Start building your children's immunity now: Back to school health
It might seem a little bit early in the summer to be focusing on going back to school in September already, but even though the start of the new school term might feel like a long way off, now is definitely the best time to start implementing some simple steps to bolster your child’s immune health.
Children notoriously catch every bug going once they are all back together under one classroom roof, but just a few simple changes made to their diet and lifestyle now can really make a difference in the new school term.
We have blogged before about the best dietary guidelines to follow in order to boost the immune system, and most people know the importance of fresh fruit and veg (you can read more about that here), but there are many lesser known steps you can implement to boost the immune system, and some have nothing to do with what you are eating.
5 Back to School Health Tips
1. More sleep
Make sure your children are getting enough quality sleep. Experts say that the majority of children these days are not getting the optimum amount of sleep. Depending on their age, this can vary between 10-14 hours per night, but it’s the quality of sleep as well as the duration of sleep that is important. A lack of sleep is known to suppress the immune system, and make us more likely to succumb to bacterial and viral infections.
In order to sleep deeply we are reliant on adequate production of the sleep hormone melatonin, but melatonin is only secreted in response to a lack of light, therefore in order to sleep deeply, children (and adults) must sleep in a dark room. Black out blinds or curtains are helpful, but in addition any light from electronic gadgets should be dealt with. Most electronics emit a blue light, which directly hinders the production of melatonin. Our natural circadian rhythm relies on us getting plenty of ‘blue’ light during the day, to keep us alert, and then only ‘red’ light in the evening to allow the release of melatonin to make us sleepy. If children are looking at computer or phone screens in the hours leading up to going to bed, they are being exposed to a lot of blue light which could disrupt their sleep. You can change the type of light emitted on both computer and phone screens from blue light to red light, using a readily available free download.
2. Limit sugar
Reduce the amount of sugar your children consume. Sugar is known to suppress the immune system1 for as much as five hours after its ingestion. It appears that when we consume refined sugars, the ability of our white blood cells to gobble up (or 'phagocytose' to give the medical term) bacteria reduces dramatically, therefore putting us at more risk of picking up infections. (Interestingly, fasting for as little as 36 hours increases the phagocytic capabilities of our white blood cells, which is one of the reasons why intermittent fasting can be good for us!)
3. Food intolerances
Avoid known food intolerances. Consuming foods that we are intolerant to sets up a chain reaction of inflammation in the gut, which then hinders absorption of nutrients, and therefore reduces immune function. Most common food intolerances are to: wheat, dairy, eggs and soy. If your child has symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea these could be signs of a food intolerance, and are worth getting investigated by a qualified Nutritional Therapist who can organise testing.
4. Look after their gut flora
Friendly bacteria colonies in the gut are our first line of defence against ingested bacteria and viruses, and they can also ‘communicate’ with our immune cells. If this protective barrier of friendly bacteria is not strong then we are more susceptible to invading bacteria and viruses. Ideally all children like the taste of traditional fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut! If not it may be worth looking into a daily, high quality probiotic supplement containing the correct strains of friendly bacteria for an infant gut.
Health practitioners may be interested to know that the strains of live cultures Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, Bifidobacterium infantis Rosell-33, and Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71 along with Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) fibres, have been shown in clinical research to support children's health, with less likelihood of upper respiratory tract infections in infants, and fewer days needed off school.
5. Reduce their stress
Children respond to stress in exactly the same way as adults do, with an increase in stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. If these hormones are elevated over a long period of time it results in a suppression of the immune system. It is important that children get adequate relaxation and play time, and if possible that they have a creative outlet. Creative play uses the right hemisphere of the brain, whereas logical thought uses the left side of the brain. Activities that use the right side of the brain, such as drawing, dancing, singing, playing board games, doing a jigsaw puzzle and taking a walk in nature trigger the release of endorphins that not only relax us, but also boost our immune system. Everybody can benefit from activating their right brain more often…Laughter really is the best medicine going!
Making just a few small changes can make a really big difference to your child’s health, and decrease the likelihood of them picking up every bug going from their fellow classmates. The only down side to that (in their eyes at least) is that from now on they might have to pray to the ‘weather Gods’ for snow to force school closures in order to get an extra duvet day each winter!
To read more about probiotics and immunity healthcare practitioners may like to read Kerry's great blog post here.