Parents are too often led to believe that “kids get sick, that’s just what happens.” But that isn’t necessarily true! Indeed, a child’s developing immune system makes them more susceptible to illnesses, especially with frequent exposure to germs at daycares, classrooms, and playgrounds. But there are many proactive measures that can help your child fend off common and seasonal illnesses.
Drawing from our pediatric care expertise, we offer the following tips to help bolster your child’s immune system:
- Encourage frequent hand washing, especially before meals.
- Drink plenty of filtered water: with a daily target of half your child’s weight in ounces (30lb child = 15 oz).
- Eat a rainbow! Colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that destroy free radicals responsible for weakening immune systems. Check out this “Eat A Rainbow!” guide from the Whole Kids Foundation for tips on incorporating different colored whole foods into your child’s diet.
- Avoid refined sugar and processed foods. Blood shows evidence of diminished immunity within 30 minutes of eating simple sugars like glucose, processed sugar, and fructose, resulting in a significant reduction in white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs for many hours. The best way to steady your children’s blood sugar levels is to feed them as much organic, whole food as possible, incorporating plenty of good fats and protein in every meal and snack – and lucky for us San Francisco is chock-full of high quality, local organic food sources and services.
- Get your child outside for regular playtime. Moderate activity can boost macrophages – the kind of white blood cells that “eat up” bacteria and viruses. And new studies claim sunlight to be a natural immunity booster! Get the full scoop by reading our post Sunlight: Growing Healthy Kids from the Outside In.
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Adequate sleep helps white blood cells to function optimally, while even mild sleep deprivation may increase inflammation in the body, thus making your child more vulnerable to common, usual viral, infections.
- Keep your child’s stress to a minimum. Emotional stress can lower our defenses and makes us more susceptible to illness. Stress is also known to lower our white blood cells’ abilities to kill germs and can contribute to inflammation that makes us feel sicker. We understand mitigating a child’s stress level can pose a challenge. Our recent post on child behavior offers some good advice on handling your child’s emotional development at every age and stage.
Immunity-Building Supplements & Practices
Here is a smattering of supplements and other ideas that can help bolster the immune system:
- Supplementing with Vitamin D3 during the cold and flu season can significantly lower rates of infection. Vitamin D3, among other things, increases the body’s production of cathelicidin, which is an antimicrobial – an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth. (Check out Live Longer (and Healthier) with Vitamin D to learn more about vitamin D and how to ensure your child is getting enough of it.)
- Fish oil: While not shown to prevent colds and flu in particular, omega-3 essential fatty acids generally support a healthy intestinal tract and immune system and provide other long-term benefits.
- A daily dose of probiotics helps to boost both the innate and acquired immune responses. Studies have shown a drastic reduction in fever and upper respiratory symptoms in children who took probiotics.
- Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from damage caused by free radicals. These foods are particularly vitamin C rich.
- Zinc is essential for normal functioning of white blood cells. Just 10-15mg of zinc per day can be key in warding off infection. Here are some good food sources of zinc.
- Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic medicine that not only treats, but may also help to prevent influenza infection. It’s safe for use at any age and the contents of one small tube per week can be taken for cold and flu prevention. It can also be used if there is a known viral exposure: simply take the contents of one tube under the tongue as soon as possible after a germy encounter!
- Nasal washes are one of the most preventive things you can do. Irrigate your child’s nasal passages at the end of every day and especially after any exposure (at school, playgroups, on BART/buses/planes, etc.). After a viral exposure, germs need to multiply in the nasal passages for at least 1-2 days before any symptoms develop. Nasal irrigation can wash away viral particles before they have the opportunity to take hold and thereby prevent many infections from starting.
- Bone broths provide rich and easily absorbed mineral content and gelatin. Incorporating broth into your cooking can help support your child’s gut health and overall immunity. Here’s a great resource and recipes for broth.
A Customized Prevention Plan For Your Child
Prevention is central to our pediatric care approach at GetzWell Pediatrics. Make an appointment with us at our San Francisco offices (415-826-1701) to discuss a customized immune support plan for your child, including specific supplement recommendations.
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