Boost your child’s immunity ready for the new school term
With the new school term looming, you may wonder how to ensure your child’s immune system is in tip–top condition ahead of fresh challenges related to social distancing.
Our immune system does an amazing job in protecting us from bacterial and viral infections, but compromised immunity means your child may be more likely to pick up infections and take longer to recover. It makes sense to invest some time and energy in improving immune health ahead of the new term.
Read on for some practical ideas to naturally support your child’s immunity.
Your Gut and Immune System are Connected
It might surprise you to learn the vast majority of your child’s immune system is found in their gut. Bacteria residing there interact with immune system cells, regulating their activity and helping them to distinguish between harmless substances and potentially harmful ones.
Your child’s gut is a mini–ecosystem, and anything disturbing bacterial balance can profoundly affect health.
So your number one priority when it comes to immune health is making sure gut health is optimal.
Gut bacteria feed on fibre, so including plenty of naturally occurring fibre from fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, as well as garlic and onions can help beneficial bacteria to thrive.
Fats can Train the Immune System
Decades of misinformation about dietary fats has led many people to be wary of eating them. However, many types of fats exist all with different effects. In general, processed fats have been altered from their original form, meaning they’re unfamiliar to the body. This means they can trigger inflammation, adversely affecting immune health, plus they’re usually packaged with plenty of sugar, food additives and very few nutrients. All this makes processed foods a poor choice for a healthy body.
Rather like vitamins, we must consume certain fats known as essential fatty acids, as their name implies, or deficiency symptoms will result. One of these fats is Omega 3. It’s crucial for immunity because it produces signalling molecules instructing the immune system how to operate.
The problem is, modern diets have become very low in Omega 3, in part because it doesn’t keep well so it makes little commercial sense to retain these fats during food production. Omega 3 is rich in oily fish, but if your child doesn’t like fish it’s also found in fresh nuts such as walnuts and seeds like flax seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Ditch Sugar for a Strong Immune System
Sugar depletes immune system health, as well as adversely affecting gut bacteria.
Kids love sugar, but a sweet tooth is learned and a liking for sugary foods does fade over time. Include foods naturally containing sugar such as berry fruits in your child’s lunchbox and you’ll be also providing them with a host of beneficial nutrients.
Phytonutrients in fruit and veggies are believed to increase the production of infection-fighting white blood cells, while vitamin C has a well-recognised role in immune health.
Stress and Poor Sleep Affect Immunity
If your child has been home-schooled since the start of the pandemic, there’s likely to be some anxiety around returning to school. Hormones produced during stress have been found to reduce the activity of the immune system.
Make sure your children aren’t glued to their screen for hours, as too much screen time can increase anxiety. This is especially important in the hours leading up to bedtime because of the blue light emitted by devices interferes with sleep quality.
Speaking of sleep, now is a good time to re-establish a regular sleep cycle by implementing consistent bedtimes and waking up times. Sleep deprivation can increase susceptibility to illness by reducing white blood cells known as natural killer cells, the immune system’s weapons used to attack microbes.
Making sure your child spends some time each day outdoors can also boost immunity because scientists believe breathing in certain chemicals produced by plants increases the production of white blood cells.
Safe moderate sunlight exposure also helps your child to make vitamin D. Deficiency of this vitamin is associated with an increased risk of picking up infections.
Spending time outdoors as a family in activities such as cycling, tennis, running or paddle boarding can also ensure your child is taking regular exercise – boosting those virus-beating natural killer cells.
The naturally occurring amino acid l-theanine, available in supplement form, can aid relaxation by increasing levels of calming brain chemicals and reducing those substances linked to stress and anxiety. The great thing about theanine is it appears to increase alertness too.