The start of a new school year can mean a lot of things, one of which is the inevitable exposure to a multitude of bacteria and germs. As parents, it is our responsibility to help keep our child's health in tip-top shape and protect them as much as possible from getting sick. While it may be tempting to want to put them in a plastic bubble and send them on their way (if only), that is not reality.
Instead, we can take action steps at home to boost their immune systems so their bodies can fight off these bacterial and viral invaders on their own. In my functional medicine clinic, I see many children with weakened immune systems and have picked up a few kid-friendly tricks along the way. By doing a few key things now before summer is over, you can strengthen your child's immune system so you both can hopefully take at least one less sick day.
1. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
Antibiotics are prescribed more than 154 million times a year for anything from a wound to an ear infection in order to kill off bacterial infections. While they certainly have their place, the CDC estimates that at least 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and have been shown to deplete the good bacteria in your microbiome.
Since close to 75 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, just one round of antibiotics can weaken your child’s immune system. It’s important to avoid antibiotics unless completely necessary and look for natural anti-bacterial options, such as colloidal silver, to avoid sending your child off to school with an already depleted microbiome.
2. Add in probiotic-rich foods
Start the school year off strong by re-establishing good gut bacteria through introducing more probiotic-rich foods into your child’s diet. While your kid is still at home, try feeding them fermented foods like sauerkraut or kefir (which comes in lots of flavors that your kid will, fingers crossed, love).
If you have an extra picky eater, there are many kid-friendly probiotic gummies on the market that will give them a hefty immune-boosting dose of good bacteria. Some still do contain sugar, though, so stick with whole food probiotic sources as much as possible.
3. Re-establish a sleep schedule
With the combination of the sun not setting until much later and the crazy summer activity and travel schedule, a regular bedtime can go out the window. As soon as possible, begin re-establishing a sleep schedule with a set bedtime and wake time—no more sleeping in or staying up late. Most children need between 10 and 14 hours of uninterrupted sleep every day for them to thrive. Starting this sooner, rather than later, will make going back to school less of a struggle and their bodies will be better prepared to fight off any germs that come their way.
4. Replace sugar with immune-boosting sweets
Between pool parties, BBQs, and summer camps, there are a lot of opportunities for sugar overload. Sugar has been shown to drastically alter your microbiome by depleting it of good bacteria and providing an environment for bad bacteria to thrive. Mitigate your child’s sugar exposure by sending them off with sweets that are made with natural sweeteners like stevia so they don’t feel left out of the fun. When at home, replace dessert with fruits loaded with immune supporting vitamin C and antioxidants, like oranges and blueberries.
5. Supplement with colostrum (yes, really)
Children who are breastfed tend to be healthier and have fewer allergies as they get older due to the protective, immune-boosting antibodies found in colostrum—the "first milk" produced from nursing moms. Even if you are no longer breastfeeding, you can still harness the power of colostrum through powdered colostrum from grass-fed cows and goats. This is a perfect option to sneak into smoothies, water, juices, and even kefir. They won’t even know they are getting an extra dose of something healthy!
6. Encourage outdoor play
Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in America. It is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin since your body absorbs sunlight using cholesterol to convert it to a usable form of vitamin D. Every single cell in your body requires vitamin D—your immune system in particular. In fact, low levels of vitamin D are linked to autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disorders, but optimal levels have been shown to improve symptoms of these conditions by helping increase white blood cells, which are the defenders of your immune system. Take advantage of these long sunny days and boycott the TV and video games. Spend added time outdoors reading, hiking, playing sports, or at the community pool.
7. Increase those greens
We all know it’s important to eat your greens. Support your child’s methylation – your body’s biochemical superhighway that controls your ability to detox – with sulfur-rich vegetables like brussels sprouts and broccoli, as well as dark leafy greens like kale and spinach. These are loaded with B-vitamins which are methylation fuel and will power up your child’s ability to fight off the onslaught of toxins that they are exposed to and will keep their immune system running optimally.
If you are not one of the lucky few whose child gobbles up veggies at lightning speed, try making green smoothies and popsicles with just a little fruit for sweetness. They’ll be getting a sweet treat, and you’ll be getting the satisfaction of knowing they are having something beneficial for their health.
8. Play around with essential oils
Essential oils are a fun and easy immune-booster to add to your regular routine. Eucalyptus and oregano have all been shown to have antibacterial and immune-modulating capabilities. These are great to diffuse throughout your house to support your child’s immune system while they are playing. You can also add oregano oil to meals you are already cooking to enhance flavor, as well as your child's immune system.