WishGarden Kick It Biotic- for the stubborn cold/flu
  • WishGarden Cough
  • Chestal – coughs of all types
  • Gaia Kids Sniffle Support
  • Gaia Kids Cough Syrup
  • Any Elderberry product is very helpful for viral infections

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended as medical advice. The material in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information and is not intended as a substitute for you or your families own doctor’s medical care or advice. If you have questions about any of these recommendations, please contact your medical care provider.