How to increase your and your child’s immunity using natural methods?
My son/daughter is always ill. They spend more time at home than at kindergarten – I think they might have immunodeficiency…
Autumn and winter are the seasons during which our immunity decreases. Television and the Internet are filled with advertisements of preparations and dietary supplements that are meant to increase our immunity and help us avoid getting ill. Which ones should we choose and is it even worth it to invest huge amounts of money into it?
Let’s start with some data. It’s normal for little children to get sick. Their immune system is only starting to gain competence and learn to fight with viruses and bacteria. Immunity is not something we can get simply by swallowing “a magic pill” – it’s a complex process that lasts years. Our immunity consists of two parts – the first one is innate, fast but non-specific, meaning it’s not directed at any pathogen, and the second one – acquired, specific, directed at a particular virus or bacteria. Each of us acquires the immunity only after coming in contact with the specific pathogen during infection or due to vaccination. That’s why children get sick more often than adults.
It’s estimated that adults catch a cold about 2-4 times a year, while children do so even 2-3 times more often! It means that kids might get sick up to twelve times a year. Taking into consideration that the infection lasts 1-2 weeks, parents might really think that their children spend more time at home than at kindergarten.
There are a few things that every parent can do to help increase their child’s immunity.
The following methods are mostly free and don’t require any special preparations. 😊
1. Frequent handwashing, especially after coming come
Not only during the coronavirus pandemic. The environment is filled with various pathogens, the existence of whom we might not even be aware of. Proper handwashing is really important – it gets rid of most of them.
Let’s not forget about washing/sterilising our phones! We touch them the most often, and we place them in various spots, without even thinking they might become a home for bacteria.
2. Sleep hygiene – a well-rested child is a healthy child
Lack of sleep and tiredness weaken our organism. A well-rested organism handles
infections much better.
Sleep demand depends on age and varies for many people. The younger a person is, the more sleep they need. Adults’ sleep demand is 6-8 hours, and teenagers’ is 7-9 hours.
Properly long sleep makes it so that we feel good, we are not irritated, and we can concentrate. Lack of sleep has a negative impact on us and can lead to mood disorders, problems with concentration, a decrease of motivation, creative thinking and the ability to make decisions. Long-term sleeplessness can even lead to depression.
It’s another factor that can vitally influence our immunity. Stress can be divided into two categories: acute and chronic. The former plays an adaptive role and isn’t harmful to our health. It’s brief and motivates us to take action. It comes out in situations such as a fight or an exam. However, if stressful situations occur systematically, stress can become chronic. That type of stress is dangerous and can lead to mental disorders, such as depression or a state of anxiety.
4. Physical activity not only on special occasions
It doesn’t have to be a spectacular activity! A walk in a park or in the woods, walking home from kindergarten instead of going by car… They’re small things that can get a child to spend some time on fresh air. Just remember about choosing proper clothes (most parents tend to put too many layers on their kids).
5. A healthy diet is a medicine for everything
Malnutrition and nutritional deficiency can have a negative influence on the functioning of the immunological system. Thanks to a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables we provide a proper supply of vitamins and minerals, hence we’ll avoid deficiency of them. Obviously, we’re not talking about dietary supplements here! It’s worth mentioning natural probiotics – yoghurts and pickles. It’s been scientifically proven that they have a beneficial influence on the gut flora.
6. Fruits and vegetables – natural vitamins instead of supplements
Vitamins C and D deficiency increases the frequency and vulnerability to the common cold. However, studies haven’t proved that supplementing those vitamins actually saves you from getting sick – in fact, they have shown that it’s close to a placebo effect. It means that if someone doesn’t have a deficiency of those vitamins, then supplementing them will change basically nothing. That’s why it’s better to ensure proper supply of vitamin C in the diet, instead of supplementing it using pills.
It’s a little different with vitamin D. A considerable amount of it is synthesised in skin due to the UV radiation. In Poland, that process is the most effective from May to September, between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. if clouds don’t block the sun. People with a light complexion need to be exposed to the sunlight (uncovered forearms and lower legs, no filters) for only 15 minutes and the proper amount of vitamin D will be created. Unfortunately, during autumn and winter seasons, when there’s less sunlight, the skin synthesis might not be enough, so it’s worth supplementing vitamin D then.
The recommended dosage of supplementation:
– children and teenagers at the ages of 1-18: 600-1000 IU/day
– adults: 800–2000 IU/day
– children and adults with obesity: 1600-4000 IU/day depending on the degree of obesity
To ensure optimal absorption, in most cases vitamin D should be supplemented along with a meal.
7. Protective vaccinations
The only 100%-confirmed way of avoiding diseases (those we vaccinate against).
8. Bacterial lysates
These are so-called non-specific vaccines that contain killed bacterial cells. Their purpose is to stimulate our immune system. Study results regarding the effectiveness of those preparations are promising but their authors suggest they should be interpreted with caution. So far, the studies have been conducted on not too many people. A group of children who the bacterial lysates might be especially effective for has not been distinguished. It is, however, worth considering it after consulting a paediatrician.
9. What about the rest of the “magical” supplements?
There are no studies that would confirm the effectiveness of using preparations such as echinacea, inosine pranobex, lactoferrin, and fish oil. That’s why it’s not worth it to invest money into those specifics that more often than not are quite expensive. Better, confirmed, and most importantly, free methods have been mentioned above 😊
Ala/translated by Konrad
Wytyczne dla lekarzy rodzinnych dotyczące suplementacji witaminy D (Guidelines for general practitioners regarding vitamin D supplementation) – recommendations made by the Polish Working Group of International University Family Medicine Club.