Not long ago, my patient Kathy guiltily admitted that she sometimes dreads visits from her grandchildren—when the kids leave, her husband is exhausted and she ends up in bed, sick with a cold or bad sore throat. Kathy’s situation is not unusual. Parents, grandparents and all adults who share close quarters, hugs and kisses and frequent meals with little ones often find that their immune systems are unable to defend against the onslaught of contagious ailments that kids carry around.  

Here’s what I suggest to help my patients strengthen their immune systems…*

• Don’t forget the basics of healthy eating and hydration. When you’re busy with childcare, it’s easy to fill up on quick “kid” snacks and forgo healthy meals…and many grandparents and parents forget to hydrate sufficiently. Make sure to nourish yourself (and your little ones) with healthy food, such as plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meat, beans and whole grains, and to hydrate well—water is always best. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces daily.  

• Take antioxidants daily. A common regimen: 1,000 mg of vitamin C…400 international units (IU) of vitamin E…and 10,000 IU of vitamin A. Note: It’s beneficial to take these antioxidants all the time, not just when around young kids. 

Additional help: The week before your grandkids come to visit, or at the first sign of a child getting ill, start taking an immune-boosting herbal tincture. I particularly like a combined formula of astragalus, ligusticum, lomatium and elder. However, if you can’t find a combo formula, taking just two or three of the four herbs is beneficial. Take 60 drops of a combined tincture in two ounces of water, twice daily, in between meals. Continue to take the tincture throughout the child’s visit, or his/her illness, and for three days afterward. 

Get good sleep! This can be hard to do with the excitement of visitors or when the kids are sick. A safe, non–habit-forming natural sleep aid is the amino acid L-tryptophan. You may already know that tryptophan is abundant in turkey and thought to be responsible for that sleepy feeling after the Thanksgiving meal. Tryptophan promotes the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that facilitates relaxation. Take 500 mg of L-tryptophan at bedtime, with water, away from food.  

• Manage your stress. Caring for kids can be fulfilling and lots of fun, but it can also cause impatience, confusion, irritability and self-criticism. This emotional stress takes a toll on the immune system. Another amino acid, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), can help manage these strong emotions. Take 200 mg of GABA up to four times a day, as needed, for emotional stress.

Kathy followed my plan and six months later happily reported back that she was no longer getting sick after her grandkids came to stay. She had convinced her husband to do the protocol as well, and except for the very messy house after the kids depart, they both now thoroughly look forward to visits with the grandchildren!   

*Before taking any supplement or herbal remedy, check with your doctor.