While our children’s immunity is always on our mind, Fall is often the time of year we start to see those common cold symptoms making their way into the home, making it the perfect time to strengthen your child’s immune system. With cold and flu season hitting us from November to March, getting a head start on supporting the whole family’s immune system is super important! To whether the cold weather with more robust internal defenses (and fewer sick days!), here are 5 ways to support your child’s immune system.
1. Soap Up Often!
Kids are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections because they attend schools and other group settings and are not always the most mindful about hygiene. The #1 way to ward off sickness is to practice frequent hand washing, so encourage your child to lather up regularly. Have your child lather for 20 seconds or say the ABC’s twice. Make sure kids avoid the habit of touching or rubbing their face, especially the nose, eyes and mouth, and have them wash up before they eat, after the eat, when they come inside.
2. Take a Multivitamin
Another lifestyle factor that can minimize the risk of your kids getting sick is ensuring they are eating unprocessed, fresh, and whole foods low in sugar. Because it’s not always easy to ensure your kids are eating well-balanced meals 100% of the time, especially for time-crunched families and picky eaters, one of the best ways to close nutritional gaps is to incorporate a multivitamin and mineral. A good multivitamin will contain a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals needed for healthy teeth, bones, skin, nerves, brain, metabolism and immunity. Look for ones containing zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin K2 and ones that are naturally sweetened with stevia and xylitol.
3. Serve More Probiotic-Rich Foods
Studies have shown that mild or asymptomatic outcomes from flu infection can occur in as many as 50-77% of infected people, which explains why a healthy immune system is a critical factor. With roughly 70% of our immune system being located in our digestive tract, probiotics are another way to support immunity. These good, healthy bacteria specifically enhance immunity, help to prevent infections before they start, reduce the need for antibiotics, and improving digestion and nutrient absorption. Building up good gut bacteria can be achieved by serving up more probiotic-rich foods and taking a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods like pickles, kombucha (they have many flavoured kinds that kids would like), or unsweetened yogurts mixed with fresh chopped or pureed fruit make a great snack. If you have an extra picky eater, try a kid-friendly probiotic powder that you can mix into their favourite drink, or sprinkle onto their cereal for a painless dose of immune-strengthening good bacteria.
4. Out with the Sugar and in with Vitamin C-Rich Fruits and Veggies
Sugar has been shown to alter our microbiome in some pretty extreme ways, like feeding the more pathogenic sugar-loving bacteria, which can crowd out beneficial, immune-strengthening bacteria. Sugar has also been shown to decrease the effectiveness of our white blood cells. Instead of sugary snacks, have fruit rich with vitamin C and antioxidants like oranges and blueberries. Load up on fibre rich veggies (also good for the gut) like carrots with protein rich hummus and nut butter on celery.
5. Get Some Sunshine in a Bottle
Outside time is so important not only for the exercise and fresh air but for the “sunshine vitamin” aka vitamin D. Even though we need to encourage our kids to be outside as much as possible all year round, come fall the amount of time they can really enjoy the sunshine is limited. The body absorbs sunlight using cholesterol to convert it to a usable form of vitamin D, which is required by our immune system in particular. Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses and a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection. A study done by Sick Kids found that one third of urban Canadian toddlers were deficient in vitamin D. Kids can stock up now by taking 1000IU of vitamin D daily to counter what we aren’t getting during our long, dark, northern winters.
With appropriate vitamin and mineral support, a healthy lifestyle, and proper hygiene we can get our kids back on their feet again and prevent the cold and flu from interfering with all of our lives.
 Nonpharmaceutical Interventions for Pandemic Influenza, International Measures. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2006; 12(1):81-87. doi:10.3201/eid1201.051370  Maguire, J. L., et al. Prevalence and predictors of low vitamin D concentrations in urban Canadian toddlers. Paediatrics & Child Health. 2011; 16(2): e11–e15. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/16.2.e11