Many families are going into an uneasy and unknown period ahead of them. Kids are going back to school during a pandemic, and it’s understandable that you are anxious about it. While many schools are taking precautions and trying to maximize the safety and wellness of their community, there are some things you and your kids can do to protect their health.
While limiting your kid’s contact with others is definitely a practice to follow this fall (discourage large gatherings with friends), it’s important that your childrens’ immune systems are being supported in case they do come in contact with a sickness going around (virus, cold, flu, etc.). With so many of my patients asking me, “How can I boost my child’s immune system?”, I thought more people out there are likely wondering the same thing!
Obviously boosting your immune system does not guarantee that no one in your home will get sick. However, if the family does come in contact with a sickness, your body will be able to fight it better, so the outcomes are less serious. Here are my top recommendations on how to support your childrens’ immune health.
I get it, kids will be kids. However, I can’t stress the importance of getting enough restorative sleep. Sleep plays a huge role in immune function. Not only sleep but sleep in accordance with your circadian rhythm, contributes to long-lasting immunological memory. When your kids stay up late and get up early for school every day, it leads to great amounts of sleep loss. This can be concerning to their immune health because chronic sleep loss can increase inflammatory markers and lead to immunodeficiency.
While kids are not only staying up late, the majority of them are also exposing themselves to screens (blue light). This can also contribute to poor sleep quality. I’d recommend the family go to bed at a decent time and that screen time should be stopped an hour before bed. Also, some other tips to ensure better sleep is to keep the room dark, cool, and quiet to avoid any disruptions.
Get The Kids Outside And Moving
Regular, moderate exercise is great for enhancing your immune system because it helps increase white blood cells (infection-fighting cells), gets your circulation going, AND it helps reduce stress hormones.
There is a misconception that going out in cold weather will cause you to get a cold. However, this is not true. Encourage your kids to get outside, even on the colder days this fall. Obviously, wear appropriate clothing to be comfortable! Go for family walks, hikes, or bike rides so that the entire family is involved. If it’s rainy outside or you just want to do an indoor activity, there are unlimited exercise programs online. Set up a Zumba or yoga class in the living room for the kids to participate in.
Eat The Rainbow
Make sure your kids are eating the rainbow – no, not a pack of Skittles. I encourage kids, as well as the adults in the house, to eat an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables. Each color has different vital phytonutrients that are great for overall well being. Whole fruits and veggies contain dietary antioxidants (vitamins A, E, and C), which are great for immune function. Not only are these great grab-and-go snacks, but there are great ways to incorporate colorful and nutrient-dense foods into your meals easily.
- Make smoothies with hidden vegetables in it.
- Add some blended up vegetables to your spaghetti sauce.
- If you have little kids, make eating healthy fun. Create pictures out of fruit and veggies (see Pinterest for ideas).
- Have your kids help prep meals. They will be more likely to eat meals that they worked hard to prepare.
- Be a good role model for your kids. If they see you eating junk food, they will want it too. Show them that everyone in the house is trying to eat cleaner.
While it’s important to include these foods into your family’s diet, it’s equally important to reduce the number of processed foods and added sugars. High amounts of sugar can reduce your white blood cells’ ability to destroy harmful bacteria. When your white blood cells aren’t working optimally, your immune system is weakened, and your body is at a higher risk of getting sick.
Keep The Gut Healthy
The gut contains up to 70% of your immune system. You might be wondering, “what does having a healthy gut mean?”. Well, your gut is made up of different kinds of bacteria- beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. When these are in balance, your health is most likely good. However, when the bad “bugs” take over, it can affect pretty much any area of your body. Because your gut health can influence anything from your immune health, hormone balance, weight, and mental health, it’s critical that you are proactive in keeping it balanced.
Here are some ways to enhance gut health to support your immune system:
- Eat fermented foods like yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, kefir, kimchi, etc.
- Take pre and probiotics
- Check for food sensitivities or food intolerances (I offer lab testing to determine if you or your kids have any of these)
- Reduce stress
- Stay hydrated- one way to encourage this is by having a water bottle for each kid that they can carry around throughout the day (or even if it’s just at home, after school).
Supplements For Immune Health
Sometimes our diet and lifestyle choices can only do so much. During this time, it’s especially important that we are giving our body and immune system all the necessary vitamins and nutrients it needs to thrive. Here are a couple I’d suggest looking into.
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
If you are deficient in other vitamins or minerals, it’s important to replenish them as well to make sure your body’s working optimally. If not, it can have a domino effect, ultimately weakening your immune system. I can order your family lab tests to see which nutrients each person needs.
If you are interested in boosting your kids’ immune health, get in contact with Dr. Lisa Ballehr, a Functional Medicine Doctor in Mesa, AZ. I can recommend other tips and tricks to reduce your kids’ chances of getting sick when they head back to school. We can work on optimizing each family member’s health so that you all can thrive together, moving forward.