Many Parents Ask Me “How do I boost my child’s immune system?”

This is question on the minds of many parents who have children with a seemingly endless series of colds, ear infections and recurrent stomach flu.

The answer is both simple and complex.

If one does a Google search on this question 1 740 000 hits will arise. The initial three hits are paid advertisements, some which advertise entire books on the subject, and others come from a myriad of sources.

The most important of all of these in boosting immunity is Immunizations.

Much of the advice does not list the source of evidence, and much of the evidence that is listed is not very convincing.

So what is a parent to do?

One can’t read all of these sites, and how does one know if a suggested food, activity, supplement or remedy really works without expertise or spending immense amounts of time researching.

As a Pediatrician, Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, cancer immunology researcher I find this question both fascinating and challenging.

I have been asked questions like this by many parents and have to give some summary advice based up evidence.

First, when people speak of ‘boosting’ the immune system, this usually means to prevent or limit common or serious infections.

Sometimes this is extended to refer to the ability of the body to prevent or eliminate cancer.

The types of interventions

The types of interventions proposed tend to fall into the following categories:

1) Diet

2) Lifestyle

3) Immunizations

4) Natural products

5) Drugs approved by the FDA or Health Canada

6) Experimental approaches.

The most important of all of these in boosting immunity is Immunizations.

The success of vaccination in reducing diseases in children is one of the great achievements of medical science, with an enormous body of solid evidence to support this. While most parents immunize their children, some delay or choose not to immunize based

While most parents immunize their children, some delay or choose not to immunize based on poor evidence or lay authors and websites that overemphasize or inaccurately portray the risk of immunizations.

However, on the first page of a Google search, one cannot find reference to this most important fact about immunization.


Two reasons;

First, websites are trying to sell something (a book or product to boost your immunity usually), and second, parents are searching for ‘natural’ means to enhance immunity which drives these topics to the top of the list.

Another way to boost immunity for infants is to breastfeed them as this provides antibodies and other immune factors that reduce infections with solid evidence to support this effect. This fits into standard recommendations to breastfeed infants for a variety of other reasons as well.

So having a healthy balanced diet and exercise can contribute to overall health and a properly functioning immune system, but what about all the various specific foods that are supposed to be effective in ‘boosting’ immunity.

While I can’t address all of these, most have no solid evidence that eating a specific food or extract can actually reduce infections.

What about specific products?

There are no currently recommended immune boosting drugs, so be skeptical of claims about natural products that claim to enhance a child’s immune system. Most are not effective, some may be effective but have other harmful side-effects. Best to discuss with your doctor before you treat

Best to discuss with your doctor before you treat a child with any non-prescription medication or remedy. While I can’t exhaustively cover this topic, I want to re-enforce two evidence-based ways to enhance your child’s immunity: immunization and breastfeeding.

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About Dr. Brent Williams, MD, PhD, FRCPC, FAAP

Dr. Brent Williams is a certified Pediatrician and Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist who completed residency training at Sickkids Hospital. His clinical practice is based at Sickkids in the Division of Emergency Medicine, and at Kidcrew he will offer consultation on benign hematology conditions.

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