The kids are back in school! It’s time for your children to get back into a routine, see old friends, meet new ones, and meet their new teachers for the year. It also means greater exposure to many germs and little bugs that like to make our kids sick.
Many parents believe that runny noses, constant colds, recurrent flus and GI bugs go hand-in-hand with parenting. But interestingly, not all kids are getting sick, not all have runny noses and not all that will come into contact with that tummy bug going around will end up sick. Every year, I see many kids come to the clinic with recurrent infections and little systems that seem to get everything they are exposed to. After years in practice, I have seen first-hand that we have many powerful tools to easily, effectively and safely boost your child’s immune system.
Children are constantly being exposed to disease-producing bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites and exposure is highest in schools and in daycares. When the immune system is functioning properly, it’s able to fight these and provide powerful natural defense to these illnesses. A child with a weakened immune system will not have these powerful defenses making them more vulnerable and likely to get sick.
So, instead of stocking up on tissues, cold medications and cough syrup this year, learn what you can do to boost your child’s immune system.
The key to a healthy child is a healthy immune system!
8 WAYS TO NATURALLY, EFFECTIVELY & SAFELY BOOST YOUR CHILD’S IMMUNE SYSTEM
1. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep & good quality sleep
Many children are not getting enough sleep or are not getting the quality of sleep they need to grow and develop a strong immune system. Sleep deprivation causes stress on the body and it triggers a lowered immune system making these children more vulnerable to illness.
How much sleep does my child need?
Children need between 8 and 14 hours of sleep per day depending on their age.
What affects the quality of my child’s sleep?
Melatonin, a hormone that is secreted at night, affects our quality of sleep. For proper secretion of melatonin, children need to sleep in a dark room with no lights or nightlights.
Also, more and more research is showing the great impact that electromagnetic frequencies have on our sleep quality. Make sure your child’s room is ‘unplugged’ by removing all electronic devices into another room at night.
Always remember, a regular bedtime routine is key to a healthy sleep!
2. Encourage healthy food choices
Children’s immune systems are very sensitive to the foods they eat. Poor nutrition, food sensitivities, additives, preservatives and too much sugar can all hinder the immune system making your child feel sick frequently.
Sugar directly reduces our white blood cell count weakening our immune system. Have you ever noticed that children often get sick after birthday parties or Halloween? This would be why. Sugar is meant to be consumed as a ‘treat’ once in a while … after all, they are kids. But eating sugar on a daily basis will essentially switch their immune system off or turn it into low gear.
So what foods should your child eat to ramp up those white blood cells and strengthen their immune system?
Lots of Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and veggies are a great source of many immune boosting nutrients but they are also rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants travel through the bloodstream and protect our tissues from damage, reducing the wear and tear on the body making us less susceptible to getting sick. The brighter and more colourful the fruit and veggie, the higher in antioxidants it likely will be. Also, the fresher they are, the higher in nutrients. Try to select those that are in season and that have been grown locally (organic is always best!).
General immune-boosting fruits and veggies include … strawberries, papaya, cantaloupe, guava, pink grapefruit, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, yellow vegetables, dark green vegetables, apricots, carrots, pumpkin, kale, spinach, squash, mango
“Good” Healthy Fats
Fats in the diet can either be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, both of which can either help or hinder the immune system.
An example of ‘bad’ fats are hydrogenated oils found in deep fried foods, margarine and baked goods and are not good for the immune system. They predispose our children to frequent infections and inflammatory conditions if eaten too frequently. Whereas the ‘good’ fats, also called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA), are essential for proper immune and nervous system function. Examples of these include flaxseed oil, ground flax seeds, fish oil, cod liver oil, cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, haddock) and nuts especially walnuts, pistachios and almonds.
Other important foods
Some foods contain live bacteria and are considered probiotic such as yogurt and kefir. These are great at improving the immune system as long as the child doesn’t have a food sensitivity to dairy products. Some studies have shown that children who incorporate these probiotic foods into their diet have a 20% decrease chance of developing colds, ear and throat infections. Unfortunately, doses of probiotics in food don’t compare to levels in a probiotic supplement. See the section below on how to improve the gut flora with probiotics.
Focus on foods that offer immune-boosting nutrients
Identifying nutritional deficiencies becomes very important in children that have chronic immune system problems. It is much easier for ‘bugs’ to take over when these important immune boosting nutrients are missing.
To prevent deficiencies, become aware of the foods that contain nutrients with immune boosting properties and incorporate them on a daily basis into your child’s diet.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is an immune system powerhouse. Food sources: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, dried Herbs, butternut squash, cod liver oil.
Vitamin C is a great antioxidant helping to heal and restore the body. Food sources: citrus fruits, peaches, bell peppers, berries, tomatoes, peas, broccoli, papaya.
Zinc is a trace element that is very important for over 100 enzymes in our body and is critical for our immune system. Food sources: fortified cereals (select low sugar), beef, beans, dark turkey meat, chicken, nuts, seeds, whole grains.
Selenium is a mineral that is found in our soil and it is a strong antioxidant. Food sources: brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tuna, walnuts, salmon, cod, whole wheat bread, chicken (Tip! Grind nuts and add them to smoothies, oatmeal or yogurt).
Bioflavonoids is a pigment found in many plants and they contain many antioxidants. Food sources: sweet peppers, strawberries, citrus fruit, parsley, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, mango, papaya.
Garlic has antibiotic properties.
3. Get your child moving daily
Regular exercise increases our white blood cells ability to fight off illness and it increases natural killer cells that are so important for our immune system. Research shows that kids exercise and move more when parents encourage it. Let’s encourage ourselves and our children to be more active and healthier!
4. Teach your children good hygiene habits
Encourage good hygiene habits with your children and it will stick with them forever! Good hygiene doesn’t promise your child won’t get sick but it will reduce the germs that their immune system is constantly trying to ward off.
Teach your children the importance of washing their hands after they have played outside or been out in public, after using the washroom and before eating their meals. Teach them to brush their teeth twice daily, to wear clean clothes and to have regular baths and/or showers.
5. Create a healthy environment for your child
Environmental toxins are everywhere and they weaken our immune system especially in our children. With more than 75, 000 chemicals in our environment, it’s important that we take steps to decrease unnecessary exposure and reduce the toxic load that are children absorb.
There are many nontoxic alternatives that exist to commonly purchased lawn and garden pesticides, toxic household cleaners and personal care products. Take a look at what you can find at your local grocery store and health store, you’ll be surprised by the number of safe, natural products that exist. Replace these in your home as much as possible.
Buy organic foods as often as possible as this will greatly decrease your child’s exposure to pesticides that seem to coat regular produce in our grocery stores.
Stop smoking or exposing your children to second hand smoke. Both smoke and second hand smoke irritate important cells in our body and weaken the immune system.
6. Maintain a healthy gut flora
You’ve all probably heard of the importance of probiotics or a healthy gut flora and how this is important for our health but did you know that it also helps to boost our immune system?
Probiotics are friendly live bacteria that naturally occur in our gut. They protect our digestive system, help us to digest our food, absorb nutrients, clear toxins from our bodies and protect us from bacteria and viruses that we’re exposed to in our environment.
When the numbers of friendly ‘good’ bacteria are low this allows the ‘bad’ bacteria to take over and the balance of our gut flora becomes disrupted. Factors that can contribute to an unhealthy good flora are if your child was bottle fed (as opposed to being breastfed), has been on antibiotics, has recurrent illnesses, has increased stress and has a poor diet. This disruption in our gut flora lowers our immune system and increases your child’s chances of getting sick.
I believe that all children should be taking a probiotic supplement on a regular basis from very early on in life. However, not all probiotics are created equally and attention must be given to selecting the right probiotic for your child before supplementing. There are many different strains of these ‘good’ bacteria that exist and different health conditions require different strains. There is also a difference in potencies between products. I recommend that you speak to your Naturopathic Doctor to ensure the dosing and strains are right for your child.
7. Promote your child’s mental and emotional health
Life is busy! And more often than not parents are overstressed and overworked, and as a result our children are over-scheduled and often suffer from lack of attention. Stress causes cortisol and adrenaline levels to rise in the body harming our immune system. Children suffer from the same response to stress as adults do.
Children need to have LOTS of down time, time for creative play and time for relaxation. They need to feel secure and happy. Children need to be held, hugged, rocked, massaged, nursed, touched and kissed regularly by those they love. They need to be allowed to play, to laugh and they need to be encouraged to have positive feelings. These will ALL stimulate their immune system to thrive.
8. Fevers are not always a bad thing. Actually, they are most often a good thing!
We as parents tend to panic when our children have a fever but it’s important to understand that a fever is not an illness in itself but a sign that the immune system is fighting an illness. Your child’s immune system actually works better at a higher temperature and without a fever your child’s body isn’t as effective at fighting the illness. So when we treat a fever needlessly, we make it harder for our child’s immune system to do its job and we actually prolong the course of the illness.
While I do promote and encourage fevers, no one likes to see a child in distress. It is important to make sure that your child feels comfortable. You can apply a cold damp cloth to the forehead, soak in a tepid bath, drink lots of fluids, and so on.
Although fevers are most often a good thing, you will want to be aware of these ‘red flags’. Any child under the age of 2-3 months with any level of a fever should be brought to the emergency room immediately. I also recommending bringing a child to the ER if they have a fever above 40 degrees C or lasting longer than 7 days.
Remember, if ever you are concerned bring your child to the nearest ER! You are the parent, trust your intuition.
9. Consider supplements to boost your child’s immune system
Many nutrients are available in our food as long as we consume a healthy and wholesome diet. For many children however (especially picky eaters) their diets are lacking in many important nutrients and some may even be deficient. In this case, it becomes important to supplement the diet.
Supplements come in the form of vitamins and minerals, herbal products and homeopathic remedies. All of which, if used appropriately and safely can be effective, and maybe necessary to boost the immune system.
I recommend always consulting with a Naturopathic Doctor or with another health care professional that has training in the field of natural medicine before supplementing your children with natural products.