Family Health: Ask Dr. Rubin

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Family Health: Ask Dr. Rubin

Q: Is there anything I can do to boost my four-year-old and ten-year-old’s immune systems? I’m not sure if Echinacea or vitamins are safe to dose them with, but I would love to take preventative steps if possible. Do blueberries, pomegranate seeds, and other “immune system boosting” fruit and vegetables really work? 


A: This is where folklore and evidenced-based medicine collide. A number of things have been scientifically proven to maximize the immune response:

  • Breast feeding (for at least the first few months)
  • Adequate sleep, that is up to eighteen hours for newborns, twelve to thirteen for toddlers, and ten for preschoolers
  • Avoidance of second-hand smoke
  • Avoidance of unnecessary use of antibiotics

Specific vitamins (with evidence that “natural” intake versus “supplements” are preferable) also help boost your immunity:

  • Vitamin D (fish, eggs, and mostly natural sunshine)
  • Vitamin C ( peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes, oranges)
  • Vitamin A (carrots, sweet potatoes, cheese, milk)

In the continuing quest to fight off and reduce the symptoms of the common cold, here are a couple of hints:

  1. Echinacea does not work.
  2.  Zinc, although causing a slight (about half to one day less) reduction in the duration of a cold, the high incidence of side effects (nausea and altered taste) make this a poor choice.
  3. Chicken soup has been shown scientifically to decrease both the time and severity of the common cold—not sure why, but it’s worth a try!

Q: I’d like help dealing with jet lag in my six-year-old son. We fly often and it takes him days to get over the jet lag. I’d love to give him half a melatonin pill to help him fall asleep and get back on his time zone, but am afraid that would be dangerous. Do you have any tips? Last night he stayed up until 1 a.m. Thanks!

A: Traveling with kids can be quite the challenge! Unfortunately there is no medically proven, efficacy or safety-wise, magic “pill” for this tough one. My best advice is to try to travel by air in the evening, to best simulate the dark/sleep cycle of your child. Limit his normal napping period, have play/exercise time if possible during the day, and attempt to replicate “bed-time” activities such as reading pleasant and colorful books. Generally I am against the use of anti-histamines like Benadryl for although they may help to quickly induce sleep, the quality and duration is not necessarily extended, and the grogginess can persist into the next day.

The jury is still out on the safety of using (even a half a tablet) melatonin in children, even though many swear by it. A naturally occurring hormone, it is one of only two hormones that is not regulated by the U.S. FDA—without a prescription, you cannot purchase this supplement in either Australia or Great Britain. Like many unstudied herbs, melatonin awaits rigorous testing before I would recommend it to my patients.

“Family Health: Ask Dr. Rubin” is published monthly. Each column features real questions from readers, and we invite other readers to respond with their thoughts and insights by posting comments. If you have a question for Dr. Mitchell Rubin, please send it to him care of the editor at laura@realgirlsmedia.com. Your question will be kept in the strictest of confidence.