Children & Immunity
Anyone with children knows that as soon as Autumn starts to roll around, all the kids at daycare or school start turning into snotburgers and inevitably your child ends up sick too.
So why do kids seem to get sick more often than adults? The short answer is simply that children have not had as much time for their immune system to mature, and as adults we have been exposed to more germs & viruses (pathogens) than most kids have. Therefore kids are more easily affected by the pathogens that they’re exposed to as their immune system works to fight (and remember) them. (1)
Another key point to remember is the role gut health plays in immune function. Living in the gut are tens of trillions of microorganisms, including over 1000 different species – and that’s just in one human! (2) These microorganisms (known as your microbiota) play an important part in maintaining your immune system balance and act as a first line defense against invading pathogens. There are many factors that can affect the balance of your microbiota, ranging from diet, medications, to even the birth process. (3)
So what can be done by you to improve your child’s ability to fend off bugs and germs this winter?
1. Diet is Key!
As we’ve mentioned above, your gut health and microbiota plays a key role in how well your immune system functions. And the food you eat can determine how well populated and diverse your microbiota is. The “food” that your beneficial bacteria eat are known as prebiotics. Prebiotics can promote the growth of many of your beneficial bacteria – and so it is important to include prebiotic containing foods in your child’s (and your!) diet. Luckily, this can be achieved just by including fresh fruits and vegetables as part of your daily diet. Examples of foods that are high in prebiotics include asparagus, garlic, beetroot, sweet corn, kidney beans, chickpeas, watermelon, nectarines and white peaches. (4) Another benefit of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables is that many of them contain other key nutrients essential for immune function including zinc, vitamin C and antioxidants. Finally, foods high in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon and tuna are also beneficial for the immune system not only helping to reduce inflammation in the body, but by potentially enhancing the activity of some white blood cells. (5)
2. Sleep (HA!)
If you’re a parent, then it’s quite likely that the mere mention of children and sleep sends you to the corner curled up in a ball rocking to and fro in a twitching frenzy. However, as I discussed in my last blog post, sleep is an important requirement for overall health and wellbeing, and it is also very important for immunity. Lack of sleep can suppress immune function and affect how our bodies fight infections. (6) This is true for both adults and children and so it is important to try (as best you can) to ensure that you child gets the amount of sleep for their age. According to the Raising Children Network, children aged 3-5 years need around 11-13 hours sleep per night, children aged 6-9 need around 10-11 hours per night, and from 10 years they will generally need 9 hours sleep per night. (7) Some ideas for the evenings to help wind kids down include;
· Turn off electronic devices 30 mins – 1 hr before bed time and have some sort of quiet activity to help ease them into bed time;
· A warm bath with some Epsom salts and/or bath oils such as the Children’s Blend by Tinderbox to calm their mind and relax their body;
· Flower essences such as Bach Rescue Sleep in the bath or under the tongue;
· Diffusing essential oils in the house or in the bedroom, with calming scents such as Lavender and Chamomile (I personally love the Plant Therapy KidSafe blends);
· Chamomile tea or extract (I love Kiwiherb Kids Calm) is also a nice choice to help unwind at the end of the day.
With the risk of sounding like a broken record, we come again to the importance of exercise. As a rough guideline, children under the age of 5 should be getting a total of 3 hours of physical activity spread throughout the day, and children aged 5-17 should be getting 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. (8) People who are physically active have been shown to be less likely to develop a cold, and those who did recovered much faster than those who were less fit. One theory is that exercise may increase the number of white blood cells which act to reduce a person’s susceptibility to certain diseases. (9) The other advantage of being physically active outside during the cooler months is that being in the sun can help the body make vitamin D, another another nutrient which is essential for immune function. (10)
There are of course many other actions you can take to help your kids get through the winter with minimal sick days – there are some beautiful herbal remedies available for kids that work well to improve symptoms of colds such as congestion and runny noses, and kids supplements that can be used in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle measures to help with improving nutrient intake over the cooler months.
If you would like to find out more about any of the oil blends, essences or extracts mentioned above, or feel you need a little extra help with improving your children’s health then please call 92932999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more or book your appointment.
1. Simon AK, Hollander GA, McMichael A, editors. Evolution of the immune system in humans from infancy to old age. Proc R Soc B; 2015: The Royal Society.
2. Health GMf. Gut microbiota infon.d. 29 March 2017. Available from: http://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/about-gut-microbiota-info/.
3. Wu H-J, Wu E. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut microbes. 2012;3(1):4-14.
4. University M. Dietary Fibre and natural prebiotics for gut health: FAQs2017 29 March 2017. Available from: http://www.med.monash.edu.au/cecs/gastro/prebiotic/faq/ - 6.
5. Gray N. Omega-3 backed to boost immune response, not just battle inflammation: Study2013 29 March 2017d. Available from: http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Omega-3-backed-to-boost-immune-response-not-just-battle-inflammation-Study.
6. Mann D. Can Better Sleep Mean Catching Fewer Colds?2010 29 March 2017. Available from: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/immune-system-lack-of-sleep - 1.
7. About sleep2016 29 March 2017. Available from: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/sleep_the_hows_and_whys.html/context/730.
8. Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. In: Health Do, editor. 2014.
9. Lavelle P. Study proves exercise boosts immune system2010 15 March 2017. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2010/11/02/3054621.htm.
10. ScienceDaily. Vitamin D crucial to activating immune defenses2010 29 March 2017. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100307215534.htm.
Photo credit: Janko Ferlic, www.unsplash.com