Back to school time can be an adventure, filled with excitement, nerves, and of course…germs. Within the first couple of weeks of the school year, my social media is blown up with stories and frustrations of kids coming home with this bug or that bug; from the common cold to the stomach bug. Having a child catch every thing that is going around and/or having these bugs run through every person in your house doesn’t have to be a given for this time of year.
I will share with you a few ways to help strengthen you and your child’s immune system so that when they do encounter these pesky germs, which they inevitably will, their immune system will be prepared to handle them.
It’s important to understand that getting a cold is not a bad thing – it actually helps keep our immune system in check. Our immune system is in constant communication with our internal environment and receives and deciphers messages from our external environment. It’s made up of a network of cells, and organs that work together to identify and protect the body from threats such as viruses and bacteria. When exposed to a virus or bacteria, our immune cells remember and when it’s exposed again, it recalls what it needs to do; so having a cold once in a while isn’t a bad thing. A healthy functioning immune system is able to fight a pathogen rather quickly and usually without incident. As with anybody system, the immune system also needs the proper lifestyle and nutritional supports to do its job.
The bodies of both children and adults should respond to stress in similar ways. When the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline rise, the immune system’s response is lowered. Ensuring that everyone has downtime and time to free play and relax is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system.
Supporting our littles to get a good night sleep will go a long way. Getting enough zzz’s is important for our immune function. While we sleep, we produce more immune cells that help identify and fight pathogens that we’ve been exposed too. Sleep also helps us incorporate all the things we learn and experience throughout the day.
Vitamin D is very important in the activation of our immune cells. Vitamin D is synthesized in our skin from sun exposure. Just because the long, lazy days of summer are over, we can still get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Once the shorter days begin, it may be beneficial for some to supplement with a good quality vitamin D3.
Our lymphatic system moves lymph (clear fluid that contains white blood cells that help fight infection) throughout our body, similar to our circulatory system. However, unlike our circulatory system that has the heart to pump and move our blood, the lymphatic system depends on the motions of the body’s muscles to move it. So, getting regular movement and exercise is critical to keep this infection fighting fluid moving throughout our body.
Our skin is the largest organ in our body and therefore it plays one of the most important role in protecting ourselves from external threats . We all know that washing our hands is very important, but swapping hand sanitizer for good old soap and water may be doing more harm than good. Some of these are alcohol based and can leave the hands dry and irritated while others contain triclosan which has been shown to increase bacterial resistance. Although hand sanitizers kill the bad germs, it also kills the good protective bacteria that is found on our skin, so it’s best to use regular soap (avoiding antibacterial soaps, as again, it destroys the good bacteria as well) or try using a natural hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
A varied nutrient dense diet of whole foods will go a long way to keep your immune system in good working order.
Some of the key nutrients needed that support the immune system are:
Water helps carry oxygen to our cells, which helps them function better. Water also flushes toxins from our body. By removing toxins, we are reducing the build up of them in our body, which could otherwise have a negative impact on our immune system.
ACES + Zinc
This is the group of powerful antioxidants Vitamin A, C, E, and the minerals Selenium and Zinc that improves immune function by fighting off free radicals in the body. Many of these vitamins and minerals work better together. Try an omelette with mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach, with a slice of whole grain bread with grass-fed butter, and a side of cantaloupe to have a great immune supporting breakfast.
The bacteria in our gut helps digest our food and helps protect us from invading bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. Eating fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, and homemade yogurt are just some of the probiotic rich foods that you can incorporate to support the good bacteria in the gut. Foods that are high in soluble fiber, like broccoli, asparagus, sweet potato, banana, avocado, and leafy greens, are examples of prebiotics, that provide the food for the good bacteria. Both pre and probiotics are important for gut health and therefore the immune system.
Removing foods that you may be sensitive too is also important as it lessens the strain on your digestive and gut health, as well as your immune system. When we consume foods that we are sensitive too, it can lead to an immune response. If our immune system is working overtime identifying and battling the foods being consumed, it can become distracted and weakened, becoming less effective at identifying and battling the pathogens that can make us ill.
Being active, rested, and nourished are some of the keys to building and maintaining a healthy immune system that will carry you and your family into and through the school year.