Parents and caregivers of children can attest that when sickness strikes, life revolves around tending to the child night and day. It is miserable to see our little ones drained of their seemingly endless energy supply. It is also concerning because a child’s body is more vulnerable than an adult’s body. What can parents do in order to best protect against the intruders that challenge our children’s health?
Your child’s body and immune system function optimally when protected from environmental damage. By choosing healthy lifestyle behaviors, you can help your child’s system stay balanced and working efficiently. Recommended behaviors include a healthy diet, exercise, sufficient sleep, low stress levels, mindful antibiotic use, keeping a healthy weight and keeping your environment balanced. In order to effectively boost the immune system, scientists and researchers have been studying the effects of lifestyle changes on the system’s ability to fight off infections. They have found that these lifestyle changes do correlate to reduction of diseases and increased immune systems responses. They are still researching and testing for conclusive evidence to uncover how to balance the immune system to its optimum ability in order to reduce infections that lead to diseases. The immune system has many different cells that respond to different microbes in different ways, so immune responses don’t necessarily mean your system will be better prepared to fight intruding microorganisms. The system needs to be balanced. There are precautions you can take to keep your child’s overall health and immune system defenses as strong as possible.
- Balanced Diet- Let thy Food be thy Medicine
One of the most important ways to build up your child’s defenses, is by including micronutrients and antioxidants in your daily meals. The immune system defenders need consistent nourishment from a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods low in saturated fats. The scientific community has proven that malnourished and impoverished populations have a higher occurrence of infectious diseases. The following nutrients have undergone recent research that has shown to help fight off infections or increase immunity responses. You can supply your child’s system with what is needed by including foods from each of the following nutrients:
– Vitamin A: paprika, red pepper, cayenne, chili powder, sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, butternut squash, lettuce, dried apricots and cantaloupe. (Leafy greens are a great choice, having been recently discovered to contain a gene responsible for producing immune cells called innate lymphoids, which protect the body from the bad bacteria in the intestine.)
-Vitamin B6: chili powder, paprika, garlic, sage, tarragon, pistachios, tuna, salmon, cod, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and hazelnuts. (Vitamin b6 has shown to improve immune response in critically ill patients.)
-Vitamin D: cod liver, fish oysters, salami, ham eggs, mushrooms (recently shown in a study by the Boston University School of Medicine to improve immunity and reduce cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and infectious diseases.)
-Zinc: oysters, toasted wheat germ, roast beef, roasted pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, dried watermelon seeds, dark chocolate, peanuts and crab.(zinc deficiencies were shown to increase susceptibility to diseases, while supplements were shown to increase immune systems above basal levels.)
-Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, turnip greens, papaya, mustard greens, collard greens, asparagus, and bell peppers.(have shown to decrease morbidity rate in children by boosting antibody production and lymphocyte creation according to Harvard School of Public Health)
-Vitamin C: papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, brussel sprouts, kiwi fruits, oranges, cantaloupe, and kale. (Vitamin C combined with zinc deficiencies in many countries reduce immune functions and increase infectious diseases)
-Selenium: Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, mushrooms, wheat germ, barley, brown rice, oats and onions. (causes different immune responses that can in some cases help improve system function)
-Iron: spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, shrimp, scallops, ham, beef, chicken, whole wheat bread, dates, watermelon, beans and strawberries. (Iron deficiencies cause abnormalities in the immune system)
-Copper: sesame seeds, cashews, soybeans, barley, sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans, lentils, lima beans, and pumpkin seeds (When copper is absent from the diet the immune system has shown a reduced ability to kill microorganisms that have been ingested.)
-Folic Acid: dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, peas lentils, avocado, okra, brussel sprouts, carrots and squash.(folate deficient humans have decreased immunity to infection.)
Supplement your child’s diet with adequate amounts of these nutrients and you will be on your way to fighting off infections, before they break down your defenses. The variety of colorful foods can be served as delicious snacks for children in creative ways. Filling an empty ice tray with different food choices makes eating healthy fun. Keep balance in mind, as researchers have shown that too much of any nutrient can also be detrimental to your health. Also, if you find it too challenging for your children to get one of their nutrients, you can also supplement with a multivitamin or mineral.
- Exercise: Move it, Move It!
Getting your child’s heart pumping faster through exercise has many positive benefits to their overall health, including improved circulation and increased efficiency of cells. Studies have shown that the quicker circulation helps the immune system by moving the cells easily throughout the body to ward off bacterial and viral infections. This results in your child being less prone to colds, diseases and allergies. The effects are longer lasting if the person exercises regularly with moderate intensity. Studies recommend at least 20 minutes and up to 60 minutes of exercise activity each day. There has been evidence that high intensity workouts that release adrenaline and cortisol actually diminish immunity, so be mindful not to overdo it. Here are some fun ideas to include into your schedule to get your kids moving:
- go on a bike ride
- kick around a soccer ball
- join a children’s sports league
- turn on music and dance around the house
- hop dot game-place dots on the floor and have your child hop from dot to dot.
- hold on game- the child tries to hold onto an adult’s leg while they try to walk.
- jump rope
- scavenger hunts
- Healthy Body Weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight can be achieved through both exercise and a healthy diet. When administered a tetanus shot, children who were obese produced less antibodies than their average weight counterparts. There was another study by the University of California, Irvine that showed higher levels of inflammation in obese children, which results in a less effective immune system. If your child has become overweight you can start taking steps to bring them to their balanced healthy weight by including the nutrients they need from the list above which will alleviate cravings for high carbohydrate, sugary foods. You can integrate exercise activities to do together into your weekly schedule. Also, look around your community for a new activity that they are interested in joining, resulting in more engagement with life and health.
- Sufficient Sleep-Counting Sheep
The right amount of sleep is very important to your child’s balance. Research has shown that when your child is deprived of sleep their T-Cell count goes down and their inflammation goes up. This sets their body at a disadvantage to fight off any infectious invaders. There are cycles that occur as your child sleeps beginning with a light sleep, continuing to a deep sleep and finally a deeper sleep where dreaming occurs. The immune system works continuously and needs time go through the cycles and regenerate. The recommended sleep hours are as follows:
|Age of child||Sleep duration|
|until 3 months||16 to 18 hours|
|4 to 5 months||14 to 15 hours|
|6 to 12 moths||13 hours|
|1 to 4 years||12 hours|
|5 to 6 years||11.5 hours|
|7 to 9 years||11 hours|
|10 to 11 years||10.5 hours|
|12 to 13 years||10 hours|
|14 to 16 years||9 hours|
- Low Stress Levels- Knock,knock, who’s there?
Child stress is on the rise and studies show that children who have experienced emotionally stressful childhoods have compromised immune systems later in life. The immune system cells are influenced by the child’s early environment. Our children have a stress hormone called cortisol that helps them respond to stress and anxiety. If excess cortisol is released, it raises blood sugar and cholesterol which lowers immune functions. Providing balance for your child will help keep their stress levels healthy. To keep your child’s cortisol at normal levels it is important to be aware of what they are experiencing. Tips to keep stress low include: keeping their health balanced with 3 structured meals a day, whole unprocessed foods, play time with peers, exercise, telling jokes and laughing, taking walks, asking them questions about their life, identifying and talking out problems that cause them stress, listening to music, dancing, taking deep belly breaths, and relaxing time spent with family and friends.
- Mindful Antibiotic Use-Weigh the Cost.
When our children get sick, we want to help them get back to health as quickly as possible. Many times we are advised to turn to medications to help fight the infections. When it comes to bacterial infections, antibiotics are prescribed. Before you decide to give your child the antibiotics it is important to understand the way they work. The immune system’s defense is primarily built by the bacterial balance found in the intestinal tract which supports 80% of the body’s immune system. The child’s bacterial flora and fauna begins in the womb and grows throughout childhood, allowing the immune system to scan the body for good and bad cells. It is the foundation for the system to fight infections.
When an infection does intrude, it is an opportunity for your child’s body to learn the illness, eliminate the toxins and get stronger. Alternatively when an antibiotic is given, all bacteria is wiped out in the gut leaving fungus and future invasions unopposed. According to research, it takes approximately 18 months to restore balance in the intestinal tract after taking antibiotics. One other factor to consider is that the overuse of antibiotics creates stronger bad bacteria. The bacteria adapt and then stronger treatments are needed to wipe them out. Antibiotic treatment may be necessary for a very serious infection but should be used sparingly to protect your child’s intestinal balance and promote it’s growth.
- Environment-Is it possible to be too clean?
The immune system has a nominal response and a memory response. The nominal response is used when the body encounters antigens, while the memory response is used when the body encounters infections. Both response systems learn about the encounters and better prepare the body for the future. As your child is growing it is important that they encounter these antigens and infections in order for their systems to learn and calibrate to the environment. On the other hand, it is important that they are not overwhelmed to the point where their body can not fight them off effectively. A good balance of time outdoors, socializing and living in clutter free areas will provide the environment needed to develop a healthy, armed immune system for your children’s future.
Taking the time to plan the factors a child needs to live a balanced healthy life can be fun and rewarding. Combine these 7 tips together and you can look forward to fewer sick days for your little ones.