Boosting your child's immune system
As the Lockdown protocols move to level 3 from 1 June, most parents might have some concern for their child’s health as schools re-open and children naturally socialise again. The unfortunate reality is that children pick up bugs easily and are two times more likely to be affected by viral infections than adults.
The immune system’s primary role is to detect and remove foreign substances that have entered the body and is made up of organs, tissues, cells and proteins. If a child is exposed to a bug for the first time, the initial immune response will not be as quick, as with a second infection by the same bug. But as a child is more exposed, the body’s immune system will recognize more viruses and respond better and faster.
The good news is that children appear to not be as severely (or at all) affected by the Covid-19 virus and the small percentage that did suffer from severe symptoms, all had previously existing health conditions, which means their immune systems was already in a weakened state. One of the reasons that has been offered for children’s “resistance” to the virus is that their immune systems have not been compromised by the overuse of synthetic drugs. A valid reason for sure and one that should be explored.
In this article, we focus on natural, healthy ways that parents can help boost their child’s immune system.
From womb to world
A child’s immune system develops early during pregnancy when antibodies are passed from the mother to the child via breast milk. One of the reasons why breastfeeding is the optimal choice for a baby to obtain proper nutrients. If a baby has been nutritionally deprived during pregnancy, that baby’s immune system will have a reduced resistance to infection. Even though this has a negative effect on a baby's potential for growth and normal development, research has shown that an improvement in diet causes an increase in the number of immune fighter cells as early as 5-15 days after corrections in diet.
Interestingly the gut and brain forms from the SAME foetal tissue in the womb and as the baby grows, the cells split and forms the gastrointestinal tract and brain. However, the cells remain in communication throughout one’s life. Gut flora are the complex community of microorganisms that live within your gut, that protect your digestive tract and play a role in supporting your immune system. Healthy gut = healthy mind.
What compromises a child's immunity?
- Incomplete digestion - A baby’s digestive system is only able to digest starches properly from about 18 months of age. When food is only partially digested, it results in the gut wall being compromised and particles leaking into the bloodstream, causing an inflammatory response from the body and improper nutrient uptake. Symptoms associated with improper digestion are food allergies, intolerances, skin rashes etc. To assist with digestion, children should chew their food properly as the digestive process for starches start in the mouth already and not drink liquid with their meals, that might reduce the acid in the stomach needed to digest food.
- Bacterial and Viral Overload – The primary function of white blood cells (namely the neutrophils) is to destroy viruses and bacteria, thereby providing an important defence against infection. When a child’s diet is high in refined carbohydrates it causes the blood sugar to fluctuate wildly, which causes the neutrophils to not do their work properly. In light of the weakened defences, viruses and bacteria proliferate, overload the system and causing inflammatory responses such as excess mucus production, resulting in frequent coughs, colds, runny noses and fever.
- High Chemical Exposure - Especially children are very exposed to modern lifestyle sources of dangerous chemicals like glues and paints used in the schools, amalgam dental fillings, lead from car fumes and pesticide residues in water and food. People living close to or in a polluted atmosphere, often find themselves constantly struggling with respiratory illnesses.
- Abuse of antibiotics - Antibiotics can be lifesaving in certain instances, but recent trends have shown that doctors over prescribe, and parents allow overuse of antibiotics for their children. Antibiotics do not only kill pathogenic bacteria but deplete the beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome as well, causing improper nutrient uptake. Using antibiotics should be a last resort and many situations can be addressed with a more natural approach.
- Not enough sleep – The body repairs itself best when it rests and produces melatonin during a deep sleep. It is important for children to get about 10 -14 hours of sleep per night.
- Over consumption of sugar– Sugar does not contain nutrients and instead taxes the body when ingested as it requires minerals from your body to metabolize. It suppresses immune function, by inhibiting the work of white blood cells.
- Fast foods – High in transfats, sugar, additives, preservatives etc. processed, packaged and fast foods should be kept to a minimum or avoided at all costs. These foods are devoid or nutrition and cause an immediate inflammatory response instead of strengthening the system, it taxes it.
Foods that boost
- Vitamin C - Eat a diet rich in vitamin C found in fresh fruits, vegetables and dark green leafy vegetables. This helps the body deal with pollutants (also known as free radicals) and will prevent them from suppressing the immune system.
- Nuts, especially almonds and walnuts – Packed with Vitamin E and manganese, strong immune boosting elements that enhance natural killer cell activity. Raw nuts is the healthier choice.
- Berries – Filled with antioxidants, which help your body fight oxidative stress caused by free radicals. No fresh berries? Frozen ones are just as nutritious.
- Pre- and probiotic foods – More than half of the immune system cells are located in the gut. Prebiotic and probiotic foods such as L+ lactic acid from fermented foods (kefir, sauerkraut) as well as plant based yoghurts such as coconut, oats or nut yoghurts, helps to strengthen and stimulate the immune system. Opt for no-sugar natural and rather add your own fresh fruits.
- Garlic - is an amazing food that contains anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. It stimulates the immune cells and increases antibody production and contains the compound sulphur which has potent antioxidant properties. Add garlic towards the end of your meals as to not destroy too much of the immune enhancing properties.
- Ginger – another amazing spice that is high in gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Sulfur -rich vegetables such as Broccoli, brussel sprouts and dark leafy greens (spinach and kale) are high in not only Vitamin A, C, E, minerals and antioxidants, but also B-vitamins that fuel methylation (your body’s ability to process and eliminate toxins effectively and safely)
- Sweet potatoes – Rich in Vitamin C and high in in beta carotene, which have been shown to increase the number of white blood cells.
- Super seed mix – Choose a variety of seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax and chia seeds to enhance your child’s uptake of Vitamin E and important omega 3 fatty acids.
- Oats, gluten free – Contains beta glucans a fibre component that activates the cells that fight bacteria and viruses.
- Enough proper sleep– On average a child needs 10-14 hours of sleep, in a cool, dark room, away from computers, tablets and mobile phones that omit disrupting electromagnetic frequencies.
- Good clean air– fresh air is best and an excellent stimulant for the immune system.
- Exercise - Let children play outdoors – climb, run, cycle, explore – barefoot where possible.
- Good clean water – where possible avoid tap water that contains heavy metals. Children should drink at least 1L of filtered, distilled or reverse osmosis water per day.
- Manage their stress – Teach children from a young age how to manage stressful situations properly by exploring healthful coping mechanisms. Having good clean FUN is important!
- Stick to a routine– children feel safe in a disciplined, lovable, stable environment that will strengthen their emotional security.
- Hand hygiene– lockdown protocol has certainly taught everyone and especially children the importance of washing hands, especially before meals and after visiting the toilet.
- Healthy environment– if parents smoke, it should be done away from children and outside their homes. Secondary smoke kills and irritates vital cells in the body and as children breathe faster and their natural detoxification system is less developed, they are more susceptible to damage.
Any mom knows children can be picky eaters! Besides being creative in presenting nutritious foods to children, it is more important to include them in the process by educating them on the importance of good nutrition as well as have them assist in preparing foods.
- Vegetable sticks– such as carrots, peppers, cucumber, baby sweetcorn and celery. Try introducing them with a hummus or pesto dip.
- Sulphur free dried fruit– an easy snack to offer in place of sweets
- Vegan Cheese– a great alternative to dairy. Cut in cubes or slices.
- Nuts– unless your child is allergic to nuts, this is a very nutritious food to add to their daily meals. Offer them variety and be careful, especially with small children who can choke on nuts. Opt for healthy Nutbutter sachets in their lunch boxes.
- Fresh fruit– adds sweetness, fiber, vitamins and minerals and helps to hydrate the body. Don’t over consume one fruit but opt for variety.
Teaching your child to be in tune with their bodies making healthy choices, will see them ultimately reap the rewards!