The immune system is your body’s first line of defence against infectious organisms and other foreign invaders, i.e. bacteria and viruses.
With the right care, your child’s immune system should be doing an excellent job of keeping them healthy. However, if they seem to be contracting every bug that crosses their path, it’s time to take a closer look at their immune system.
There are many measures you can take in order to boost your child’s immune system and speed up the healing process.
Fight it with food
Fresh, real food is the key to maintaining a healthy and strong immune system. Keep crisps, chocolate, cakes and cookies to a bare minimum. Packaged and processed foods should be given as an occasional treat food only.
Everyday foods should include fresh fruit and vegetables, poultry, meat, fish, whole grains, legumes, eggs and if there are no allergies, nuts and seeds can be included as well. Forget fruit juices and cordial because the high sugar can be suppressive to the immune system and cause inflammation and dysbiosis, amongst other things. Always opt for water instead.
Listen to your gut
We mean this quite literally, as your gut bacteria plays a vital role in supporting your immune system. Gut microbiota or gut flora are the complex community of microorganisms that live within your gut and protect your digestive tract. When these bacteria become imbalanced, your ability to fight off infections is altered and you may experience an increase in colds and flu.
Probiotics are a supplement containing live bacteria. When taken they can boost your friendly gut bacteria. A supplement containing lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and acidophilus is a good place to start.
Yoghurt contains live bacteria such as these. But instead of the sugar-laden fruit varieties, you’re better off with plain or Greek yoghurt. To add some sweetness to your plain yoghurt, try a dash of maple syrup, rice syrup or fruit!
Give it a break
We all know how ineffective we can become without a bit of down-time to relax, and it’s the same for your immune system. It is important for children to have lots of down time to relax as well as opportunities for creative and imaginative play.
Sleep plays a very important role in the healthy development of your child. It is also very important in building a strong immune system. According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers between the ages of 1-2 years need 11-14 hours of sleep per night, preschoolers between the ages of 3-5 need 11-13 hours of sleep per night and school children between the ages of 6-13 need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
In order to increase your child’s quality of sleep, it is important that your child sleeps in a room that is dark. This is because the sleep hormone, melatonin, is secreted in the dark. Make sure all electronic devices are off before you put your child to bed.
Your child’s immune system can do with a little bit of help from time to time. Immune-supporting supplements include zinc, vitamin D, Fish oils and probiotics. For individualised advice on the dose and brand of supplement you should be giving your child, please check with your health care professional.
The best booster foods
This amazing food contains anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Garlic stimulates the immune cells and increases antibody production. It also contains the compound sulphur which has potent antioxidant properties.
TIP: You can add garlic into your child’s favourite meals such as the sauces of pasta dishes, spaghetti bolognese. You can also add it to hummus to be used as a dip for those carrot fingers.
When adding garlic into your cooked meals, always add it at the very end. This way you don’t destroy too much of the immune enhancing properties.
Berries are one of the best sources of antioxidants and immune boosting nutrients. The beautiful and bright red, blue and purple colours get their pigment from the potent antioxidant called anthocyanin. They also contain vast amounts of vitamin A, as well as vitamin C, both of which bolster your child’s immune system.
TIP: Add a handful of mixed berries to your child’s breakfast oats or morning cereal. A delicious snack idea could be a handful of mixed berries stirred though a bowl of plain yoghurt topped with a dash of maple syrup. You can even try and mix in some flaxseed meal for added nutrition.
Green leafy vegetables
The immune-boosting nutrients in leafy greens include iron – which is important for the production of white blood cells and antibodies.
Unfortunately, getting these veggies on your child’s plate is easier said than done.
TIP: Try making a green ‘Smurfie’ smoothie. Throw some kale or baby spinach, frozen banana or frozen mango with your choice of milk into a blender and blend until smooth. You can add a tablespoon or two of maple syrup or rice syrup depending on the desired sweetness.