Boosting your Child’s Immune System Naturally

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As parents and caregivers, we are always in a desperate attempt to keep our children healthy and well. However, it’s not always easy to avoid seasonal flus, colds and coughs as children are exposed to a multitude of bacteria, viruses and other “little bugs” daily. Do not dismay or panic - this is a good thing as it challenges your child’s immune system and makes it even stronger over time. Yet, if your little one’s immune system is compromised due to faulty nutrition, stress, weather or a lack of minerals and vitamins, they are more susceptible to falling ill from common exposure to daily microorganisms.

The body is broken down into various systems such as the digestive system, cardiovascular system, lymphatic system and respiratory system. Although all systems are critical to the overall and smooth functioning of the body, the immune system may be considered the “king” of all others. By definition, the immune system is a complex system that is responsible for distinguishing us from everything foreign to us, and for protecting us against infections and foreign substances. The immune system works to seek and kill invaders.

As mentioned above, there are certain factors that strengthen immune system function and other factors that suppress it. The integrity and strength of an individual’s immune system is one of the reasons why child A catches a cold in daycare while child B does not.

In order to keep your child’s immune system healthy and strong, keep the following tips in mind.

Reduce sugar intake: Children are consuming more sugar than ever before in processed and packaged foods (cookies, granola bars, cereals, etc.) and soda pop. Recent research demonstrates that the average sugar intake for kids aged two to three was 14 teaspoons per day and about 17 teaspoons per day for those aged four to five. In addition to promoting tooth decay, white sugar has also been shown to suppress immune system function. In other words, if your child does come down with a cough, cold or flu, do not give them food products with added sugars. Stick to natural-occurring sugars such as those found in fruit and 100% pure fruit juices.

Pump up veggie intake: An increased amount of sugar intake is also the reason why kids push more nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains off their plates. According to researchers in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, children with the highest level of added sugar intake had the lowest consumption of most nutrients and servings of grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy. For instance, calcium intake was too low in 40% of the youngest kids and about 70% of the older children consumed the most added sugar.

In addition to precious minerals and vitamins needed for optimal growth and development, fruits and vegetables contain chemicals called phytonutrients that fight off disease and infection. As a general rule, the more colourful the fruit and vegetable (i.e. blueberries, raspberries, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes and carrots), the better.

Water drinks down: Children today are addicted to sugary pops or juices that are filled with sugar and can dehydrate their little systems. In order for your children to be their healthiest, they need a sufficient amount of water daily to flush their systems out and to ensure proper digestion is taking place. I recommend watering down 100% natural juice (i.e. ¾ cup water, ½ cup natural juice) and packing small water bottles in their lunch. In addition, if your children are in their younger years, invest in a special water “sippy” cup just for them.

Supplement properly: Ideally, your children obtain a majority of their nutrients from the food they eat. Unfortunately, due to several factors such as processed foods, lack of exposure to sunlight in the winter months, a deficiency in omega-3 fats and a drop in the intake of fruits and vegetables, they are often deficient in various nutrients. As a safety net to boost overall health, I highly recommend relying on a high quality multivitamin and omega-3 fat supplement.

Mind your child’s stress level: Children can experience stress that is just as intense as adult-like stress. When stress is experienced, the hormone cortisol is released which can suppress proper immune system function. What may seem like a small issue to an adult, such as being teased at recess or not being invited to a party, may seem catastrophic to your little one. In order to keep your child’s level of stress down, keep the lines of communication open at all times. Whether driving in the car, sitting down for dinner or tucking them into bed, give your children your full attention when they are talking about their feelings.

While we are beginning to enter the winter months, everyone’s immune systems are open to taking a little more of a “hit”. Simply follow the steps above to safeguard your little one against future infection or illness.

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