- The immune system is our protective mechanism design to keep us healthy and disease-free.
- Compare to adults, a child’s immune system is young and doesn’t possess as many antibodies to fight infection, and so they are a bit more vulnerable.
- There are ways of how to improve a child’s health and boost their immune system naturally.
- Encouraging outdoor and physical activity will keep them more resilient.
There is growing interest in food, nutrition, and a more holistic view of how our environments affect the function of the human body or, more specifically, the immune system. We all want to do our best to live long and healthy lives, and this determination to survive might even be more prominent when it comes to the ones we love the most, our children.
This desire to learn how to boost a child’s immune system is even greater now as people across the world are shuttered indoors, with a viral pandemic making its rounds.
Our immune system can be thought of as an army that fights disease-causing infection in our bodies.
The immune system:
- Protects our vulnerable entry-points such as our skin and mucosal membranes.
- It can destroy microbes such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites that are pathogenic or disease-causing.
- Some parts of the immune system can target and annihilate specific pathogens using antibodies.
For you and your school-aged child (ages 5 and older), we have compiled a list of eleven simple ways you can improve your lifestyle to better your health and immune system naturally, so that you have a fighting chance against these invaders.
How can I boost my child’s immune system?
Eat a nutritious, balanced diet
Feeding you and your kids a balanced, healthy diet can strengthen the immune system:
- Eat plenty of legumes and whole grains
- Healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (the good ones) from nuts and seeds
- Encourage lots of fruits and vegetables
Promoting the consumption of these foods can ensure that your children are probably getting all the nutrients they need. Not to vilify an omnivorous diet, however, as it can also be nutrient-rich, but it is certainly possible for your family to healthfully subsist on a varied and well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet.
The important thing is to focus on whole foods that are not ultra-processed. Foods rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, help the body function optimally, including, of course, the immune system.
Vitamins and minerals associated with maintaining immune cells numbers and functions include:
- Vitamins C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A and B vitamins
- Minerals such as zinc and iron.
These vitamins and minerals are essential for intestinal and skin cell integrity as well as cell division and growth, which helps improve the primary barrier against infection, as well as helping with the other parts of the immune system.
Follow dietary recommendations by:
- Filling half of your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables
- Quarter coming from carbohydrates (whole grains and starchy vegetables)
- Quarter coming from protein and fat (nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu).
Limit junk food
Consuming a lot of food that is processed and loaded with salt, sugar, and fat may rob a growing child what they need to support their development. That is because highly processed food is rich in calories and low of essential nutrients. Also, diets rich in omega-6 and saturated fatty acids (the bad fats) favor inflammation in the body. They can promote a leaky gut, decrease the proper immune response, not to mention that diets high in saturated fat can predispose people to cardiovascular disease. These fats are found in candy bars, palm oils, deep-fried foods, and red meat, to name a few.
Being sedentary, overweight, or obese even in childhood, can cause diffuse inflammation throughout the body, decrease immune cells in the body, and also decrease the immune response. This is linked to the previous point about the consumption of ultra-processed junk foods, and so maintaining a healthy, normal weight will improve immunity as well.
Eat the colors of the rainbow
Making sure you serve your children the colors of the rainbow, like orange/red, purple/blue fruits and veggies, is a simple way of ensuring that they are receiving foods rich in antioxidants such as carotenoids, anthocyanins respectively and vitamin C. These antioxidant-rich foods help neutralize harmful reactive oxygen compounds created by normal metabolic process that can damage the body and cause inflammation. Serve a variety of delicious, colorful fruits and vegetables that your kids love like blueberries and carrots!
Get your omega-3’s!
A good source of omega-3 fatty acids (good fats) are seeds such as hemp, flax, and chia; also marine plant sources, such as spirulina, chlorella, and seaweed. Omega-3 fats are encouraged and are important for brain and retinal development. They are also integral to boosting a child’s immune system, are anti-inflammatory, and act to modulate the immune response for both adaptive and innate immunity.
Try to increase your child’s physical activity by making a concerted effort to have screen-free times and promoting active play. This activity can come in many forms and can ensure that school-aged children accumulate their recommended 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise, as suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). These activities can include but are not limited to:
- Bike riding
- Going for walks or playing in the yard
- Supervised exercise with mom or dad, or even just running around the house in active play.
Sleep, as many parents can empathize, is a precious and necessary function, especially for your developing child. Children aged 6-13 years should be getting 9-11 hours of sleep to maintain a healthy immune system.
As was previously mentioned, Vitamin D is essential for immunity, and one of its many functions in the body is to support the growth of cells, including various white blood cells.
Vitamin D can be obtained from exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
However, it is advised that the time spent in the direct rays of the sun without protection from clothing or sunscreen should be limited to 15 minutes a day to obtain the recommended amount of vitamin D that is manufactured in the skin.
The sun’s UV radiation is strongest at noon and the early hours of the afternoon when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, so try to avoid these times to get your sunbaths. You should never get sunburn. Finding a healthy balance is vital.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, however, a vitamin D supplement is encouraged. Also, being outdoors promotes happiness and physical activity, which increases well-being and immunity.
Healthy gut flora
Probiotics and prebiotics are both essential for good health. You’re probably familiar with probiotics, the health-promoting bacteria that live in your digestive tract. They keep the intestinal barrier intact; they inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and lessen inflammation while enhancing immunity.
A prebiotic is a form of non-digestible fiber that is “food” for the probiotic bacteria. Since prebiotics feed probiotics, it’s essential to get enough prebiotic fiber in your diet.
For fiber, most fruits and vegetables provide amounts of prebiotic fiber. Some great sources of prebiotic fiber include :
- Jerusalem artichokes
Some probiotic-rich foods are:
- Coconut kefir
Personal hygiene and food safety
These two tips do not necessarily boost immunity directly. Still, they help to lessen the transmission and contraction of disease and illness.
Our bodies are temples, and so we should treat it as such by keeping it clean. Hands, especially those that belong to children, can be a cesspool of germs, so washing hands frequently is essential to lessen the spread of infection. Not to neglect other areas of the body that need tending to, of course.
The mouth is another area you want hygienic practices extended to by having your kids brush their teeth at least twice a day and flossing once a day. This will help boost immunity by preventing gum disease.
Food safety is incredibly important in maintaining health and preventing foodborne illness. This means making sure produce is thoroughly washed in order to avoid contamination. Make sure that you consume cooked foods from the refrigerator under a recommended time frame and prepare food in a clean kitchen with clean tools.
Also, avoid cross-contamination between raw flour or raw animal product (if you cook or consume them), and store and refrigerate foods promptly.
Remove second-hand smoke
Smoking around children or anyone for that matter is harmful to health, increases the rate of infections, and decrease immunity.
- Cause lung and cardiovascular disease and cancer
- Can cause asthma and bronchitis in children
- Increases the risk of ear and lung infection
These refer to foods that are high in nutrients, although they should not be the only ones consumed, they are highly encouraged. Spirulina for example, is a vibrant green cyanobacterium (blue-green algae), that has garnered a lot of attention for the high nutrient content they contain. It can be a very healthy addition to your child’s diet to improve immunity. You can just add it to their smoothies.
This algae supplement is a rich source of many nutrients:
- Essential fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid
- Contains more protein than most vegetables
- Concentrated with carotenoids, which are antioxidants, and is a form of vitamin A and has a concentration 30x higher than carrots!
- B vitamins including vitamin B12 which is typically limited in plant-based diets
- Vitamin C
- Minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous.
Other high nutrient foods consider superfoods that help boost immunity and overall health include:
- Antioxidant-rich berries
- Leafy greens such as romaine lettuce and swiss chard
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Fiber-rich whole grains
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, etc.)
There are many factors that help support a healthy immune system. We all want our families to be healthy and happy. Following these general recommendations are a great start to help us all attain that goal!
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