So….we’ve all heard the dreaded term, “FLU SEASON.” What that really means is it’s not just the flu we’re susceptible to. It seems like almost every illness under the sun lurks at our doorsteps, waiting to invade whatever body is not able to quickly put up its sickness boxing gloves. We can wash your hands as much as we want, but unless our bodies are well-equipped with strong immune responses, it’s just not enough. Wintertime tends to grace us with higher rates of illness due to the fact that we are stuck indoors more (which then leads to our air being sabotaged with all of our germs), our Vitamin D levels drop due to decreased sun exposure, and our eating habits may shift to heavier (and even more sugary) foods. Some people think that “flu season” is just a myth and we need to be on-guard at all times to keep our immune systems in tip-top shape. Whatever your theory may be, here are some immune-boosting ideas to keep you and your little ones as healthy as ever. Feel free to incorporate as many of these recommendations as you wish; think of it as a “the more, the merrier” approach.
HEALTHY DIET: Despite the gazillion dietary supplements one can take to stay healthy, nothing beats your vitamins, minerals, and nutrients being obtained from a healthy diet. Eating organic is best (despite what some of the critics may say) due to the fact that organic produce is grown in more nutrient-dense soil (therefore, passing those vitamins and minerals on to you) and free from any pesticides and chemicals.
Fresh produce is high in vitamin C, which, according to Dr. Sears, “increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C is also essential for the production of lymphocytes (a strong line of defense against illness). Vitamin C obtained from fruit and vegetables is in its natural form (rich in bioflavonoids) that supports immunity and metabolism and is better absorbed and works more efficiently.
Dr. Sears explains bioflavonoids perfectly: “A group of phytonutrients called bioflavonoids aids the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental pollutants. Bioflavonoids protect the cell membranes against the pollutants trying to attach to them. Along the membrane of each cell there are microscopic parking spaces, called receptor sites. Pollutants, toxins, or germs can park here and gradually eat their way into the membrane of the cell, but when bioflavonoids fill up these parking spots there is no room for toxins to park.” An easy idea to get Vitamin C and bioflavonoid-rich produce into your child’s diet is by blending either kale and/or baby spinach into a smoothie with bananas, dates (for natural sweetness), vanilla, and water (and/or aloe vera juice).
One of my favorite books, “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” by natural nutritionist Phyllis Balch, notes beta carotene (which converts to Vitamin A), found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, the anti-infection vitamin. Supplementation of beta carotene or Vitamin A is not always recommended, as it can lead to potential toxicity in children if not dosed/monitored properly. Therefore, consuming beta carotene in natural sources such as carrots, yams, apricots and mangoes avoids this potential toxicity.
Another food to add to the mix of healthy foods to put in your child’s diet are pumpkin seeds, as they are rich in zinc, another immune-system booster. This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Zinc increases the number of infection-fighting T-cells, especially in people with weakened immune systems. Beef, turkey, and beans are other good sources.
Still not sure what to feed your kids to boost immunity? Here are some other easy foods loaded with vitamins and minerals that can be incorporated into many snacks or meals:
- Green pepper
SLEEP: Aside from having some quiet time to ourselves as parents, sleep has to be one of the most important ways to keep a body healthy. Our bodies work at an amazing rate during periods of sleep and most detoxification and repair are done between the hours of 1am-4am (when your liver is hardest at work). Cell repair and growth occurs most during sleep, so if adequate amounts of RESTFUL, SOUND sleep are not made available, the human body cannot do its best to ward off germs and illness. Additionally, some experts say that taking supplements at night before bed allows the body to utilize the surge of vitamins and minerals as a boost to the repair work it needs to do. Children should be getting a minimum of 8-12 hours of sleep A DAY in order to stay healthy. (Next week’s post will be dedicated to the benefits of healthy sleep habits).
VITAMIN D: I know you’ve probably recently heard the hot topic of why higher levels of Vitamin D can benefit our health. Well, I am a firm believer in this. A 2010 Danish study shows that Vitamin D greatly supports immunity by activating human-T cells that fight off infections in the body. When T-cells can’t find vitamin D in the blood, they won’t take action to destroy invading germs. This allows infections to flourish in people with low serum levels of D. Other scientific studies have shown Vitamin D to be effective in warding off secondary effects of illness (i.e. asthmatic/respiratory responses in children who come down with the flu).
Some debate about supplementing with Vitamin D is how much to actually dose, especially in children. Normally, the sun is the best source of D, as our skin produces about 10,000 IU with just 15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen. However, during cold and flu season, the sun’s angle is too weak to trigger D production in the human body. Additionally, since Vitamin D is hard to come by in food, (some foods, such as fish and fortified milk and juice contain Vitamin D, but not in high enough amounts to be therapeutic), supplementing is optimal. Look for vitamin D3 (sometimes called cholecalciferol) as opposed to other forms of the vitamin, for D3 has been used in almost all clinical studies and it is also the most easily absorbed compared to other D vitamins. D2 works as well, but it’s not as effective and can cause problems in high doses, which is why experts recommend avoiding this form of vitamin D. The RDA for Vitamin D is 400 IU a day (which is not nearly enough to be therapeutic). Aim for 1,000-3,000 IU a day for your child and between 2,000-6,000 IU a day for adults (the best way to know accurate dosing is to have your blood tested to see where levels exist). Nordic Naturals makes a great DHA fish oil supplement with D3 already built in!
COLOSTRUM SUPPLEMENTS: OK, this may sound weird, but yes, supplements utilizing polypeptides extracted from bovine colostrum are extremely effective at building immunity. I recall first learning about colostrum and not becoming a believer until I tried it when I felt like I was getting sick….and having my illness quickly thwarted. The use of colostrum focuses around the recommendation that breastfeeding is considered to be the most important food a baby can have when born (and thereafter) because human colostrum has the greatest source of antibodies and immune-boosting food for the newborn. This same concept is what supports the use of colostrum supplements. The polypeptides help promote healthy immunity in the body by regulating biochemical reactions that control immune response.
Colostrum has high levels of protein, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and antibodies called immunoglobulins. According to scientific research, the molecular structure of colostrum from cows is identical to human colostrum (which is why cow or bovine colostrum can be used to make colostrum supplements for human use). Drugs.com states that the recommended dose of colostrum supplements varies, depending on the level of antibodies present in each batch. Most studies involving the use of colostrum supplements have used between 25 mL to 125 mL doses for liquid supplements — and 10 g to 20 g for the powdered versions.
There are sprays available that are very kid-friendly (as for adults!). I use Immulox Spray because it’s naturally vanilla-flavored and is easy to give my baby (I mix it in his milk or it can be sprayed right in the mouth). *Those with milk allergies need to use a lactose-free base (these are available in powder form). Symbiotics is another brand I have used for pill-form colostrum supplements.
OMEGA 3s AND HEALTHY FATS: According to Dr. William Sears, author of “The Premature Baby Book,” omega-3 essential fatty acids found in salmon, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts increase the activity of macrophages (white blood cells that destroy bacteria). According to Dr. Sears, “A study found that children taking a half teaspoon of flax oil a day experienced fewer and less severe respiratory infections and fewer days of being absent from school. The omega 3 fatty acids in flax oil and fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) act as immune boosters by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria.” Essential fatty acids (EFAs) also protect the body against damage from over-reactions to infection. When taking essential fatty acid supplements, such as flax or fish oils, take additional vitamin E, which acts together with essential fatty acids to boost the immune system. One way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is to add one to three teaspoons of flax oil to a fruit and yogurt smoothie. Chia seeds make a fun drink or pudding for children as they quickly assume a gel-like consistency in water or juice. Add them to smoothies, too. Nordic Naturals makes a decent Omega-3 fish oil blend for kids and babies (that also includes Vitamin D3). Thankfully, MySuperFoods already includes healthy doses of Omega-3s in their granola bites, which is a much tastier way for kids to get their Omega-3s!
PROBIOTICS AND FERMENTED FOODS (They’re not as bad as they sound!): As mentioned in last Monday’s blog post, probiotics are helpful, live bacteria that are present in supplements and many fermented foods such as kefir, natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt (watch for sugar), and olives. One of the most healthful fermented foods is kefir, which is an ancient cultured, enzyme-rich food full of friendly microorganisms that balance your “inner ecosystem” and strengthen immunity. I recommend a daily intake of either a probiotic supplement and/or foods rich in probiotics, as they serve as huge immune boosters and also balance out your digestion. Dr. Mercola states that, “Friendly bacteria have a powerful, beneficial effect on your gut’s immune system, your first line of defense against pathogens, and aid in the production of antibodies.”
IMMUNE-BOOSTING HERBS: You may have seen in some health food stores different herbal “blends” or “syrups” tailored to children’s immune health. For example, herbs such as Astragalus root, Echinacea root, Marshmallow root, and Red Clover blossoms are known to have an immunologic response by helping the body respond better to attacks of bacteria and viruses that enter the blood and mucous membranes. These syrups are worth a try if your child (and yourself!) is willing to take them, as there are many positive testimonials validating their effectiveness.
Stay tuned next week for why sleep is so important for our bodies, mind, and soul!