Ask a Naturopath – Is there anything I can do to help increase my children’s resistance to catching a cold?
This month’s question is answered by Naturopath and Feeding Therapist Georgie Stephen.
I’ve noticed that colds and infections are starting to go around my kids’ school; is there anything I can do to help increase my children’s resistance to catching a cold?
We are at that point in the year where the seasons have changed, the temperatures are dropping, and the days are shorter. And, unfortunately, the rates of respiratory infections are rapidly rising. The common cold will start circulating from around April all the way through to August or September, with peak incidence in the winter months.
Complete avoidance of infections is near impossible and it is normal to catch a couple across the year. In fact, children are expected to get anywhere from 5-8 infections a year, while adults typically only get 2-4 colds each year. And although we are unable to dodge them altogether, we can help our kids to build their immune system strength so that they don’t catch so many each year or so that when they do catch a cold they will bounce back quickly and without complication.
Try incorporating more of the following strategies into your family’s day-to-day living to improve immune system strength and resilience:
- Encourage good hygiene practices – hygiene is the number one strategy you can use to prevent catching an infection. Disinfect communal surfaces and shared toys, teach your kids to wash their hands before eating or touching food, and show your kids the best way to sneeze and cough to prevent spread of germs (into the middle of the elbow, not into their hands). If possible, try to avoid spending time with others who are sick.
- Prioritise good quality sleep – one of the greatest enemies of our immune system is stress, and sleep deprivation is one of the quickest ways we can cause stress to our body. When stress is high, immune system function is suppressed, making us more susceptible to infections. To add, our immune system operates in line with our natural circadian rhythm, which is regulated by getting adequate good quality sleep each night.
- Include more immune supporting foods – consuming a whole foods diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to ensure your children will be getting all of the essential nutrients their immune system requires , but some foods in particular are excellent sources of multiple immune supporting nutrients, anti-inflammatory, or antimicrobial compounds that can help to reduce infection rates. These include garlic, ginger, turmeric, kiwifruit, yoghurt, onions, berries, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, fish, and eggs.
- Improve gut health – our gut is home to an entire ecosystem of bacteria called the microbiome, which contributes to numerous aspects of our health, including immune function. Our gut microbiome plays a large role in regulating immune function across the entire body, especially in children. Optimise gut health with a prebiotic fiber rich diet (nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, legumes, chickpeas, vegetables), prebiotic foods (yoghurt, Kombucha), and consider a probiotic supplement or professional support from a naturopath if your child has specific gut health challenges.
- Limit intake of sugar – high sugar intake has been found to reduce the activity of our white blood cells. Depending on the amount of sugar consumed, these immune cells may reduce their activity by up to 75% and may remain immobilised for as long as 4 hours. Avoid obvious sources of sugar – soft drinks, lollies, chocolates, confectionaries, baked desserts, cookies, biscuits, etc., but also be wary of hidden sources of sugar or seemingly ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ sources like fruit juices, dried fruit, cereals, or honey.
- Consider nutrient supplementation – immune cells are supported and regulated by nutrients and in cases where these nutrients are insufficient immune system activity may suffer. The use of some of these nutrients as supplements in reducing the frequency of infection is well supported by research. Consider supplementing with zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin D, in particular. Dose is an important factor in the efficacy of supplements and children require different doses depending on their age and weight, so the best thing to do is visit a health food store and speak to a nutritionist or naturopath in store or speak to our Naturopath Georgie for the best prescription for your child.