Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free
Subscribe for free to keep reading! If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Boosting Immunity Naturally: Pediatric Wellness in the Age of Recurrent Infections

Medically reviewed by 
Boosting Immunity Naturally: Pediatric Wellness in the Age of Recurrent Infections

Most children will have at least six colds a year; children who attend daycare will have more.

With recurrent infections a growing concern amongst parents and healthcare providers alike, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of pediatric immunity stands ever more prominent. The desire to safeguard children's health fuels the search for effective preventive strategies, capturing interest in how to boost immunity for children naturally.


Understanding the Pediatric Immune System

The development of the pediatric immune system is a complex and dynamic process that undergoes significant changes from birth through childhood. After birth, infants rely on naturally acquired passive immunity from their mothers, derived from antibodies transferred across the placenta during pregnancy and through breast milk postnatally. This passive immunity provides crucial early protection against various pathogens as the innate and adaptive divisions of the immune system mature.

The innate immune system, the first line of defense against pathogens, is operational from birth and plays a vital role in recognizing and responding to pathogens nonspecifically. Innate immunity comprises neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells. Compared to the adult immune system, these components are much weaker until they fully mature later in life. The adaptive immune system, consisting of T cells, B cells, and antibodies, is responsible for specific and long-term protection and matures progressively with age through exposure to antigens (molecules that trigger immune responses). A robust and fully developed immune system requires repeat exposure to pathogens. Because of their immature immune systems, children are more susceptible to infection than adults. (36)

Incomplete immune development in the face of frequent pathogen exposure is one of the primary challenges to children's immunity during their younger years of life. Schools and daycares expose children to many germs, increasing their risk of infections like colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses. A prospective cohort study showed a rapid increase in the rate of respiratory infections among children during their first month of daycare attendance, followed by a decline within the following nine months. These findings correlate with the exposure to new germs, followed by the progressive development of the adaptive immune system and its ability to mount effective responses to pathogens. 

Pediatric Immune Functional Lab Testing

When a child experiences recurrent infections or persistent health concerns, conventional blood tests may not always tell the whole story. In such cases, functional lab testing in pediatrics can offer valuable insights into the underlying causes of immune system imbalances, guiding personalized interventions for optimal health. These specialized tests go beyond measuring basic blood cell counts and inflammation markers, delving deeper into the functional aspects of the immune system. Identifying causes of immune imbalance with these tests allows for personalized interventions beyond traditional medications. Here are some tests used in pediatric settings:

Comprehensive Stool Analysis

70-80% of immune cells are present in the gut, influencing local mucosal and systemic immunity. Dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria) and intestinal inflammation are implicated in dysfunctional immune responses and susceptibility to autoimmune diseases, allergies, and frequent/more severe infections. (11, 41, 42)

A comprehensive stool analysis, such as the GI Effects Comprehensive Panel by Genova Diagnostics, can identify dysbiosis, intestinal inflammation, malabsorption, and reductions in microbial metabolites called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which can contribute to allergies, systemic inflammation, and hypersensitive or suppressed immune responses. The GI-MAP from Diagnostic Solutions is another comprehensive stool test that gives a full assessment of gut health and the gut microbiome. (8, 14

Micronutrient Analysis

The various components of the immune system are dependent upon adequate levels of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, Bs, C, D, and E, copper, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Deficiencies in one or more of these immune-supporting nutrients can impair immune function, leading to increased susceptibility to and increased severity and duration of infection. (19) The Cellular Micronutrient Assay from Cell Science Systems is a test that can be ordered for children nine years and older to identify nutrient insufficiencies and their effect on the patient's immune system.

Lymphocyte Map

The Lymphocyte MAP test by Cyrex Labs delves deep into the cellular immune system, painting a detailed picture of a patient's immune function by mapping out the numbers, ratios, and activities of various lymphocyte subsets. This comprehensive analysis is valuable for those with suspected or diagnosed immune dysfunction. It not only aids in pinpointing specific deficits and tailoring treatment plans but also allows for monitoring responses and potentially uncovering underlying causes like infections or deficiencies. (13


The Impact of Nutrition on Immune Function

Nutrition plays a multifaceted role in supporting immune function. We will discuss nutrition's impact on three key areas: gut health, antioxidant systems, and immune system differentiation. 

Firstly, dietary fiber and diverse microbiota nourish the gut. A thriving gut microbiome promotes immune defense by regulating inflammation, producing beneficial metabolites, and enhancing intestinal barrier function. Digestion of food and the absorption of essential nutrients also depend on a healthy digestive tract. 

Secondly, dietary antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E neutralize free radicals generated during immune responses, protecting cell membranes and reducing inflammation. These antioxidants also enhance the activity of natural killer cells and phagocytes, which are essential for eliminating pathogens. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections, whereas supplementation with vitamin C can prevent and treat them. (26)

Finally, proper nutrition provides the building blocks for immune cell differentiation and function, translating to reduced frequency of infection and lessened duration and severity of symptoms during illness. Essential amino acids and micronutrients like zinc, iron, and vitamin D are crucial for developing and activating lymphocytes, B cells, and other immune cells, ensuring a robust and diverse immune response. (26

Studies reveal that individual supplementation with immune-boosting nutrients often falls short of replicating the health benefits of a balanced diet. This likely stems from the synergistic interactions between various nutrients found in whole foods, creating a complex web of support for the immune system beyond the effect of isolated supplements. (12) A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein provides a broad spectrum of essential nutrients for immune health. Limiting processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive saturated and trans fats reduces inflammation and supports overall well-being. Encourage children to embrace colorful fruits and vegetables for a diverse range of vitamins and antioxidants. Include lean meats, poultry, fish, and legumes for essential amino acids that support immune cell development and function. Promote whole grains, beans, and fruits for prebiotic fiber, which nourishes gut bacteria and strengthens the immune barrier. Include healthy fats from sources like avocado, nuts, and seeds for their anti-inflammatory properties and support for immune cell development.

The Role of Physical Activity and Sleep

In addition to dietary interventions focused on optimizing nutrient status and supporting healthy gut function, other lifestyle factors, including exercise and sleep, can profoundly impact a child's immune system and resilience to infection. 

Physical Activity and Immune Function

Beyond promoting physical fitness, regular physical activity directly modulates the immune system. Moderate-intensity exercise lasting less than 60 minutes increases circulation, mobilizes immune cells, and reduces inflammation. Exercise also improves gut health by improving microbiome diversity and abundance, reducing inflammation, and supporting the gut lining integrity. Compelling data suggests an inverse relationship between moderate-intensity exercise and illness risk – meaning that individuals who engage in regular moderate-intensity exercise tend to experience fewer occurrences and shorter durations of illnesses. (27

Children of all ages should be encouraged to participate in daily movement. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following physical activity guidelines by age group:

  • Children under five years should be physically active throughout the day in a variety of ways
  • Children ages 1-2 should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities varying in intensity, spread throughout the day
  • Children ages 3-4 should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes should be moderate-to-vigorous intensity, spread throughout the day
  • Children and teens ages 5-17 should participate in an average of 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous, primarily aerobic, physical activity. Strength training activities should be incorporated at least three days a week. 

Sleep and Children's Immunity

Sleep and the immune system have a bidirectional immune system. Active immune responses can affect sleep quality and duration. Consistent sleep strengthens the immune system, while sleep deprivation can create immune imbalances. During sleep, specific components of the immune system are activated to heal wounds, ward off infection, and strengthen immune memory. These processes don't happen without sleep. People who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold after exposure to the virus than those who sleep more than seven hours a night. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that children get a certain number of hours of sleep per 24 hours based on age group:

Natural Supplements and Herbs

The following supplements are commonly prescribed immune-boosting supplements for children. Unlike adults, children's bodies are still developing, making them more susceptible to potential side effects from even natural supplements. Therefore, it's essential to always consult a healthcare provider before administering any supplement or herb to a child and follow their recommendations to ensure they are given age-appropriate options and doses.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased rates of infections, autoimmunity, allergies, and mortality. Conversely, vitamin D supplementation boosts innate immunity and suppresses inflammation. Studies have shown supplementation with vitamin D reduces the rates of respiratory tract infections, in some instances as much as 50%. (21

While vitamin D is essential for healthy pediatric growth and development, excessive doses of vitamin D can cause toxicity and severe consequences, including electrolyte imbalances, fatigue, diarrhea, kidney stones, psychosis, and hormonal imbalances. Children younger than one year require 400 IU of vitamin D daily, and children older than one year need 600 IU daily. To ensure safety and prevent toxicity, parents should consult with a healthcare provider before administering higher doses of vitamin D to children.


Probiotics reinforce the integrity of the gut lining, support the digestion of nutrients, maintain healthy gut microbiome diversity, and modulate the innate and adaptive divisions of the immune system. Some probiotics can stimulate the production of IgA antibodies, which line mucosal surfaces and act as a primary defense against infection. Administering probiotics containing Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus acidophilus may reduce the rate of infections in children for up to six months.


Elderberry contains anthocyanins, which have immunomodulating and anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, anthocyanins can attach to viral proteins that allow viruses to enter and replicate within host cells, conferring anti-viral effects. Research indicates that elderberry can reduce the length of respiratory infections, such as those caused by influenza.  

Stress Reduction and Emotional Well-Being

The world can be a stressful place, especially for our little ones. Anxiety, stress, and frustration are three of the top five emotions parents observed in their children during the 2022-23 school year, and approximately 35% of American children experience stress-related health problems. The impact of stress on children's immunity can be surprisingly potent. Chronic stress disrupts the delicate balance of the gastrointestinal and immune systems, making children more susceptible to infections and hindering their ability to fight them off effectively. This susceptibility stems from the close connection between the nervous and immune systems. When stress hormones like cortisol rise, they suppress immune function, leaving children vulnerable. 

Therefore, promoting pediatric emotional well-being fortifies the immune system and promotes resilience against disease. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Mindfulness practices: Techniques like deep breathing, guided imagery, and mindful movement can help children manage stress and develop emotional regulation skills. Introducing these practices early can equip them with lifelong tools for coping with challenges.
  • Open communication: Literature consistently shows associations between social communication skills and mental health outcomes of children and young adults. Encourage children to have open and honest conversations about their feelings. Validate their emotions and actively listen without judgment. This creates a safe space for them to express themselves and feel supported.
  • Quality family time: Time spent with parents is an important determinant of pediatric health. Dedicate time for shared activities, fostering connection and a sense of belonging. Playing games, reading together, or simply enjoying each other's company can reduce stress and build emotional resilience.

Hygiene and Exposure to Microbes

The hygiene hypothesis proposes a fascinating link between hygiene practices and immunity in children. It suggests that the dramatic decline in early childhood infections due to improved hygiene and sanitation might contribute to the rise of allergic and autoimmune disorders. The theory posits that exposure to diverse microbes during early development "trains" the immune system, teaching it to distinguish harmless from harmful invaders. According to the hypothesis, this early education is crucial for a balanced immune response later in life.

However, navigating this terrain requires a nuanced approach. While microbial exposure and immune training might hold benefits, embracing uncontrolled dirt and pathogen exposure is not necessarily the answer. Unnecessary risks associated with certain infections still outweigh potential immune benefits. Therefore, finding the right balance between exposure and hygiene becomes key.

Challenges and Considerations in Boosting Pediatric Immunity

Navigating the path toward building pediatric immunity requires acknowledging the potential challenges in doing so. Children with existing health conditions like asthma or autoimmune disorders might need modifications to specific recommendations. For example, dietary adjustments may be required for children with asthma or other allergic diseases; this can be difficult for children learning to make food choices in school and social settings. Additionally, supplements, despite their allure, can interact with medications or health conditions, highlighting the importance of consulting healthcare providers before introducing them. Remember, every child is unique. While prioritizing a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and regular physical activity lays the foundation for a balanced immune system, consulting a pediatrician on ancillary measures ensures a personalized and safe approach. 


Boosting Pediatric Immunity Naturally: Key Takeaways

In the face of ever-present infection threats, supporting children's immune systems goes beyond simply avoiding germs. Holistic pediatric wellness demands a multi-pronged approach, integrating the concepts of healthy nutrition, regular physical activity, emotional well-being, and a nurturing environment. Adopting these natural immunity strategies as part of a comprehensive immune-supporting plan empowers children to thrive, creating a generation of healthy individuals.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Learn More
No items found.

Lab Tests in This Article


  1. 75% of Parents See Increasing Rates of Anxiety, Depression and Stress in Children, RethinkFirst Survey Reveals. (2023, September 20). PR Newswire.
  2. Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of Investigative Medicine: The Official Publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, 59(6), 881–886.
  3. Back to School with Probiotics: Immune Support and Kids. (n.d.). Florastor. Retrieved February 15, 2024, from
  4. Blake, K. (2023, November 30). How to Boost Your Child's Immune System Naturally. Rupa Health.
  5. Bloomfield, S. F., Stanwell-Smith, R., Crevel, R. W. R., & Pickup, J. (2006). Too clean, or not too clean: the Hygiene Hypothesis and home hygiene. Clinical Experimental Allergy, 36(4), 402–425.
  6. Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211.
  7. Cloyd, J. (2023, September 25). An Integrative Medicine Approach to Understanding Sleep's Role in a Healthy Immune System. Rupa Health.
  8. Cloyd, J. (2023, November 16). How A Leaky Gut Could Be Contributing to Your Inflammation. Rupa Health.
  9. Common Cold in Children. Stanford Children's Health.
  10. Dall, M., Fellinger, J., & Holzinger, D. (2022). The link between social communication and mental health from childhood to young adulthood: A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13.
  11. Fakharian, F., Thirugnanam, S., Welsh, D. A., et al. (2023). The Role of Gut Dysbiosis in the Loss of Intestinal Immune Cell Functions and Viral Pathogenesis. Microorganisms, 11(7), 1849.
  12. Get nutrients from food, not supplements. (2015, June 1). Harvard Health.
  13. Greenan, S. (2021, August 2). How A Lymphocyte MAP Tests Your Immune Strength. Rupa Health.
  14. Khakham, C. (2023, May 15). Boosting Your Patient's Immunity Through Gut Health: Testing, Nutrition and Supplements. Rupa Health.
  15. Laghari, I. K., Nawaz, T., Mustafa, S., et al. (2023). Role of multi-strain probiotics in preventing severity and frequency of recurrent respiratory tract infections in children. BMC Pediatrics, 23(1).
  16. Levita, J., Wilar, G., Wahyuni, I., et al. (2023). Clinical Toxicology of Vitamin D in Pediatrics: A Review and Case Reports. Toxics, 11(7), 642.
  17. Li, D., & Guo, X. (2023). The effect of the time parents spend with children on children's well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.
  18. Maholy, N. (2023, February 22). Improving Gut Health With Exercise. Rupa Health.
  19. Maholy, N. (2023, May 10). A Functional Medicine Immune Support Protocol. Rupa Health.
  20. Maholy, N. (2023, June 8). The Impact of Stress on Autoimmune Diseases: Exploring the Potential of Stress-Reduction Techniques. Rupa Health.
  21. Mailhot, G., & White, J. H. (2020). Vitamin D and Immunity in Infants and Children. Nutrients, 12(5).
  22. Marcotte, H., & Hammarström, L. (2015). Passive Immunization. Mucosal Immunology, 1403–1434.
  23. Marie, L. (2015, August 31). Short Sleepers Are Four Times More Likely to Catch a Cold. UC San Francisco.
  24. McCarthy, C. (2021, October 12). Boosting your child's immune system. Harvard Health.
  25. Morey, J. N., Boggero, I. A., Scott, A. B., et al. (2015). Current directions in stress and human immune function. Current Opinion in Psychology, 5(1), 13–17.
  26. Munteanu, C., & Schwartz, B. (2022). The relationship between nutrition and the immune system. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9.
  27. Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(3), 201–217.
  28. Nutrition and Immunity. (2020, May 1). The Nutrition Source; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
  29. Paruthi, S. (2016). Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 12(06), 785–786.
  30. Physical Activity. (2022, October 5). World Health Organization.
  31. Plaza-Díaz, J., Ruiz-Ojeda, F., Gil-Campos, M., et al. (2018). Immune-Mediated Mechanisms of Action of Probiotics and Synbiotics in Treating Pediatric Intestinal Diseases. Nutrients, 10(1), 42.
  32. Prasad, A. S. (2008). Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells. Molecular Medicine, 14(5-6), 353–357.
  33. Preston, J. (2023, August 9). The Role of Nutrition in Integrative Pediatrics: Supporting Health and Development. Rupa Health.
  34. Preston, J. (2023, October 27). Why Are Our Kids So Stressed?: How Integrative Medicine Can Help Identify and Relieve Stress in Children. Rupa Health.
  35. Schuez-Havupalo, L., Toivonen, L., Karppinen, S., et al. (2017). Daycare attendance and respiratory tract infections: a prospective birth cohort study. BMJ Open, 7(9), e014635.
  36. Simon, A. K., Hollander, G. A., & McMichael, A. (2015). Evolution of the Immune System in Humans from Infancy to Old Age. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1821), 20143085.
  37. Soyano, A., & Gómez, M. (1999). [Role of iron in immunity and its relation with infections]. Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion, 49(3 Suppl 2), 40S46S.
  38. Townley, C. (2019, April 12). Is it better to get nutrients from food or supplements? Medical News Today.
  39. Valizadeh, L., Farnam, A., & Rahkar Farshi, M. (2012). Investigation of Stress Symptoms among Primary School Children. Journal of Caring Sciences, 1(1), 25–30.
  40. Wieland, L. S., Piechotta, V., Feinberg, T., et al. (2021). Elderberry for prevention and treatment of viral respiratory illnesses: a systematic review. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, 21(21).
  41. Wiertsema, S. P., van Bergenhenegouwen, J., Garssen, J., et al. (2021). The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients, 13(3), 886.
  42. Wu, H.-J., & Wu, E. (2012). The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes, 3(1), 4–14.
  43. Yoshimura, H. (2024, January 2). Optimizing Respiratory Immunity: A Functional Medicine Approach to Preventing Respiratory Infections. Rupa Health.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free. to keep reading!
Subscribe for free to keep reading, If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.