Many have asked what we can do to keep our kids healthy and boost their immune system. What’s important to remember is that our body is uniquely created with defense mechanisms to fight off disease caused by viruses and bacteria. The key to the body’s ability to do so is ensuring our immune system is armed with the necessary nutrients and elements it needs to fight the fight. Think about it this way, if our body is at war with a virus or bacteria and it’s not armed with the necessary ammunition to fight, it will lose the fight or take a lot longer to win the battle. So, with that being said, here are some key areas we want to focus on, especially with our children!
Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency has been a growing concern. The primary source of Vitamin D comes from sun exposure. With the increased use of sunscreen and more kids playing indoors, this becomes an even greater concern. In 2011, The Endocrine Society issued clinical practice guidelines for Vitamin D, stating that the desirable serum concentration of 25(OH)D is >75 nmol/L, and to raise and maintain this concentration, children adolescents should supplement with at least 1000 IU/day. Now let’s break down why Vitamin D is so important for immune health. Vitamin D is believed to increase the production of natural antibodies. Antibodies are part of the ammunition utilized to fight invaders when they enter the body. Vitamin D can also lower a virus’s ability to replicate and decrease inflammation within the body. As we enter the winter months with less time spent outside, it’s a good idea to consider supplementing your child to ensure their levels are maintained.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics are another key in supporting our immune system. Probiotics are the good bacteria found in our gut and we want to ensure our bacteria is balanced and flourishing. The good bacteria in our gut protect against the “bad bugs” by inhibiting their growth. Unfortunately, when we take antibiotics to fight an infection, we don’t only kill the bad bugs, but the good ones as well. Because many children have likely been on antibiotics, I recommend taking a daily chewable probiotic. I also recommend consuming high fiber foods like oatmeal, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to provide the good bacteria with the nutrients (prebiotics) they need to survive and grow.
Fruits and Vegetables
As we consider the importance of gut health and the immune system, diet plays a significant role. Did you know that 60% of the immune system is located in the gut? Therefore, what we eat impacts the strength of our immune system. Limiting the consumption of processed foods, fast foods, and processed sugars helps to maintain the integrity of our gut. My takeaway for sugar is to limit consumption to less than 25 grams a day! In addition, ensuring the intake of 6 to 9 fruits and vegetables of various colors daily will ensure your child is getting in the proper number of phytonutrients to support their immune system. Increased phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables act as anti-inflammatories and provide antioxidants, which quench inflammation. This may seem impossible, but if you start the day with a smoothie and incorporate 2 to 3 fruits and a handful of spinach for greens, incorporate a fruit and some carrots in their lunch, and a side of veggies for dinner, you’ve already hit your goal!
Sleep plays an important role in the immune system. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body and is responsible for regulating sleep. However, this is not its only purpose. Melatonin also has anti-inflammatory properties and supports our bodies immune cells needed to fight infections. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids age 3 to 5 should sleep 10 to 13 hours a day, children age 6 to 12 should sleep 9 to 12 hours per day, and those aged 13 to 18 should sleep 9 to 10 hours per day. Getting a good bedtime routine is important, and for the younger kids don’t skip that nap!
Meditation and Movement
During these trying times, a focus on our mental health has never been more important. Allowing kids to set some time aside for exercise, movement, kids yoga, or even breathing exercises can help boost their immune system. Practicing mindfulness activities keep us grounded and support our immune system. Meditation has been shown to reduce inflammation and protect our cells. Spend 10-15 minutes a day before bed with your child and utilize a mediation application to guide you through relaxing breathing exercises. Also, if your kids are learning virtually, recess is more important now than ever. Make sure they get outside and run around; those 30-minutes of exercise can make all the difference in supporting their immune system!