Supporting your child’s immune system

The children heading back to school tends to herald the start of a cycle of illness – including colds, flu and tummy bugs. This is an unfortunate consequence of putting lots of children in close proximity, in warm rooms, and allowing them to breathe, sneeze and cough on each other! We can’t do anything about this, and it does lead to an easy spread of illness and infection.

However, the good news is that there are things we can do which will help to strengthen our children’s immune systems and help make them more resistant to tummy bugs.

SUPPORTING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

There are certain nutrients which are vital for supporting a healthy immune system: these include zinc and vitamin D, both of which are thought to be low in many children. Looking for a kid’s immune support supplement which includes these nutrients would therefore be helpful.

Furthermore, although children can’t use many of the supplements usually included in adult formulations, they can take elderberry – which has the double advantage of tasting delicious and having a natural anti-viral action! Studies have shown that taking elderberry supplements can help to eliminate viruses from the body and shorten both the duration and severity of colds.

BOOSTING THE GOOD BACTERIA

Another children’s supplement to look out for is a child-specific probiotic, as these can have broad ranging benefits for the immune system – both in fighting off stomach infections and in supporting brain function.

It’s a little-known fact, but up to 80% of the immune system is influenced by the gut. The bacteria which live there play a valuable role in the immune response, and in fighting and preventing infectious bacteria from attacking the bowel. If levels of these good bacteria are low – due to antibiotics, dietary influences or illness – then our children will be more prone to allergies, illness and tummy bugs.

A child’s gut flora is different to that of an adult, so there are key strains to look out for when sourcing a good bacteria supplement for your child. These include:

• Lactobacillus reuteri – helps to support and strengthen the immune response

• Bifidobacteria infantis – specific to a child’s gut, this species supports the health of the intestines, the bowel and the immune system

• Streptococcus thermophilus – has been shown to reduce the incidence of stomach upsets and diarrhoea, as well as improve growth in children.

SUPPORTING BRAIN HEALTH

What is particularly interesting, is that – in addition to helping to keep a child in school by preventing infections – the bacteria found in a microbiotic formula could also help to improve their concentrationfocus and behaviour. Studies have indicated that the brain and the gut are intimately linked and in constant communication. They have also shown that our gut bacteria are responsible for helping to reduce anxiety and stress. Scientists report that children with a good variety of gut flora were more likely to be happycurious and impulsive.

In addition to ensuring a healthy level of good bacteria, the other, well-researched way of supporting brain performance and focus is to ensure a healthy intake of the omega-3 fat, DHA. One study into the benefits of using DHA supplements in school children showed that taking additional DHA could help to improve reading ability and behaviour.

The body is unable to manufacture DHA, so it is essential that we consume it in our diets or via supplements. The best food sources of DHA are salmon, fresh tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines. It is recognised that typical intake of these foods by children worldwide is low, which has led to many foods being ‘enriched with omega-3’. The trouble with this is that generally, to prevent foods tasting of fish, plant sources of omega-3 are used; Plant sourced omega-3 does not provide a direct source of DHA, and therefore is not as effective as including oily fish or a fish sourced DHA supplement.

Written by Jenny Logan DNMed. (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years).

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