By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
I know it may seem early to be talking about this, but I am a big fan of being prepared. With the start of school coming quickly, our children’s immune systems will be challenged soon. It’s amazing how the first round of colds start right after the first week back to school, regardless of the weather! This article will review the basics of supporting your child’s immune system to reduce the chance of illness.
Start with excellent nutrition:
Nutrition is just as important for children as it is for adults. Make sure that you start the day with a nutrient-rich breakfast and minimal sugar. For example protein smoothies, eggs with toast and greens, oatmeal with nuts and cinnamon, or nut butter on whole grain bread with fruit. Starting the day off with a nutritious breakfast is essential for the immune system!
For the remainder of the day, focus on vegetables and fruits with each meal and snack. Choose different coloured vegetables and fruits to ensure a good balance of vitamins and minerals – for example yellow (squash), orange (carrots), green (spinach) and red (grapes). Get your children involved in finding the rainbow on their plate! You can also add immune-boosting herbs and spices to cooking, such as onion and garlic, turmeric, ginger, oregano and thyme.
Most importantly, minimizing sugar intake – sugar has a direct and strong affect on the immune system.
Make sure your children are sleeping enough:
So many children are not getting enough sleep, especially on school nights. Here is how much sleep kids need at various ages:
- 12-18 months: 11-12 hours at night, plus 2-3 hours during naps
- 18 months – 2 years: 11 hours at night, plus 2 hours during a nap
- 2-3 years – 10-12 hours at night, plus 1-2 hours during a nap
- 3-5 years – 11-13 hours total, including a 1-2 hour nap until about age 4
- 5-12 years – 10-11 hours at night
- 12-17 years – 8-10 hours at night
Once the early school mornings begin, make sure your children are getting to bed earlier to catch up on the extra necessary hours of sleep.
Watch stress levels:
Kids experience stress too, especially during times of transition. Pay attention to your child’s stress levels, and make sure that their are some quieter evenings during the week, and downtime on the weekends. If your child needs more support for dealing with stress or anxiety, please seek this out early on. Tools learned at a young age can make a big impact on stress tolerance as an adult. Chronic high stress can take a big toll on the immune system, making it more difficult to recover from simple illnesses.
Maintain a healthy microbiome:
In the past several years, there have been countless scientific articles written about the role of a healthy microbiome for our overall health. The immune system function is part of this, and the following steps will help to maintain a healthy microbiome:
- using age-appropriate probiotic supplements regularly;
- minimizing sugar intake;
- minimizing the use and need for antibiotics; and
- including fermented foods in the diet.
Use herbs and supplements for prevention:
There are many supplements that can help boost your child’s immune system this fall and winter. Vitamin D is the most critical for those of us in many parts of North America, and this is also essential for your child. Safe starting dosages of vitamin D3 are: 400 IU daily for infants to 1 year old, and 1000 IU daily for chlidren age 1-12. In some cases, higher doses are indicated, but please do not give your child higher doses of vitamin D without being monitored. Vitamin C is very effective in improving immune function, and is safe for ages ranging from 18 months onwards. There are also some excellent children’s herbal products available for prevention – a favourite is St. Francis brand “Deep Immune for Kids”.
Know what to take at first sign of illness:
Although we are doing our best to prevent illness, it is still normal for children to get sick 1-2 times per year. While they are sick, especially with colds or flu we can support the body to recover more quickly. Some suggestions include:
- Eat well and lightly, avoiding all dairy and sugar to keep the immune system strong. Soups and warming foods are best.
- Try teas – warm chamomile tea with a little grated ginger and honey added (over 1 year of age only).
- Use immune stimulating supplements to boost the immune response: vitamin C, echinacea, elderberry, zinc and garlic, in age-appropriate dosages.
- Ensure that your child is getting sufficient rest and sleep. Sleep is essential for healing.
If your child is getting sick very often, or recovering slowly:
If there are frequent colds or infections, or your child is having lingering symptoms such as a cough or congestion that just won’t go away, there may be an underlying issues that is affecting the immune system. The most common is a food intolerance. A food intolerance causes daily, chronic stress on the immune system, leaving less reserve for fighting illness. If your child is sick more than 3x per year, and especially if there are frequent ear or tonsil infections, allergies, eczema or asthma, identifying food intolerances will make a big impact.
I would also take a good look at nutrition and sleep to make sure the basics are met, and there are no obvious deficiencies. If a child is also generally fatigued, it may indicate a nutritional deficiency which can affect the immune system. And of course sufficient rest is also important.
If you would like help to put together an immune-boosting plan for your family, you can also book an appointment to discuss further. We will go through nutrition and supplements both for prevention, and what to take at first sign of illness, along with assessing any underlying factors that may predispose to illness. This is especially helpful for young children starting daycare / preschool / kindergarten, and for anyone who had a difficulty winter last year.
Here’s to a healthy back to school season!