Back-to-School Immune-Boosting Supplements

16 Nov

Kids are messy. I worked at a daycare for a period of time and I can testify that kids will use anything to wipe their nose: a desk, a coloring book, a shirt, someone else’s shirt. Part of my job was to be a human tissue, and there was nothing I could do about it. During my first six months working there, I got sick constantly, and saw many of the children I cared for come down with cycles of colds and flus.

Back-to-school time might as well be called back-to-rubbing-your-germs-all-over-your-friends time

Starting from the end of September with the weather change and continuing until about March or April is the infamous “flu season”. Many parents find themselves missing work to care for sniffly children, while struggling to keep themselves well. Reducing the amount of time a child gets sick and moderating the severity of their symptoms can go a long way to maintaining parental sanity. Isn’t the epidemic of head lice enough??

In contracting infections, there are two main routes of entry: The mouth and the nose. Train your children to wash their hands frequently and not to eat or put their fingers in their mouth or nose before washing their hands. Failing this practice, there is one super hero protecting us: The Immune System.

So, what can you do to build up your child’s immune system this fall?

1. Reduce sugar as much as possible

Oh, this is a tough one, but it is so very important. It doesn’t mean being “mean mommy” all year long and always denying your children birthday cake or the occasional cookie, but it does mean being conscious of hidden sources of sugar in your child’s diet and truly making treats a treat, rather than an everyday expectation.

Many conventional cereals, jams, flavoured yogurts, granola bars, fruit drinks, and even certain condiments pack more sugar than you would imagine. Sugar directly inhibits the immune system and also competes for absorption with vitamin C. Because the cell usually prefers glucose, less vitamin C is absorbed, and vitamin C is an essential immune nutrient! Slowly wean children off sugar and teach them to prefer fruit over candy. Be patient; it’s possible!

2. As time indoors increases, so should vitamin D supplementation

Is it a coincidence that the flu season coincides with the months where we are less likely to spend outside in the sun? Maybe, but we definitely get less sun exposure in the fall and winter and therefore less vitamin D. Lots of studies have shown that individuals with lower levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to illness, so make sure you are keeping those D levels up! 400 to 1,000 IU per day is an appropriate dose for most children, depending on age.

3. Befriend bacteria (the good kind)

Most people think of digestive health when probiotics are mentioned, but did you know that 70% of your immune tissue lives in your gut? Probiotics help defend our bodies and fight off foreign invaders like pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Kids, especially the younger ones, seem to assess the world though the mouth. Two year old Henry might think, “Not sure about this colourful elastic band I just found under the couch…I better stick it in my mouth to get a better reading”. You can bet a child’s digestive tract comes into contact with some interesting things, so keeping their tummies full of “good guys” is a good call. Look for powders or great tasting chewable probiotics.

4. Stock your herbal dispensary

Herbs aren’t just for old hippies! There are lots of botanicals that are safe for young children. Astragalus, echinacea, black currant, camu camu berry, and elderberry are all safe to use with kids for both preventative and treatment purposes. Look for a camu camu berry powder that can be slipped into a smoothie at 250mg of vitamin C per ½ teaspoon! Professional staff in a good health food store can help you find the right product and the right brand.

These tips are a great starting off point but if you’d like more personalized advice for your child, book an appointment with a qualified holistic practitioner. Sometimes deeper issues are inhibiting your child’s ability to fight off illness, and a holistic practitioner can help uncover those causes.

And for the record, all of these tips are relevant for adults too, so the next time your little guy sneezes directly into your mouth, you’ll be prepared.

Alex-round_EDITAlex Picot-Annand, BA (Psych), is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Certified Life Coach in Toronto, Canada. She provides consultations, face-to-face for local clients, or by phone for those at a distance. Follow her on Twitter at @alexpicotannand.

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