No kid enjoys being unwell so what can you do to protect your child from the viruses, bacteria and other bugs that they are exposed to? Of course, colds and flus are a fact of life and in fact they are a natural way for your child to keep healthy throughout their adult life. However, the important thing is ensuring that the immune system is robust enough for your kid to fight the nasties and quickly bounce back as good as new. So let’s find out what healthy habits we can adopt that will supercharge your child’s immune system.
What is Immunity?
The immune system, which is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs, defends people against germs and microorganisms every day. In most cases, the immune system does a great job of keeping people healthy and preventing infections. But sometimes problems with the immune system can lead to illness and infection.
Signs that our child’s immune system is not working as it should can show up as frequent infections, allergies and behavioural disorders. The thing about our immune system is that it is pretty complex, but if you can understand the basics you will be more easily prevent or reduce severity of infections and provide solutions to building and maintaining a robust fighter for life.
Immune system basics 101
Your immune system is divided into two different types: Innate and adaptive immunity.
Innate immunity is something you are born with – it is already present in the body. As soon as something enters the skin, blood, or tissues, the immune system immediately goes into attack mode. It does this by identifying certain chemicals in the substance that tells the innate response it shouldn’t be there. One example would be white blood cells fighting bacteria, causing redness and swelling, when you have a cut.
Adaptive Immunity is created in response to exposure to a foreign substance. When a foreign invader enters the body, the immune system takes it in and analyses its every detail. Then the adaptive immune responds by getting cells to attach to foreign substance every time they enter the body. The adaptive immune cells actually have a memory and know how to fight off certain invaders. One example is the chickenpox vaccination so that we don’t get chickenpox because adaptive immunity system has remembered the foreign body.
There is also one more immunity type; Passive Immunity. Passive immunity is “borrowed” from another source and it lasts for a short time. For example, antibodies in a mother’s breast milk give a baby temporary immunity to diseases the mother has been exposed to. This can help protect the baby against infection during the early years of childhood. That is why wherever possible and it is the right thing for both mum and bub I recommended that baby’s are breast fed up to at least 6 months.
Everyone’s immune system is different. Some people never seem to get infections, whereas others seem to be sick all the time. As people get older, they usually become immune to more germs as the immune system comes into contact with more and more of them. That’s why adults and teens tend to get fewer colds than kids — their bodies have learned to recognise and immediately attack many of the viruses that cause colds.
Solutions for balancing immunity
Recurrent or chronic infections – even mild colds – only occur when the immune system is weakened. Thus, a vicious circle develops: a compromised immune system leads to infection – infection causes immune system damage – which further weakens resistance. Only by boosting the immune system can we break this cycle.
When it comes to your child’s immunity, imagine it as a see-saw with the innate system on one end and the acquired at the other. At birth the immune system of an infant is tipped high at the innate end – the innate system is in place but the acquired immunity is not that established or strong. That is why children tend to have more allergies, bacterial and viral infections (up to 3 a year is considered normal). Yet immunity continues to be imbalanced if they are frequently exposed to poor nutrition, lots of processed foods and chemicals, antibiotics, lack of breast feeding and stress. To bring the see-saw back into balance and allow the acquired immunity to start to kick in and work well, optimum nutritional, dietary and lifestyle habits are vital to ensure a great immune system during their childhood and as an adult.
10 Ways to boost your Kids’ Immunity
- Keep your kids dirty
Yes, you heard correctly – interestingly it’s not in kids’ interest to be too clean!!! I am sure many of you have heard of the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ – in brief the hypothesis states that over the past century declining family size, improved household amenities and higher standards of personal hygiene have reduce the opportunities for and the rise in hay fever, asthma and allergic diseases. When my kids were young we only bathed them every other day or so, much to their happiness, let them play on the floor, put their hands in their mouths to encourage a strong system. I suggest you do the same.
- Get to the guts of the problem
Research findings suggest that a healthy gut is important to immunity. Whilst disease causing organisms in the gut can play havoc with your health, the addition of probiotic beneficial bacteria can stop these baddies sticking to gut cells, inhibit their growth and restore favourable microbial balance, so enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, and slows the activity of bacteria such as Clostridium and Bacteroides can get your child back on track.
Recurrent infections – bacterial, viral, fungal or parasites are commonly treated with antibiotics, which can disrupt normal gut bacteria. These bacteria have loads of benefits including maintaining a healthy immune system. Unfortunately having incorrect gut bacteria tends to promote further infections and may start a vicious cycle.
I recommend to parents that they give their kids high strength probiotic capsules. They contain beneficial bacteria that lives in the human gut and helps the return of normal body functions after a course of antibiotics by reintroducing friendly bacteria into the colon.to restore the gut flora. A probiotic from a health store or your health care provider containing two strains of natural bacteria, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus acidophilus is best. Take the probiotics 2 hours apart from your antibiotics to reduce the risk of the antibiotic stopping the probiotic working.
- Keep antibiotics to the minimum
Remember antibiotics treat only illnesses caused by bacteria, but the majority of childhood illnesses are caused by viruses, so the simplest answer to avoiding the problem above is to avoid taking antibiotics altogether. Sometimes they are a necessary evil – the harm they do to your digestive system is more than balanced out by their lifesaving properties. However make sure that if your child is taking antibiotics it is because they really need them. “I strongly encourage parents to say to their doctor, ‘Do you think it’s really necessary?’
- Keep your kids relaxed and happy
There is growing research documenting the profound influence of the mind on physical disease. Mood and attitude have a tremendous bearing on immune system function. When we are stressed and emotionally upset, our immune system suffers. It is not only major life stresses that can depress immunity, but every day chronic stress has a significant impact. Stress increases the levels of adrenal hormones, including adrenaline. These hormones inhibit white blood cell formation and function and cause the thymus gland (where immune cells, T lymphocytes, are produced) to shrink, suppressing the immune function and leaving the individual vulnerable to infections, cancer and other illnesses.
So what could be stressing your child? Even the act of starting school can cause anxiety, as can bullying, upsets at home from parental arguments to moving house. Yes all these things can really upset our kids.
- Get enough sleep
Research indicates that sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to illness by reducing natural killer cells, immune-system weapons that attack microbes and cancer cells. Children in day care may be particularly at risk for sleep deprivation because all the activity can make it difficult for them to nap. How much sleep do kids need? A newborn may need up to 18 hours of a day, toddlers require 12 to 13 hours, and preschoolers need about 10 hours.
- Eat more fruits and veggies
Blackcurrants and berries, carrots, green beans, oranges, lemons … They all contain immunity-boosting phytonutrients as vitamin C, polyphenols and carotenoids. Phytonutrients may increase the body’s production of infection-fighting white blood cells and interferon, an antibody that coats cell surfaces, blocking out viruses. Get your child to eat five servings of seasonal fruits and veggies a day of lots of different colours and varieties.
- Stop smoking around your kids.
Cigarette smoke contains a horrendous 4,000 or more toxins, most of which can irritate or kill cells in the body. Our children are more susceptible than adults to the harmful effects of second hand smoke because they breathe at a faster rate; a child’s natural detoxification system is also less developed.Second hand smoke increases a child’s risk of SIDS, bronchitis, ear infections, and asthma and may also affect intelligence and neurological development. If you absolutely can’t quit smoking, you can reduce your child’s health risks considerably by smoking outside.
- Consider supplements and herbs
Sometimes it helps to give the system a boost by taking an immune enhancing supplement (contact me for suggestions of good ones) including vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, C, E, Selenium and Zinc. Herbs that are immune-modulating and antimicrobial such as Echinacea, Golden Seal, St Johns Wort, Thyme, Eyebright and Garlic to name but a few may also be useful. I just love herbs as they are often key in getting a biological shift in the body. However, do visit a qualified medical herbalist to ensure you are prescribed herbs suitable and safe for your individual child.
- Try pure essential oils
Pure essential oils are also an amazing and safe option for children. Those that address immunity and infection issues include oregano, melaleuca, rosemary and eucalyptus. I have had amazing results with ear nose and throat infections using essential oils only. So, if your child has glue ear and may be heading for grommets, give me a call. Check out more information on essential oils
- Exercise as a family.
Last but not least, research shows that exercise increases the number of natural killer cells in adults — and regular activity can benefit kids in the same way. To get your children into a lifelong fitness habit, be a good role model and exercise with them rather than just urge them to go outside and play. Fun family activities include bike riding, hiking (make it an adventure), basketball, throwing a ball on the beach and tennis.
Need more immunity or health support, please contact me and book in for an appointment