Supporting immunity in kids is often a top priority for parents. And I get it- I know first hand how hard it is to watch your child work through an illness.
Whether it presents with fevers, chills and lethargy, or comes in the form of tummy symptoms, snotty noses, sore throats and irritability – seeing them out of sorts is challenging.
Most of the time we know that with good nutrition, plenty of rest and extra cuddles, they’ll be back to themselves in no time. However if they are getting sick over and over, with minimal breaks in between, it’s time for a rethink.
Thankfully there are quite a few things you can do to support immunity in kids. While they may seem quite simple, they can have profound effects on your child’s ability to clear and resist infections.
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep when it comes to a healthy immune system. We know that inadequate sleep suppresses immune function- so getting enough shut eye is vital to resisting infections. So how much should your child be getting? School aged children are recommended to get 9-11 hrs each night, 10-13 hrs for pre-schoolers, 11-14hrs for toddlers and our teens (often the most sleep deprived) should be getting around 8-10 hrs a night.
Vitamin D is important to immunity as it activates our immune defenses, reducing the risk of infections. Deficiency is common (even in sunny QLD) due to things such as increased screen time over outside play, skin cancer worries resulting in less sun exposure and a lack of Vit D foods in the average child’s diet. Food based sources of Vit D include liver, cod liver oil, oily fish such as wild salmon, herring and sardines, caviar, oysters, eggs (yolks) from pastured hens and prawns.
Did you know up to 80% of our immune cells are within our gut? Digestive health plays a big role in supporting our immune system. Poor diet, stress, medications (like antibiotics) and pathogens such as parasites and worms can really throw our gut health off, undermining immunity. Treating the gut can be a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to preventing recurrent infections in your child. Probiotics may be warranted, as may be prebiotics, alongside identifying and removing any causes (parasites, poor diet, food sensitivities).
Eating for Immune resilience
When it comes to diet I like to take it back to basics. Or as Michael Pollan says “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. To me that is a diet loaded with fresh vegetables, salad, herbs, spices, perhaps with some nuts, seeds and fruit if tolerated. Combine this with some quality animal protein, adequate healthy fats, low sugar and optimal hydration and you’re well on the way to immune resilience.
A few key players
Some of the key nutritional players I assess when it comes to immunity in kids are Zinc, Iron, Vitamin C, A and D. This is by no means exhaustive but are some of the big guys to look in to.
I will often use herbs in my pediatric patients. There are some really incredible herbs available to us that are gentle enough for use in even my littlest of patients. Some of my favourites for children include Echinacea, Elderberry, Chamomile and Astragalus. Many others are available to support a cough or fever, help clear mucus, or soothe a sore throat.
If your child seems to be getting sick a lot more often that you feel to be normal, or is struggling to clear illnesses when they appear, feel free to get in touch. There may be an underlying reason and therefore a lot more personalised support that can be offered through our Children’s Naturopathic Consultations.
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Sandi Cooper is an experienced Naturopath working in clinical practice for almost two decades. Her clients love her down-to-earth approach and her naturally caring qualities. Although Sandi is experienced in most areas of clinical practice, she has a special interest in children’s health and nutrition, working with parents to get the best outcomes for their children.