5 Ways To Naturally Improve Your Child’s Immune System
Runny noses. Constant colds. Recurrent flus. Gastrointestinal bugs. These conditions can be pretty common with children in day care or school. As a naturopathic physician and expert in pediatric natural medicine, I see children of all ages coming in with recurrent infections and immune systems that catch every bug that crosses their path. While some of that is out of parents' control, after ten years in naturopathic medical practice, I have seen firsthand that a strong immune system is not just about great genes. In my experience, there are a number of powerful immune boosters for kids that are available to parents to help safely keep their child healthy.
1. It starts with a great diet.
Children’s immune systems can take a hit if they're not being supported by healthy foods. To keep kids well, limit their overall intake of additives, sugar, and work with a medical practitioner to figure out which foods are allergens. In my practice, I've found when a child has a food allergy, her digestion suffers, inflammation is ramped up, which makes fending off viruses and bacteria much more difficult. It’s a similar story when a child takes in more additives and preservatives than her body can deal with—in fact, excess sugar may also cause inflammation. Instead, focus on a maintaining a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh veggies, whole fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and proteins.
2. Maintain your child's microbiotia.
Our microbiome is the collection of friendly bacteria that naturally occurs in our guts. They protect our digestive tracts, help us to digest food, and shield us from invading bacteria and viruses. As such, maintaining a healthy microbiome can help a child's ability to fend off infection. In order to do so, I recommend probiotic supplements, which can help maintain a healthy gut and support immune health. Of course, speak to your family practitioner before starting your child on regular probiotics, as it can vary based on age.
3. Help calm their stress and anxiety.
In today’s fast-paced world where parents are overstressed and children often over-scheduled, it can take a toll on immunity. Children’s bodies have the same response to stress that adults’ do—their cortisol and adrenaline rises. When this elevation in stress hormones is sustained, their immune systems’ response is lowered. In fact, one research review that specifically looked at early life stressors, assessed that "individuals exposed to chronic stressors can exhibit immune dysregulation."
It’s important for children to have lots of down time, time for creative play, and simply times of rest. Busy bodies need to take a break every now and then for their immune systems to thrive.
4. Make sure they're getting enough good sleep.
Most children are not getting the required amount of sleep. Depending on age, I've found children need between ten and 14 hours of sleep per day. Sleep is important for a number of reasons, and it's absolutely essential for an immunity boost—a research review published in Physiological Reviews noted that sleep and immunity are linked, each one directly affects the other.
And the quality of sleep really matters . For proper secretion of melatonin (our sleep hormone), children need to sleep in the dark, without a night light or screens. Since screen time may also affect sleep quality, I recommend making sure your child’s electronic devices are powered down long before bedtime.
5. Supplements and herbs can work wonders.
In my experience, the best supplements to boost a child’s immune system are zinc and vitamin D. It's important to note that while your kid's can get vitamin D from being outside in the sun, most of us don't live in places where you can get enough sunshine year-round—and you'd need to eat a lot of foods that contain vitamin D (fish, mushrooms) to do the trick—which is why I'm a fan of supplements.
Elderberry is also one of my favorite immune boosters for kids, especially if they have recurrent respiratory tract infections. In fact, supplementing with elderberry was found to reduce upper respiratory symptoms in a meta-analysis of research, which included 180 total participants, published in Complementary Theories In Medicine.
Of course, please make sure to see your physician before starting your child on any new supplement or herb regimen.
Overall, helping your child maintain a healthy lifestyle is key to boosting their immune system. Just be sure to speak to your doctor before making any big changes to your child's daily regimen.
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