Supporting your child’s health during back-to-school season

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As your child goes back to in-person school after a year of online classes, you may be feeling more apprehension than anticipation. The new round of colds and sniffles inevitably comes again every September, and this year’s pandemic presents added stress and worries. Although you can’t control your child’s environment when they’re at school, here’s what you can do: be prepared by taking a proactive approach in keeping your child’s immune system balanced and ready to fight. By taking steps to boost your child’s gut health and nutrition status, you can make a huge difference in their ability to fight off infections. 

How does the immune system work?

Simply put, your immune system is responsible for getting rid of foreign substances that can cause harm to your body. To get rid of these substances as soon as possible, we have two types of immunity. The first, innate immunity, is what everyone is born with. Think of it as a general immunity blanket. If any foreign invader enters your body, this is your first line of defence. Your skin and mucous membranes in your respiratory system are examples of this; both trap invaders from getting into your body and spreading.

If the invaders make it past the innate system mechanisms, they will be stopped by the second line of defence, the adaptive immune system. This system is more sophisticated because it can use specific white blood cells and antibodies to destroy the pathogens. Once your immune cells encounter a pathogen, the adaptive system makes antibodies so that you will remember exactly how to attack that invader if It comes again. For example, if your child has ever gotten chickenpox, their immune system will have a higher chance of fighting it on their own if they get re-infected later as an adult.

How kids develop their immune system

While in the womb, a baby is protected from all pathogens by their mother’s
immune system. But once they’re born, they no longer have the full protection of the mother’s immune system. They need to gain “experience” fighting pathogens so that they can build their own adaptive immunity and antibodies.

Even though children are more vulnerable to infections, it is also the best time for them to develop immunity. During this time, their ability to produce natural
antibodies is enhanced. Their immune cells are mostly untrained and act as a blank canvas to learn how to fight more pathogens.

Why getting sick as a child is important

Each time your child catches the flu or the common cold, it is another opportunity for their adaptive immune system to start learning and memorizing how to fight each kind of infection.

It can be scary to see your young child coughing, with a fever or having a runny
nose. But rest assured, these are all signs that their immune system is working hard to fight the infection and build immunity for the future. If your child doesn’t get sick occasionally, they are missing out on a critical period to develop their immune system!

How can I help my child build a robust immune
system?

Build up their gut health

Did you know gut health and immune health are closely related? The gut is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria. These gut microbes work hard to protect against pathogens while keeping the immune system functional.[1]. To give children a boost of good bacteria, yogurt, kefir and probiotics are great options.

Orange Naturals’ Kids Probiotics contains 8 bacteria strains specially formulated to support a healthy gut. This shelf-stable probiotic powder is unflavoured and can be mixed into drinks or sprinkled on food.

Stick to a strict bedtime schedule

“Can I just stay up a little bit later tonight?” Kids love to ask this, so it is no surprise that 1 in 4 children are not getting enough sleep. Keep in mind that quality sleep is essential when it comes to immune health. During sleep, the body produces immune cells and fortifies both the innate and adaptive immune system. 

Kids need more sleep than adults because it’s precious time for their immune
system to improve its ability in fighting illnesses. Going to sleep at the same time each night will make sticking to bedtimes easier, so that they can get a good night’s rest.

For healthy sleep patterns, Health Canada recommends:

● Children ages 5-13 years old get 9-11 hours of sleep/night
● Children ages 14-17 years old get 8-10 hours of sleep/night

Offer healthy food choices

Kids need a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants to support their developing immune system.[2] This is easier said than done, since most kids prefer snacks and sweets over healthy vegetables. But don’t give up just yet!

If your kids are not used to healthy good options, start by offering fruits at their snacks and meals. Fruits are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, yet delicious and sweet tasting.

Here are a few ways to more fruits to your kids’ diets:

 Blend it into smoothies
● Add it to yogurt
● Serve cereal with freshly chopped banana
● Make ice-pops out of fruit purées
● Replace butter with applesauce in your baking

Get a daily dose of immune-boosting vitamin

Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients to keep the immune system
strong and healthy. It acts as a modulator, checking in on your innate and adaptive immune system to see if they are functioning optimally.[3] Whether the immune system is under- or overactive (due to allergies, autoimmune system), vitamin D supports the body in fighting infections.[4] Because vitamin D is mainly absorbed through the skin during summer mid-day sun exposure, it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D.

Spend time playing outdoors

Taking the kids to your local outdoor playground is more than just a fun pastime. As they spend time outdoors, they increase their vitamin D levels through sun exposure. It is also another opportunity to expose kids to a variety of beneficial bacteria. Studies show that as children build microbiome diversity, their immune system becomes more robust.[5]

 

References

1. Wu, H. J., & Wu, E. (2012). The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut microbes, 3(1), 4–14. https://doi.org/10.4161/gmic.19320
2. Adolphus, K., Lawton, C. L., & Dye, L. (2013). The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 425. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00425
3. Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative
medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical
Research, 59(6), 881–886. https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
4. Prietl, B., Treiber, G., Pieber, T. R., & Amrein, K. (2013). Vitamin D and immune function. Nutrients, 5(7), 2502–2521. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5072502
5. Thompson, H. (2012). Early exposure to germs has lasting benefits. Nature
News.

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