When the lines begin to blur between school season and cold season, children unintentionally pass around their illnesses. Because of the common cold, an estimated 22 million school days are missed every year, (1) and influenza claims another 38 million, (2) so let’s discuss how to strengthen the immune system for kids.
When colds and flu cycle through the family, parents need to be home with their ill children and many parents cannot afford to lose that time away from work. It would be so much better to focus on boosting your child’s immune system to help prevent or lessen the frequency of these illnesses.
Not only do we need to prevent common illnesses because of the time away from school and work, but we also want to avoid the need to treat these illnesses in our children. The common cold, for example, is viral and its symptoms are simply the immune system working to deactivate the virus (which means antibiotics aren’t an option).
Drugs Mask the Symptoms
Treatments for the common cold merely mask the symptoms, which can be damaging for younger children and does nothing to end the illness. (3) Similarly, the flu virus is not something that can be “cured,” merely alleviated until it runs its course.
WebMD talks about the importance of your children having a healthy immune system. Let’s look beyond the sniffles because having a strong immune system in childhood is essential to prevent allergies and autoimmune conditions, in addition to other long term chronic illnesses.
Just as a baby’s brain needs stimulation, input, and interaction to develop normally, the young immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs so that it can learn, adapt, and regulate itself, notes Thom McDade, PhD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University… ’We’re moving beyond this idea that the immune system is just involved in allergies, autoimmune diseases, and asthma to think about its role in inflammation and other degenerative diseases,’ McDade says. (4)
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Tips for How to Boost Children’s Immune System
The importance of a well-functioning immune system cannot be understated. While we can never guarantee our children will be illness free, focusing on a few simple changes – controlled exposures, supplemented nutrition, reduced stress, and adequate rest – can make a significant difference in boosting your child’s immune system and preventing other minor illnesses now and chronic ailments in the future.
1. Exercising The Immune System
McDade’s research mentioned above noted an early exposure to animal feces and the occurrence of diarrhea in toddlerhood corresponds with less inflammation in adulthood. McDade and his team have since added more to the growing body of evidence in favor of beneficial exposures, including information published in 2012 by the American Journal of Human Microbiology.
Finding similar results, they evaluated over 1,400 participants and their early environmental exposures. By exercising the immune system exposures to certain triggers, it seems that the immune system can function better later in life. (5)
There’s a growing theory that our disturbing prevalence of auto-immune illnesses and chronic inflammation could be the result of a “bored” immune system that has not been exercised and left to turn against itself. We need to be careful not to go overboard in sanitization and sheltering our kids. While basic hygiene is obviously important, it can be detrimental to keep our children away from normal environmental exposures.
2. Proper Supplementation
Affected heavily by the foods that we and our children eat, the gut is a key player in the immune response. Immunonutrition is a new whole discipline that has emerged in this field, which evaluates the way that nutrient intake and foods affect the immune system and its responses. (6)
We can feed our children varied nutrients in order to give them the best foundation possible while science continues to emerge regarding the nuances of food intake, gut health, and immune response.
Over a fourteen month study, it was found that supplementing with a good micronutrient blend lessened illness duration in children. (7) Beta glucan stands out as one of the more prominent micronutrient supplements for immune system support, as demonstrated in 2013 by University of Kentucky researchers.
Beta glucan has the ability to modulate the immune system. Children in this study showed both reduced stress and improved mucosal immunity, key components of illness prevention. The “strong effects of glucan supplementation on the overall health status of all children in this group” indicate beta glucan as a safe and beneficial supplement to boost children’s immune systems. (8)
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3. Reducing Stress
As adults, our stress is mainly centered on bills and work and living our adult lives, but children are not exempt from the effects of stress. A body weighed down by stress is limited in its ability to thrive. It’s important to help children reduce stress and regain both general health and the care-free feeling that childhood should bring by helping them manage their time and expectations.
One of the major sources of stress for children is dealing with excessive homework. Beginning as young as kindergarten and leading to an overload of homework in high school, kids are expected to learn all throughout the school day, and then come home to continue the homework for hours each night.
A 2013 study from Stanford evaluated the effects that this kind of stress had on kids. The results found that 82% of respondents indicated that at least one physical symptom was related to stress, including “sweating, headache, exhaustion, weight loss, weight gain, stomach problems, and/or sleeping difficulties.” (9)
Because of homework overload and screen time obsession, children are not getting enough sleep. When sleep is disturbed, our immune systems are disturbed as well. To have an efficient immune response, it is important to have a stable circadian rhythm. (10)
Encouraging stable bedtime routines and adequate sleep can give your child’s body the time it needs to recover from the day’s activities before being exposed to the next day’s stresses and illnesses. Taking screens – TVs, tablets, devices, phones – out of a child’s room while they sleep is one of the best places to start boosting your child’s immune system. (11)
Want more ideas to keep your kids healthy? Check out some of our favorite essential oil remedies for kids health.
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