Boost Your Child's Immune System

Kathy Wheddon Nutritional Therapist DipION

It is a well known fact that the class room can be a breeding ground for various germs, and that children often spread seasonal ailments amongst their class mates. Exposure to minor maladies is usually a 'blessing in disguise' as it actually helps to prime an infants' immune system and increase resilience.

This year, however, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents are particularly worried. In a recent survey1 of 2,000 parents 74% reported that they were concerned about the risk of infection posed by their child going back to school for the new term.

In this blog we will discuss how implementing just a few simple changes to your kids' diet and lifestyle can make a real difference when it comes to better immunity. Boost your child's immunity with our five easy everyday tips.

Family sitting together for breakfast

Support your child with our top tips for immunity

1. Get more sleep

Make sure your children are getting enough quality sleep. Experts say that the optimum amount of sleep is 10-14 hours per night, depending on the child’s age. But it’s the quality of sleep as well as the duration of sleep that is important. A lack of sleep is known to suppress the immune system, and make us more likely to succumb to bacterial and viral infections.

In order to sleep deeply we are reliant on adequate production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin is only secreted in response to a lack of light, therefore in order to sleep deeply, children (and adults) must sleep in a dark room. Black out blinds or curtains are helpful, but in addition any light from electronic gadgets should be reduced. Most electronics emit a blue light, which is known to directly hinder the production of melatonin.

Our natural circadian rhythm (body clock) relies on us getting plenty of ‘blue’ light during the day, to keep us alert, and then only ‘red’ light in the evening to allow the release of melatonin to make us sleepy. If children are looking at computer or phone screens in the hours leading up to going to bed, they are being exposed to a lot of blue light which could disrupt their sleep. You can limit exposure to electronics in the hour before bedtime, or change the type of light emitted on screens from blue to red.

2. Limit sugar

Reduce the amount of sugar your children consume. Sugar is known to suppress the immune system2 for as much as five hours after its ingestion. It appears that when we consume refined sugars, the ability of our white blood cells to 'gobble up' bacteria reduces dramatically. This puts us at more risk of picking up infections. Plus, sugar feeds bad bacteria, so cutting down can also help to reduce the risk of your kids becoming unwell.

Adult and child hand holding strawberries

Making sure your child eats a healthy diet goes a long way to ensuring good immunity

3. Check for food intolerances

Consuming foods that we are intolerant to sets up a chain reaction of inflammation in the gut. This hinders absorption of nutrients, and therefore reduces our immune function. If your child has symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea these could be signs of a food intolerance, and so it's worth getting them investigated by a qualified Nutritional Therapist. The most common food intolerances include wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts and soy.

4. Look after their gut flora

Colonies of friendly bacteria in the gut are our first line of defence against ingested bacteria and viruses. These friendly bacteria can ‘communicate’ with our immune cells, and help to keep us healthy. If this protective barrier of friendly bacteria isn't strong enough then we are more susceptible to picking up viruses and infections.

So, if you suspect your child may have lower levels of friendly bacteria, it is worth looking at ways of increasing them. Daily probiotics for kids containing the right strains for an infant gut are an easy way to do this.

You might consider strains such as Bifidobacterium breve M-16V®, Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, Bifidobacterium infantis Rosell-33, and Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71, which have been shown in clinical research to support children's health3.

Child unwell lying in bed

Lots of factors can affect immunity, including diet, allergies and stress

5. Reduce their stress

Children respond to stress in exactly the same way as adults do, with an increase in stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. If these hormones are elevated over a long period of time, it results in a suppression of the immune system.

It is therefore important that children get adequate relaxation and play time. In particular, ‘creative play’. This uses the right hemisphere of the brain, whereas logical thought uses the left side of the brain. Activities that use the right side of the brain, such as drawing, dancing, singing, playing board games, doing a jigsaw puzzle and taking a walk in nature trigger the release of endorphins. Not only does this relax us, but it also boosts our immune system. Everybody can benefit from having a bit of fun and activating their right brain more often - laughter really is the best medicine!

Making just a few small changes can have a big impact on your child’s health, bringing you improved peace of mind, and confidence sending them in to school each day.

Wishing you and your family the best of health in the upcoming back-to-school season!

If you enjoyed this article, why not try the following?:

8 Ways To Get Your Kids To Take Their Probiotic Supplements
Are cleaning products impacting your child's gut health?

Health Professionals may like to read the follwoing article over at Probiotics Professionals:

Study confirms link between gut microbiota and COVID-19.

References

  1. OnePoll survey of 2,000 parents with children aged 5-12 returning to school in September conducted for OptiBac Probiotics in August 2020.
  2. Sanchez, A et al (1973) Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Am J Clin Nutr, 26(11): 1180-1184
  3. Stojković, A et al. (2016) Clinical trial/experimental study (consort compliant): Optimal time period to achieve the effects on synbiotic-controlled wheezing and respiratory infections in young children. Srp Arh Celok Lek, 144(1-2):38-45.