Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Survival Of The Fittest: How to Boost our Kids Immune System

As parents, we constantly worry about our children getting sick.  Just recently, my girls  have been talking about a cold or flu "going around" as if it were making the rounds infecting every child in its path.  In B’s class alone, there have been 8 girls absent, one after the other.  They say the class picture taking has been cancelled for one grade level due to over 10 students being absent in one class alone.  

Still closer to home, B and I both just recovered from sickness.  B went down with fever, although she tested negative for dengue, her platelet was at a level that’s slightly lower than normal.  We had to observe her platelet count for a few days, subjecting her to quite a number of needle pricks. Half a week lasted before her platelet count returned to normal levels. 

The reality is that out of all the children exposed to a virus, only a portion of these children will get sick to some degree and others will not give way to the disease at all. This is because the strength of our children’s immunity, not just the strength of the germs, also determines our kids’ vulnerability to the viruses, bacteria, and other germs that constantly circulate in our world. 

While it’s nearly impossible to avoid all of the flu, colds and other things that come hand-in-hand with large groups of kids, we can give our kids (and ourselves) a leg up with immune system boosters that can shorten the length and severity of sickness – and maybe even keep a few at bay.  Here are some healthy habits we can instill in our kids:

1.  Wash your hands! Germs are easily pick up, especially around kids who are already sick with coughs or colds. It is important to keep remind our kids the importance of washing the hands, especially after using the bathroom.
2.  Get plenty of rest.  Pediatric sleep experts agree that a healthy, deep sleep allows our children’s bodies to release a significant amount of growth hormone that boost the immune system and allows it to regenerate itself and fight off disease.  Especially during school season, a rigorous sleep schedule helps little energetic bodies wind down and busy minds rest. 

The National Sleep Foundation offers these guidelines on how much sleep our child should be getting.
  • Newborns (10.5-18 hours of sleep)
  • Infants 3-11 months (9-12 hours of sleep at night, plus day naps of 2-4 hours)
  • Toddlers 1-3 years old (12-14 hours)
  • Preschoolers 3-5 years old (11-13 hours)
  • School-Age, 5-12 years old (10-11 hours )
I know how tempting it is to push our kids to finish reviewing for that math exam; but in our household, C is adamant that the 2 younger kids be in bed by 8:30 pm.  9:30pm at the latest for my eldest, if let’s say swimming training has finished late and consequently dinner had also been eaten later than usual.
3.  Make Healthy Meals That Your Child Actually Will Like-This can be very challenging if you have a picky eater.  But in my household, everyone – husband included, has been trained to eat what’s on the table.  Even a slight whisper to whine merits a quick “You are not dining in a restaurant!”

I avoid serving processed foods; instead, I try to give them of fruits and vegetables. 

5.  Reduce Sugar and Sweeteners – Just a small amount of sugar has been proven to suppress the immune system by impairing white blood cells up to 50% for very short periods of time.  I do not mean for candies and desserts to be taken out altogether – they are a fun part of growing up!  We just have to ensure to try to limit candy consumption in one sitting, and I remind my kids to make it a habit to drink a glass of water with the sweets to keep sore-throat away.

6.  Yogurt - It has now been firmly established that the gut is the center of immunity, so eating yogurt regularly helps maintain healthy gut flora.  It packs a healthy dose of good bacteria, called probiotics, that can line the intestinal tract to protect the body against harmful bacteria and infections.

I buy the regular, unflavored yogurt, and not the one loaded with artificial flavorings and sweeteners.  My kids usually eat yogurt with slices of banana.
8.  More Water, Less Sugary Drinks- Toxins build up and can weaken immunity when there's not enough water in the diet. Sugary drinks made from juice concentrate can actually dehydrate and increase our child's need for water.  I place the kids water in a sippy cup (but it is really a Rubbermaid sports bottle, bought at SM) so I can monitor the amount of liquid that they have consumed for the day, 2-3 refills within a day is the usual. 
7.  They Must Play!- Sitting around all day in class then again at night doing homework makes not only the body sluggish, but the immune system sluggish as well. If your kids aren't involved in sports, make it a point to sneak in 20 minutes of exercise into your kid's day at least three times a week. Park the car a few meters away from the school gate and make them walk the short distance, make them help with the household chores, encourage a bike ride outside or participation in a more organized sport after school.  You might be surprised at what they’d like to do outside!

The point is make sure your child gets plenty of exercise; studies have linked a healthy immune system with moderate exercise.   Exercising as a family and limiting the amount of time your kids spend in front of the TV and playing video games is a good place to start when trying to establish a regular exercise routine for kids
An increase in blood flow associated with moderate exercise helps to circulate antibodies along with white blood cells necessary to fight infection more quickly. As a result, this provides our bodies with an early warning system to ward off potentially damaging germs. In addition, the increase in body temperature as a result of physical activity may aid in inhibiting the growth of bacteria; thus allowing the body to fight infection more effectively.
9.  Try A Dietary Supplement- It's hard for most parents to do all of these things all of the time, so adding a dietary supplement provides a bit of insurance. 

Best vitamins include Vitamin A, C, or E. These are a good source of antioxidants, which will boost our immune system.  The minerals zinc and selenium also help with boosting our immune system.  Low doses of zinc have been shown to boost the immune system and reduce the severity and duration of colds and other viruses.

As you can see, there is no one magic cure, one supplement, or one way to boost your childs immune system, but there are many things you can do to help your situation.  Set a good example. Give your child the healthiest environment you can.  Provide them with a clean home.  Set good examples with your own nutrition and exercise habits.

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