Keeping Your Child’s Immune System Healthy This Winter

Keeping Your Child’s Immune System Healthy This Winter

The darker, colder months is often a time we succumb to coughs and colds. If you're looking to protect yourself and your children from colds and flu this year there is plenty you can do to naturally support their immune system.  Nutritionist and author of numerous health and recipe books, Christine Bailey, shares her top tips. 

Over to you, Christine:

Firstly it's worth mentioning that both colds and various influenzas are caused by a range of viruses (not bacteria). This is why typically antibiotics are often not appropriate - however remember that sinus, ear, and lung infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) are examples of bacterial infections where antibiotics may be needed. Supporting our immune system to fight infections is the best approach while taking some basic hygiene precautions. There are so many viruses that have evolved to cause colds – around 200 or more. They spread from person to person via small droplets sneezed or coughed into the air, or by mucus that gets onto hands and onto surfaces. So the first thing to do is decrease the risk of transmission by encouraging your children to regularly wash their hands and not to sneeze or cough over people.

Often the reason we suffer with the flu is that the immune system is compromised.  This can be due to low levels of key nutrients but also lifestyle factors such as stress and lack of sleep. For a healthy immune system there are a number of nutrients to consider. 

Vitamin D. There are many studies to show that people with higher vitamin D levels contract substantially fewer colds, flu, and other viral infections Vitamin D also down regulates inflammation. There are only a few food sources of vitamin D. Remember our main source is sunlight which is difficult over the winter months. Oily fish, mushrooms and  full fat milk will contain a little but most people will benefit from a supplement. 

Antioxidants. Immune cells like other cells need protection from damage by free radicals. Free radicals stop our immune system from functioning optimally. Studies have shown that supplementing with antioxidants like vitamins C, E, and A stimulate immune function. Vitamin C is a key component of the immune system. It enhances the production and action of white blood cells; for example it increases the ability of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) to attack and engulf viruses. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the chances of catching a cold and may speed up recovery from a cold. As it is water soluble it is best to take a supplement spread out through the day. Vegetables and fruits such as berries and citrus are good sources of vitamin C. 

Vitamin E is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant and known to enhances the effectiveness of lymphocytes, part of the immune system. Avocados are a great source of vitamin E – try adding it to salads and wraps or mash it up and serve on toast. Snack on nuts and seeds which will provide you with a healthy dose of vitamin E.

Focus on protein. Sufficient protein is important for a healthy functioning immune system so even if your child is not particularly hungry try and encourage them to snack on protein rich foods: chicken soup, cooked meats, eggs, baked beans, fish and seafood are all protein rich foods.  Nairn’s have a number of simple and delicious protein rich products that include their Gluten Free Scottish Porridge Oats and Museli, GF Cheese Wholegrain Crackers, and their Ancient Grain or Organic Super Seeded Oatcakes. 

Magic Minerals. Among children, deficiencies of zinc, copper, and selenium have been linked to immune deficiency and infection. These minerals help maintain a healthy immune system. For example zinc helps support the function of lymphocytes and can decrease inflammation in the body. If you want to increase your intake of zinc include plenty of pumpkin and sesame seeds, lamb, beef, oats, yogurts and prawns. If you feel you or your child is already suffering with a cold or flu you can suck a zinc lozenge for the first few days which may help speed up recovery

Grab Some Oats. Beta-glucans are naturally occurring glucose polymers (polysaccharides) that form the cell walls of certain plants. These polysaccharides have been shown to activate the immune system and in particular enhance macrophages and natural killer cell function. Because the body does not produce beta glucans naturally, the only way to get them is through foods or supplements. The top food sources include oats, barley and mushrooms. So starting the day with a bowl of porridge or home-made muesli, a few Nairn’s oatcakes with nut butter or making a mushroom omelette would be an easy way to increase your intake. 

Keeping the Gut Healthy. Over 70% of our immune system resides in your gut. The gastrointestinal tract relies on friendly bacteria to help support a robust immune response. These probiotic bacteria help prevent foreign bacteria and allergens from passing through the intestinal wall and have been shown to play a key role in a healthy immune system.  You can boost your levels of probiotics by eating fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso daily.

Herbal Support. When flu strikes you may wish to try elderberry syrup. Elderberry extracts have been shown to have anti-viral properties and may help fight colds by activating white blood cells. Echinacea is another popular choice for colds and upper respiratory tract infections and readily available as a tincture which can be added to water.

Garlic is another traditional remedy for colds and infections. When raw garlic is chopped or chewed, it releases an active compound called allicin, which has demonstrated antiviral activity. This may be one of the reasons why chicken soup is such a good immune strengthening dish. Chicken soup especially if packed with garlic and onions provides a wealth of nutrients such as A and C, gelatine and antioxidants, which are known to build a strong immune system and fight off viruses. The protein from chicken also provides amino acids that are used to build antibodies to fight infection. 

To keep our immune system healthy it is important that we address not just our diet but our lifestyle too. Watch your sugar intake - this can suppress the immune system. In addition feeling stressed, not sleeping properly and not exercising regularly can all play havoc on our immune system.

Christine Bailey

Instagram : Christinembailey

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