Back to School Immune Support
Back to School Immune Support for the whole family. As we start another school year, catching colds and the occasional flu is unavoidable. Schools are filled with children mingling, and they’re bound to pick up a bug at some point. When one child gets ill, they often pass it on to the rest of the family. I’ve included some reminders and tips that will not only support a healthy immune system, but also aid recovery through natural, non pharmaceutical means.
Health begins in the gut
It has to be said that the gut does more than digest your food. Gut health affects the immune system, the nervous system, sleep and mood. It’s incredibly important to look after your gut, because if it’s not in optimal condition, there will be knock on effects. You can read more about this in a recent blog post What is Gut Health.
Lifestyle Immune Support
With gut health in mind, below are two ways to improve gut health whilst reducing stress and supporting the immune system.
1. Let your children get dirty
Let kids be kids. Let them play in the dirt. Send them out in nature. There have been a few studies that show the diversity of microbes in the guts and on the skin of young kids appeared healthier, in just a short time, when given the opportunity to play outside in the dirt. For the younger ones, think mud kitchen and building forts and for the older ones, a walk through a park or planting and tending to a garden. Spending time outside in nature reduces stress, improves our mood, lets off any nervous energy and often brings us into the moment. What an incredible gift to bestow on your children – teaching them how to reduce their stress and just ‘be’.
2. Get a pet
A study was recently published in the Royal Society of Publishing Biological Sciences showing dog ownership increases 56 different types of bacteria in the home. A cat raises 24 types of bacteria. This idea that the more microbes we are exposed to, the better. Exposure to a variety of indoor ‘germs’ (microbes) has great benefits on our immune system, helping prevent illness. This is in addition to the other benefits to children in that they learn things like empathy and responsibility.
Immune system support through diet
Fuelling our bodies with the right nutrients will help support the immune system. Below are some principles to follow.
1. Reduce sugar intake
- Look for no sugar (artificial sugar) added. Go for low-sugar cereals & granolas.
- Remember, sauces and dressings usually have added sugar
2. Stay hydrated
- Water and milk only
- Stay away from juice, fizzy drinks and sports drinks
3. Plants at every meal.
Aim for 5 servings of vegetables and 2 fruits every day. Variety matters – eat the rainbow.
4. Eat real, whole foods.
Remove processed foods as much as possible. The more processing a food has gone through, the fewer the nutrients left.
5. Add organ meats, or homemade bone broth (chicken or beef)
Organ meats are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. I realise they might be a lot to stomach for some, but they are tasty with some practice and an open mind. Homemade bone broths are very soothing to the gut and great for the immune system.
6. Stay away from vegetable oils
Canola oil, rapeseed oil, vegetable oil are inflammatory and not good for your immune system. Cook your food in butter, ghee, coconut oil or animal fat.
If you’re looking for ideas of what kinds of meals follow the principles above, I recently wrote a blog post Back to School Nutrition Tips for practical meal ideas – simple breakfasts, lunchbox ideas and easy dinner.
Food as medicine
Within these diet principles, there are various nutrients that are crucial for supporting a healthy immune system. I think of these as ‘FOOD AS MEDICINE’. Incorporate as many of these foods as you can into your diet.
Zinc supports a healthy immune response and may reduce risk of respiratory infections. It is also often deficient in children who are picky eaters.
- pumpkin seeds
- Grassfed beef or lamb
- Sesame seeds
- Cashew nuts
- Eggs Organic chicken
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A supports a healthy immune response, is one of the most important antioxidants and often low in children’s diets. The best sources of Vitamin A include
- Liver (liver pate, lamb or beef livers)
Beta Carotene is a nutrient found in fruits & vegetables, which ‘should’ be converted to Vitamin A in the body, but not everyone is able to do this. Foods high in beta carotene include
- Orange fruit & veg: carrots, sweet potato, mangoes, canteloupe
- kale, spinach, broccoli
- red & yellow peppers
- butternut squash, pumpkin
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D supports a healthy immune response, supports a healthy brain, mood and sleep. SUNSHINE is the best source, but difficult to get enough between October – March where I’m based (Northern Ireland). Food sources contain some vitamin D, but not enough in winter months.
- Oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel)
- Cod liver oil
- Cow’s milk / Dairy (avoid when sick though!)
Probiotics support a healthy microbiome, the gut-immune system connection and the gut-brain connection.
- Natural, organic, full fat yoghurt
- Kefir (dairy, coconut)
- Fermented foods: Kombucha, kvass, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kimchi
- Raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- Miso, natto, tempeh
5. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants. It supports a healthy immune system response.
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids support a healthy immune system response, are anti-inflammatory and support brain & heart health.
- Oily fish
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Soybeans (edamame)
- Seaweed / Algae
Glutathione is a master antioxidant which supports the immune system and helps the liver detoxify toxins. Cruciferous vegetables are an excellent source.
- Brussel sprouts
- Leafy greens: swiss chard, rocket, mustard greens, watercress, spinach
Quercetin is a natural anti-histamine and antioxidant. It supports healthy immune response. It also supports zinc’s action on cells.
- Raw onions
- Red apples
- Berries, cherries
- Green or black tea
- Chili peppers
What happens when you or your child get sick?
- Let the body rest and recover.
- Don’t overdo paracetamol and Nurofen. The discomfort is the immune system kicking in.
- Herbal teas with fresh ginger
- Consume easy to digest vegetable soups, chicken soup or chicken broth
- Remember, food as medicine. Focus on the specific foods above.
- Fresh air and sunshine – get your children outside for a gentle walk if possible.
Natural approaches for childhood illnesses
There is a time and a place for pharmaceutical medicines. But there are many other natural remedies that can not only take away discomfort, but also aid in recovery. I’ve listed some of my favourites below.
1. For ear aches
Garlic or mullein oil ear drops (mullein oil also good for soothing coughs). Massage behind the ear and down the neck (vagus nerve) to release tension and increase drainage
2. For aches & pains
Epsom salt bath, gentle massage
3. For sore throat
Warm herbal tea with raw honey (manuka honey is antibacterial), herbal throat spray
4. For congestion
Essential oils: I like Doterra essential oils (Breathe, Air), a combination similar to Albas oil which can be used as an inhalation, on the feet or chest or in a hot bath. You can make your own ‘steam bath’. Put a towel over your head and your head over a bowl of steaming hot water with these added essential oils. Lavender essential oil is relaxing and calming as well.
5. For fever
Put a cool cloth over the forehead. Pop your feet in a bucket of cool water. Drink warm fluids.
Back to School Immune Support
In summary, a nutrient dense, mostly unadulterated diet, along with adequate outdoor time, exercise and sleep are the foundation to keeping healthy. There’s no way around that, we have to earn our health. Supplements shouldn’t be used to replace a poor diet, and that’s not how they work. However, there are times when supplements are helpful and necessary to helping an individual regain their health. If you are interested in discussing personalised nutrition for you or your family, please don’t hesitate to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org