With the temperatures dropping and winter approaching, cold and flu season is upon us. Now is the time to start thinking about boosting your child’s immune system. From schools to daycares to play groups, children are continuously exposed to all sorts of germs and bugs, but exposure doesn’t always mean a child will get sick. Children with strong immune systems are equipped with natural defenses against sicknesses and disease. On the other hand, children whose immune systems are weak are more vulnerable to colds, the flu, and other illnesses. The fact of the matter is that germs are everywhere, and being exposed to them is simply a part of life. It’s impossible to shield your child from every virus or bacteria around, nor would you want to as exposure to them can actually strengthen your child’s immunity down the road. However, having a sick and miserable kid at home is simply no fun, so the best way to fight off the seasonal illnesses this winter is by implementing the healthy habits below.
Make healthy food choices
Scientists believe that the phytonutrients found in many fruits and vegetables may increase the body's production of infection-fighting white blood cells and interferon, an antibody that coats cell surfaces and blocks out viruses. Examples of these immunity-boosting phytonutrients are vitamin C and carotenoids, and can be found in green beans, carrots, strawberries and oranges. Omega 3 fats, such as those found in salmon and other cold-water fish, are also remarkable immune boosters, as they help to increase the activity of bacteria-fighting white blood cells. Sugar, on the other hand, has been shown to actually suppress a person’s immunity. Foods that are high in sugars, additives and preservatives can affect digestion and increase inflammation, making it more difficult to fight viruses or bacteria. Instead of highly processed foods, make sure your child is getting plenty of fresh vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, and meat in his or her diet.
Clean those hands
One of the most effective ways to guard against the spread of germs is hand washing. Making sure your children wash their hands often will help keep them from getting colds or giving cold germs to others. The most important time to enforce a good hand washing with soap is before and after each meal and after using the bathroom, blowing their nose, playing outside, coming home from school, and playing with pets.
Make sure they're getting enough good sleep
Children need between 10-14 hours of sleep each day, depending on their age. A lack of proper sleep can lower the immune system by reducing natural killer cells, immune-system components known to attack microbes and cancer cells. Sleep deprivation therefore causes children to be more susceptible to germs and bacteria, making a good night’s sleep crucial to their overall health.
Decrease stress and anxiety
Elevated stress hormones can lead to decreased immunity in both adults and children. Children’s lives these days are over-scheduled and over-stimulated. Taking time to relax and rest is important for a child’s immune system to stay strong. Plan for a bit of down time every day and allow your child to decompress and play creatively at his or her own pace.
Get your family moving
Research shows that exercise increases the white blood cells' ability to fight off infection and increases the number of natural killer cells known to attack cancer cells and microbes. Being a role model yourself will help encourage a lifelong fitness habit in your child. Instead of simply directing children to go outside and play, plan a fun activity together, such as taking a hike, going for a bike ride, playing a game of basketball, or even a game of tag.
Probiotics are healthy, beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in the body. They help us to digest food, protect the digestive tract, assist in getting rid of toxins, and are believed to even increase the body’s immunity from harmful bacteria and viruses. When the body’s probiotic levels are low, this disrupted balance can decrease a child’s ability to fight off infections. Adding probiotic-rich foods to a child’s diet, such as Greek yogurt with live cultures, or using probiotic supplements containing lactobacillus and bifido bacteria, can help the body regain a healthy bacterial balance.
Consider herbs and supplements
Several vitamins and supplements are well known for their ability to boost the body’s immune system. Vitamin C and zinc are beneficial ones for fighting off a cold, but they work best when taken on a regular basis instead of only when the body is already sick. Vitamin D is one of the best supplements for boosting a child’s immune system, as studies have shown a direct link between low levels of Vitamin D in the body and a subsequent higher susceptibility to influenza. Elderberry syrup can also be taken for recurrent respiratory tract infections due to its anti-inflammatory and antiviral benefits. Please check with your pediatrician before starting your child on any new supplement or herb regimen and to help find the right dosage.