How best to support your child's immune system as we head back to school?
LIVE Q&A Immunity Series kicked off on Sunday on IGTV, you can watch it all here.
We bent the ear of top children's Nutritionist Mary van der Westhuizen, (Dip NT BCNH) in the first of our Back to School series on Immunity. Where we ask the experts what we can do to support our children and why.
WHAT IS AN IMMUNE SYSTEM?
The best way to break it down is in two parts, we have an INNATE immune system and an ADAPTIVE immune system. One we are born with and one changes and adapts with us.
1) Physical barriers such as the skin keep things out
2) Our mucosal membranes in the nose and lungs
3) The gut microbiome
This is very specific and changes depending on what we experience. If we come across pathogens or viruses, such as COVID, our adaptive immune system mounts a response with antibodies, that will help us deal with it better in the future.
Both are influenced by diet and nutrition.
We can't boost immune systems, but we can support our bodies with optimum diet and lifestyle, for our children to function optimally.
We can enhance the way our bodies respond to the environment.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SUPPORT OUR CHILDREN?
What's interesting about the studies done on diet and nutrition with regards to the immune system, there are certain things that are specific and we are obviously all different, but there are some things that we can all do, that are generic that we can all do to help ourselves.
- Offering our children a variety of fruit and vegetables to expose them to a wide range of the vitamins and micronutrients that we can easily absorb are always protective
- Oily fish, nuts and seeds are important for giving us Omega Fats, these also contain selenium and the zinc are also critical for immune health, as well as the sunshine vitamin D
- These plant foods (the fruits and vegetables) provide fibre that feeds our gut bacteria to flourish, and encourages our beneficial gut bacteria to be diverse which is especially important for our immune systems adaptive and innate response
WHAT ARE EASY WAYS TO ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO EAT MORE FRUIT & VEG?
MARY & ME
- Using colours to ensure they are eating a range and variety
- Choose one new vegetable a week for them to try
- Ask them to pick a few recipes out for your week
- A smoothie in the morning
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO FILL OUR SYSTEMS WITH THE RIGHT VITAMINS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Some Vitamins we make within our bodies and some we don't, and they are called Essential vitamins.
Each nutrient is different in that respect.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids take about 6 weeks to be incorporated, Vitamin C is more immediate, but as it is water soluble any excess is peed out of the body.
By starting to look at this now, with a couple of weeks to go until term, you will be seeing the benefits.
Vitamin C and Zinc which are often recommended if you get a cold for example, but they have slightly different roles - Vitamin C is more protective, to prevent you getting ill, whereas once you have a cold, zinc can help reduce the duration of it, so it can be beneficial to take at the time of illness even if you haven't taken any before.
There's lots of detail on all of these nutrients and how they work on our bodies, but filling your bodies with as much nutrient rich, plant based foods is always beneficial.
BE WELL contains Vitamin C, D, zinc and selenium
WHAT ARE VEGETERIAN SOURCES OF OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS?
Plant sources of these that are good, are nuts and seeds, for example chia seeds, flax seeds, linseeds hemp seeds etc.
What Probiotic and Prebiotic foods can help?
All of these plant foods also have probiotics as well as prebiotics which feed the bacteria and are therefore additionally beneficial for our gut bacteria.
Prebiotics are found in Jerusalem Artichokes, bananas, garlic,
Probiotics which can be supplemented like you do with Symprove, and are found in fermented foods such as live yoghurt, kombucha, miso.
SLEEP & IMMUNITY?
Sleep can be so out of whack by the end of the summer holidays particularly, and is such a cornerstone for our immune systems to work well.
Starting to slowly get everyone back to a routine the week or two before school starts is a good way of making the process more gentle on us all.
Sleep as well as exercise and reduction of stress are all important to best support our immune system.
Optimum sleep depends on the age and needs of your child, but getting them to sleep optimally now, that's the best lifestyle way to support them now.
Leafy greens have magnesium, which is an excellent nutrient to help with sleep, so eating leafy greens as well as maybe adding magnesium salts in the bath, and Be Sleepy, are ways to add in magnesium.
By talking to them about why sleep is helpful, and explaining why for example Be Sleepy works, it adds some fortification to the routine starting really effectively.