It’s the cold season again! Over the winter months your child is very likely to catch colds and different viruses. This is the fact of life and the reason for this is that their exposure to these illnesses strengthens their immune system and protects them later in adulthood.
A newborn baby’s immature immune system relies heavily on protection from their mother’s anybodies. The infant immune system matures during the first year, and is more mature at age two, but the immune system does not reach full maturity until the child is around six years old. The stronger your child’s immune system is in these early years, the healthier they will be when they grow up.
Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables (organic, if possible) is the most important way to keep the immune system strong. However, sometimes our little ones’ immune system needs a helping hand. Below are some of my tips that can help boost a child’s natural defenses.
Breastfeeding is the most effective, long-term health protection a child can obtain. Mother’s milk contains unique substances that inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses, giving your baby critical protection against diseases during the most hazardous months of their life. It dramatically reduces the risk of ear infections in the first three years as well as reducing the risk of developing allergies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently recommends exclusive breastfeeding for up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
If for any reason you have to bottle feed try to find the safest, organic, GMO-free infant formula or try to make your own.
Limit Sugar Intake
Excess sugar can lead to harmful effects on the immune system as it depresses immunity. Children are more sugar sensitive than adults, and the effects are more pronounced in younger children. Sugar impacts the white blood cells in the body by competing for space in those cells with Vitamin C. White blood cells need Vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses. Sugar and Vitamin C are similar in their chemical structure. Therefore, the sugar in your child’s body directly competes for space in their immune cells with Vitamin C. The more sugar they consume, the less Vitamin C can get into their white blood cells. Eating too much sugar results in a weakened immune defence.
Make sure your child is active throughout the day and that they get plenty of outdoor play time. Outside air is much less toxic than inside air.
Let them sleep
The immune system repairs and restores itself during sleep and does some important infection fighting at this time when your child’s body can focus on healing. Allow your children to sleep as long and as often as they want.
Immune boosting nutrition
Good all-round multivitamin and mineral
It is important to nourish the cells in the body and unfortunately most foods do not provide the nutrients for a growing body. Vitamins and minerals act as building blocks of health. They lay the foundation for everything that goes on inside our bodies. Multivitamins help bridge the nutritional gaps between the food your children eat and the needs of their growing bodies. Use vitamins without dyes and artificial ingredients.
Vitamin A and Betacarotene
Vitamin A is needed for proper mucous membrane function and to maintain integrity of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts.
A diet containing significant amounts of fat will help ensure adequate vitamin A intake. Whole milk products, butter, and free range eggs will help maintain necessary levels of this important nutrient. Use organic produce if possible. For those children who may not be getting enough vitamin A, a supplement is essential, and during illness vitamin A will assist in fighting off viruses. The recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin A is 1,000-2,000 IU for children, depending on their age (1,000 at one year of age, 2,000 by age nine). There is some concern that vitamin A can inhibit vitamin D absorption and beta-carotene is less likely to cause this interference.
Vitamin C is a master immune boosting nutrient. It is one of the least toxic substances known to man. Vitamin C powder/chewable tablets are the easiest to give to children. It can shorten the life of a cold when used in therapeutic doses (5 days maximum). There is no danger of overdose as excess Vitamin C is excreted in the urine, but reduce dose if stools become loose. 6–12 months: 60mg 3x day; 1–3years: 100mg 3xday; 4–8 years: 200mg 3x day; 9–13 years+: 300mg 3xday.
Vitamin E is an important all-rounder and is a powerful antioxidant. It has anti-inflammatory effects and increases resistance to infection. Its immune boosting properties increase when given in conjunction with Selenium. An appropriate dose is 100 mg for children under two and 200 mg for children aged 2-12.
Zinc helps increase the number of virus-fighting white blood cells during an infection. Unfortunately it is commonly deficient in children. The best sources are shellfish (not for under 2s due to allergy risk), chicken, lean red meat, eggs, seeds, nuts and wholegrains.
Selenium boosts immunity and it works synergistically with Vitamin E. The recommended Dietary allowances (RDAs) are the following: birth to 6 months: 15 mcg, 7 months-3 years: 20 mcg, 4 years to 8 years: 30 mcg, 9-14 years: 40 mcg, 15 years+: 55mcg.
Sunlight/ Vitamin D
Vitamin D3 is necessary for healthy immune function. If you can get vitamin D from sun exposure, that’s the best way to go. If possible, allow your children to get 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure each day. Every child should be taking vitamin D in the winter (1,000 IU for babies, 2,000 IU for toddlers up to 12 years, and 5,000 IU from 12 to adults).
An omega-3 fat supplement in the form of fish oil or flax seed oil will establish healthy cell membranes that prevent inflammation and resist toxins and attack by pathogens. 200 mg of DHA and EPA for each 50 pounds of body weight is an appropriate dose.
In addition to eating a diet rich in antioxidants (i.e.salmon, mackerel, nuts, seeds, berries, carrots, peppers, pomegranates, turmeric, etc.), supplementing with antioxidants further strengthens your child’s immune system. Grapeseed extracts, Olive Leaf extracts, Co-enzyme Q10, Vitamin E, Selenium and Manganese are all powerful antioxidants.
It has been found that elderberry tincture an prevent and shorten the duration of common colds and influenza (flu) and it may also help with bronchitis, sinus infection and constipation. You can give your children a few drops of elderberry tincture often throughout the winter months. Dosage is as follows when feeling under the weather: Children 10 drops 2 – 3 times/day in water.
Probiotics can improve the immune system and help digestion. When probiotics are abundant in the body, it is harder for bacteria that cause illness to get a foothold. Some also suppress the growth of harmful bacteria. Furthermore, it is important to take probiotics following a course of antibiotics. They will replenish the good bacteria that get knocked out together with “bad” bacteria during the course of antibiotics. Just a word of caution here; the quality of probiotic products is not consistent on the market. Some contain what they say they do; some do not. Make sure you supplement your children with good quality probiotics.
Amongst the numerous health benefits of raw honey, the most important one is that it can be a powerful immune booster. It has antioxidant and antibacterial properties that help children stay healthy and fight disease. It also contains neutraceuticals that effectively remove free radicals from the body and as a result improve immunity.
Immunity Boosting Raw Honey Drink:
500ml water (room temperature)
1-3 tablespoon raw honey
Apple Cider Vinegar to taste
Slowly mix the honey into the water, add ACV. Drink slowly throughout the day.
Parents often worry that their children would not take the supplements due to their taste, size, shape etc. In my experience, the easiest way to give supplements to children is through flavoured liquids or powdered sources mixed in a blender with fruit, fruit juice, yogurt or milk (almond milk for younger children and children with milk sensitivities), and honey (for children over 12 months old). Capsules can be opened and put into the blender. Children can chew oil-based supplements in soft gels or you can stick a pin into them and squirt out the contents onto something they will eat.
Have a healthy winter!
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Please note that I am not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet, so this list is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as a replacement when medical attention is needed!
About the Author: Aniko Sziraczki is a Kinesiologist with a background in psychology. She is very passionate about green parenting as well as healthy eating and toxin-free living. She set up a Facebook group called Raising Toxin Free Children. It is for parents and alternative health therapists to share their knowledge about the impact of various chemicals on the bodies and health of children. It is a safe and supportive place to get advice and support about toxin-free living and parenting.