A Naturopathic Approach to Pediatric Health
As summer wanes and the days begin to shorten, thoughts turn from beach trips and family vacations to classrooms and textbooks. For children, it’s the beginning of another school year, with the associated mixed bag of emotions ranging from enthusiasm to dread. For parents, it’s renewed focus on keeping those kids healthy and doing the best possible to support their academic success. It is important to remember how closely overall health is related to doing well at school. Beyond just accumulating sick days, an unwell child will be more distracted, more fatigued, and less likely to be able to maintain through the rigors of the school day. Naturopathic treatment is perfectly suited to keep your child healthy throughout the academic year.
The fundamental principle of naturopathic medicine is that the human body is inherently wise and has an innate capacity toward healing. Nowhere is this as clearly evident as with children. Anyone who has spent any amount of time around kids has clearly seen the vigor and vital force that brims to capacity in a healthy child. They often have more energy than they know what to with, and this outward display is mirrored within every cell of their bodies, each fully focused on growth and development. This being the case, children tend to respond remarkably well to supportive natural therapies that work in line with their own vitality. By supporting specific body systems and removing obstacles that may be thwarting that innate healing process, naturopathic medicine works gently and effectively to promote wellness within each child.
Ear infections are the most common pediatric diagnosis within a clinical setting. They are far more frequent during fall and winter months, when bacteria and viruses are out in full force and natural immune resistance is lowered. They can sometimes be related to a recent upper respiratory infection, although this is not always the case. It’s important to remember that by far most ear infections are caused by viruses, similar to those that cause sore throats and stuffy noses. Just as antibiotics are ineffective against the common cold, they are rarely helpful in most cases of uncomplicated ear infection, a fact that comes right out of the medical journal Pediatrics. Not only are they ineffective, but repeated antibiotic use is incredibly disruptive to the vast array of beneficial bacteria that makes up a child’s developing gastrointestinal microbiome. This area of rapidly growing research strongly suggests that many of the chronic health conditions that affect adults, from heart disease to obesity, have strong links to a healthy microbiome, and after enough damage, recovery becomes limited.
Fortunately, other effective treatments are available. In cases of acute ear infection, a combination treatment of herbal immune supportive agents and herbal ear drops is remarkably successful. It is always important to visit your physician to ensure that there are not additional complications and the eardrum is not ruptured prior to putting any liquid into the ear.
It is important to differentiate between the rare or occasional ear infection as compared to chronic ear infections that occur again and again. These are the children who are too often given course after course of antibiotics, mostly for lack of any other treatment option, and eventually are resigned to ear tubes. For these kids, naturopathic medicine can really prove miraculous, as we look deeper into the underlying causes of these recurrent infections. In many cases, there is a link to food intolerance or allergy, and when the aggravating foods are identified and removed, in conjunction with supportive immune system therapy, the body goes back to its natural default – being healthy! The same advice goes for other recurrent immune issues of childhood, from strep throat to bronchitis.
Hydrotherapy is a gentle yet powerful treatment that harnesses the power of hot and cold water to increase circulation and promote health. The warming sock treatment is a perfect at-home hydrotherapy treatment to use as soon as your child begins to come down with any viral illness. To do this treatment, take a warm bath or soak the feet in a hot footbath for a few minutes to warm them up. Soak one pair of cotton socks thoroughly with cold water, wring them out well and put them on the feet. Immediately cover them with a pair of dry wool socks, and immediately go to bed. If a child is reluctant to do this, assure them the wet socks will only be uncomfortable for a minute and that by morning the socks will be dry. Perform this treatment for three consecutive nights at first onset of symptoms. Increasing circulation to the feet stimulates the immune activity of the lymphatic system and has a reflexive drainage effect on the head and upper respiratory system.
Focus & Attention
Using a naturopathic lens, we can consider focus and attention difficulties (as well as behavioral issues) as symptoms of an irritated or disrupted nervous system. As adults, we have been trained and instructed regarding the appropriate cultural norms and interpersonal filters to use when engaging in various social situations. We might feel like disengaging or even acting out in a given circumstance, but in most cases we subdue that innate emotion in deference to the more appropriate social response. Children have not yet been ingrained in this way, so the rawer, more innate emotion often shines through. When this becomes a chronic pattern, it is a clue toward some deeper imbalance. Naturopathic doctors seek to identify the underlying cause of that imbalance, with the end goal of reducing nervous system irritation, resulting in a more emotionally balanced, cognitively clear child. We seek out potential dietary triggers, test neurotransmitter levels, and rule out nutritional deficiencies in order to assess the individual case of each unique child.
Don’t Underestimate the Basics
The fundamentals of a healthy life are the same for children as they are for adults. The four essentials of health are what you eat, how you move, how you sleep, and how you deal with stress. As with any foundation, any significant or prolonged misalignment in any of these areas will cause disruption to the overall system. It is so very important that parents are strong role models in setting an example of life balance for their children.
- Food: Keep your child healthy by making sure the whole family is eating lots of whole and unprocessed foods. The vitamins and minerals in whole foods build a strong immune system to fight infections. Aim for a plate full of foods with every color of the rainbow. Sneak in greens and other veggies wherever you can, whether it’s in soup, casserole or meatloaf. Remember that sugar does more than just make kids hyper. It directly inhibits the immune system, and should be avoided – especially during illness.
- Play: Outdoor play and significant physical activity was once synonymous with childhood. With the ubiquitous presence of cellphones and tablets, and the increasing popularity of more sophisticated video games, this is something we can no longer take as a given. Habits and routines are easier to develop than they are to break, so start early in ensuring that your child gets adequate exercise and outdoor play. This helps build social interaction skills in addition to ensuring a healthy body.
- Sleep: Lack of sleep is a common complaint among many people, and children are increasingly susceptible. Adequate sleep is vitally important to everyone, but especially children, who need that time to focus on their energy of growth of body and mind. Recommended sleep amounts vary by age as follows: Age 3-5: 11-13 hrs (including naps), Age 6-12: 10-12 hrs, Age 13-18: 9-10 hrs. Beginning as early as grade school, and too often by high school, many children are falling far short of these requirements. The demands and obligations of homework, sports, and other after school activities often run into the evening, and cellphones and tablets are too frequently present into the night. It is important to set rules and parameters around all these things to ensure that our child is getting the necessary amount of rejuvenating healthful rest.
- Stress: Our children are increasingly susceptible to the effects of mounting societal pressures, with the added factor of having fewer learned mechanisms with which to deal with them compared to adults. Bullying at school as well as online has become a major issue, and the innate desire of every child to “fit in” has been exploited and manipulated within the world of social media. The typical stressors of school, relationships, family matters and thoughts about the future are all valid stressors, but they are now amplified multifold and worldwide. This is mostly unchartered territory, but it’s clear that children are not able to create regulations and boundaries themselves, and they need the support and attention of parents and adults to help navigate this world. If your child seems overly stressed, it’s important to get involved, as emotions can all to quickly spiral out of control.
By setting a good example, in addition to maintaining that delicate balance between keeping a watchful eye and allowing for individual experience and growth, we can ensure our children have the best possible opportunities available toward a healthy and joyful life.
Dr. Fasullo has a family practice in Manchester, CT at Collaborative Natural Health Partners. All the physicians at the clinic are in-network providers for most insurance companies and are accepting new patients. For more information or questions, please call (860) 533-0179 or visit: