It seems as if one of the children is always sick, nothing really serious, just the normal childhood stuff. Is there any way to avoid this?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

The most common complaints I treat in basically healthy children relate to the upper respiratory system, the stomach, and the intestines.

Colds are going to happen to all children occasionally. If doctors knew how to cure colds, maybe we’d be able to prevent them. What we can do is advise parents to keep the children away from dairy products which will make the cold seem much worse than it is because they increase allergic response and may thicken mucous in the system. Unlike adults, youngsters don’t localize infections very well. They rarely have just a stuffy nose or right ear infection. They tend to get runny noses, runny stools, runny eyes – runny everything all at once. If children are drinking a lot of milkshakes or hot cocoa made with milk, they’re going to have more mucous both in the sinuses and throat and they’re going to be much more uncomfortable.

One of the ailments pediatricians see most often is stomach flu. When children have a viral stomach episode, the intestines tend to slow down or stop. As a result, they don’t digest foods that require effort. In this situation, you have to treat the intestines gently and heal them with a “zero protein diet.” Even after the flu has run its course, continue on the zero protein regimen for another 24 hours. Offer diluted juices, a little apple sauce and mashed banana, steamed yams and carrots, and other fruits and vegetables. The child will be well-nourished and won’t become dehydrated. If you offer a higher protein load, your child will vomit and have much more debilitating diarrhea.

Many people don’t realize that the definition of diarrhea has to do with the frequency of stools, not their consistency. One or two loose stools a day isn’t diarrhea. In fact, a balanced grain, vegetable, and fruit diet will cause stools that are soft and easy to pass. That’s healthy.

When children are having eight to ten stools or more a day, they have diarrhea. It is most often caused by a virus and will be aggravated by a bad diet. The nutrients pass straight through the system. Dehydration is a concern. The answer is to allow the intestines to rest in order to avoid a severe situation which could require hospitalization and intravenous fluids.

There is a common misconception that fruits cause diarrhea. In fact, fruits and vegetables are very helpful when dealing with diarrhea. When they get into the intestine, fruits and vegetables absorb water and solidify watery stools. Like adults, children should have loose, easy-to-pass bowel movements, not hard pebbles or chunky stools. A well-nourished child will have these loose bowel movements up to three times a day.

Constipation is the opposite of diarrhea, and it’s quite common in children from two to five. Because the stool is hard and uncomfortable to pass, the children hold it in longer. This aggravates the problem. Very often the cause for the chunky and painful stools is an inadequate intake of fluid or fiber. The intestines are not meant to digest high fat, high protein food because it slows them down. Stools don’t move through the intestines with the cleansing action needed and actually dry out, narrowing the width of the intestinal tube. You have to flush them out, and a high fiber diet is the best way.

When children drink lots of water and diluted fruit juices (prune juice is the best) and eat plenty of oatmeal, rice, and pasta along with fruits and vegetables, constipation is almost never a problem.