Back to School: Boosting your children's immune systems
It’s that time of year again when all the parents are busy getting ready for back to school, but this year in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic is a very different “getting ready”. Previous years the biggest concerns may have been getting all the books covered, uniforms sorted and of course the back to school haircut!
This year is a whole different ball game and unfortunately we have a lot more to worry about as the children head back to the classroom. The schools will of course do a great job protecting the children as best they can, but how can you help them at home?.
One of the biggest worries for parents is the children catching the common cold or flu, which was previously sorted with good old Calpol and cuddles!! Now every sniffle is going to result in more time off school and more worry for parents, as when you have a cold the immune system slows down, which of course is the big worry right now and with the cold damp weather and the dark evenings just around the corner, we know the cough’s and colds are never far away!
When the temperature drops, the chance of coming down with a cold or the flu increases significantly. That’s because you’re likely to be inside more and the common cold thrives better in dry air than where there’s humidity. And, when you spend more time indoors, you’re exposed to more germs.
The flu virus is also transmitted much faster when it’s cold out because the lipid (fatty) coating of the virus becomes more resilient the colder it gets.
Your immune system is the most powerful weapon you have against disease. Strong immunity means that the body is better able to fight off viruses and germs. Read on for my tips for maintaining a strong immune system throughout the school year!
EAT REAL FOOD
Your body needs real, unprocessed food to stay healthy, so do not be fooled by all the clever marketing that is used on many of the products that we see on the supermarket shelf.
Instead focus on eating natural, unprocessed food as often as possible. Follow the 80/20 rule (this means eating healthily 80 of the time) – think fresh fruit rather than fruit juice, or wholegrain bread instead of a white bread.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables is essential for optimum immune health. Look for foods high in Vitamins C, D, and E, as well as beta-carotene, a form of Vitamin A, as these are key for a healthy immune system. Some foods that boost the immune system are: fruits, such as grapefruit, oranges, clementines, papaya, kiwi, lemons, and tangerines, vegetables high in Vitamin C, like spinach, red bell pepper, and broccoli,
Garlic which has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and is known to boost the immune system, thanks to the sulfur-containing compound, allicin. Of course I don’t expect the children will be open to munching on raw garlic, but there are many ways to get it into the diet as it can be added to sauces, soups, stews, curries etc.
Full fat live yogurt, which contains active cultures and Vitamin D that help support the immune system is ideal to add to smoothies for an immune boosting breakfast or after school snack.
ENJOY GUT HEALTHY FOODS
Up to 80% of our immune system is in the gut. The mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) in the gut is part of the first line of immune defence, so getting the right balance between beneficial, or ‘good’ gut bacteria, and the ‘bad’, or potentially pathogenic bacteria, is key.
How to do this:
The gut environment takes a beating year after year, owing to poor diets, too much sugar, stress, antibiotics and other factors. Even if you have no obvious tummy troubles, digestive health is vital, so it’s worth the extra effort to take care of it.
Add probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet, as these re-populate the gut with good bacteria and feed them well enough to crowd out bad bacteria.
Here are some gut-friendly choices to get you started:
Organic, probiotic, natural yoghurt
Miso soup or miso bouillon paste (add these to soups and stews)
Oats (soak first, as you would to make overnight oats, in order to release the goodness)
Onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes
Fermented foods such as kefir can be easily added to smoothies
Foods high in fibre such as beans and lentils which are easily added to soups and stews.
Cooked, then cooled potatoes as these are high in resistant starch which acts as a fertilizer to the good gut bacteria.
Did you hear that chicken soup is great when you’re unwell? If you thought it was just an old wives’ tale, you’d be wrong. Research suggests that a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup can slow the speed at which neutrophils move around your body. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system, protecting your body from infection. When the neutrophils move slowly, there’s a greater chance of them becoming more concentrated in the areas of your body that need the most healing. Studies have shown chicken soup to be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms in upper respiratory system infections like the common cold.
After all the treats over the summer, it’s now time to start reducing the amount of sugar the kids (and the parents) have been enjoying!
Sugar fans the flames of inflammation and affects the ability of white blood cells to fend off viruses and bacteria. In fact, the immune system stays depressed for hours after consuming sugar, according to recent studies. There is no better time to clear out the “goodies press”
DRINK MORE WATER
Encourage the children to make water their drink of choice. Water is a miracle worker. It flushes germs from your system, helps your blood to carry plenty of oxygen to your body’s cells and allows those cells to absorb important nutrients. If you struggle to get water into yourself or your children, try infusing it with slices of lemon, lime, oranges and some mint leaves.
As difficult as this is to achieve in winter, spending sufficient time in sunlight is a vital immune booster.
Vitamin D is made by your skin absorbing sunlight, so spending time outdoors with the children will benefit the whole family. Supplement vitamin D levels by eating more of the following foods: oily fish (salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna), beef liver, mushrooms, cheese, egg yolks and vitamin D-fortified foods, such as dairy products and orange juice. There are also some great vitamin D supplements on the market that the whole family could benefit from.
GET BACK TO BASICS
An age-old way to boost immunity is by following childhood rules – wash hands, go to bed early and take some exercise.
These simple measures may seem boring (and more difficult to achieve than popping a pill), but science proves that they work.
And your immune system will thank you for it.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to health issues, such as memory problems and depression, but it can also lead to a weakened immune system. Lack of sleep is correlated with higher levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Stress is known to suppress the immune system. Studies have shown that less than 5 hours of sleep negatively affects the immune system, and that 7 to 9 hours of sleep is ideal for adults, and 9 to 11 hours of sleep is ideal for school-age children.
Regular, moderate exercise boosts the cells responsible for attacking bacteria. These cells also appear to work faster in those who exercise, which better equips your immune system against viruses and infections. However, be aware that immune response may dip for several hours after intense exercise. A 30-minute brisk walk is a great activity to improve your immune system, so stick on the wet gear if you need to and get the kiddies out running around!
Food should always be the first choice; however, supplements do have their place especially if you have fussy eaters. Top of the list for immunity are a good probiotic, a multivitamin, vitamin C & D and zinc.
For most people, a daily probiotic will help maintain the right balance of bacteria in the gut.
A multivitamin bridges the gap between what you are eating and what you should be eating, and takes care of any major deficiencies.
Go large when it comes to vitamin C, both in food and supplement form. Broccoli and red peppers contain more C than oranges (contrary to popular belief) and there are loads of other foodie options, too: kale, cauliflower, parsley, spinach, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, pineapple, mango, papaya and citrus fruits.
Top up zinc levels by eating more palm-sized pieces of lean meat (especially lamb, beef, venison and turkey), pumpkin seeds, ginger root, green veggies, oats, nuts, sesame seeds, yoghurt and scallops.
Debbie Devane from The Nutri Coach is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and health & lifestyle coach, Debbie runs her clinic from the Glenard Clinic in Mountmellick, Laois and also offers one to one and group online consultations. Debbie is also Nutritionist to the Offaly GAA senior footballers. For more information or to make an appointment email Debbie at
Facebook: The Nutri Coach @debbiedevanethenutricoach
For more information go to www.thenutricoach.ie