As the nights become cooler, especially at this time of heightened sensitivity to viral infection, I thought you might be interested in receiving my recommendations on what you can do to boost your child’s immunity.
Although the media is painting a picture of doom and gloom, MOST people seem to be recovering from the COVID-19 and children who have tested positive only display very mild symptoms, if any. It is prudent, however, to avoid getting the virus if just for the sake of those who are more vulnerable in our community.
Below are some of the measures you can take at home to help your child, and your whole family.
A total of 148 animal studies indicated that vitamin C may alleviate or prevent infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. 1
The best sources of Vitamin C include blackcurrants, citrus fruits – oranges, limes and lemons, berries, kiwifruit, tomatoes, broccoli, sprouts, red, yellow and green capsicum
Cutting and heating foods lessens the effectiveness of Vitamin C. It is important to eat fruits and vegetables raw, or lightly cooked, and don’t cut them too long before eating them.
Necessary for good bone strength and most importantly for healthy immunity. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has identified Victorians and children as having the lowest levels of Vitamin D in Australia. 2
Foods that provide vitamin D include:
Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
To get vitamin D from food, fish is a good option. Approximately 180g cooked salmon will provide 1000 international units (IU) which would be a good start.
When the days become cooler, children tend to play less outdoors. This can lead to a drop in Vitamin D levels because of reduced exposure to sunlight. It is therefore important that children are encouraged to play outdoors as much as possible but ensure they are well rugged up. Of course, it would be better if as much skin as possible was exposed but keeping warm is essential.
An abundance of evidence has accumulated over the past 50 years to demonstrate the antiviral activity of zinc against a variety of viruses, and via numerous mechanisms.3 Unfortunately, many children (and adults) are low in zinc, leaving them exposed to a host of viruses.
Food sources of zinc include meats, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, some dairy foods, whole grains, eggs, dark chocolate. Fruits and vegetables are relatively low in zinc. Potatoes (sweet and other) contain a small amount of zinc.
It is important to note that if your child has a frank zinc deficiency, supplementation in the form of capsules and powders will be necessary.
Mushrooms themselves are comprised of antibacterial and antiviral compounds to survive in nature, so they naturally harbour a considerable amount of these substances.
Mushrooms have powerful constituents called beta-D-glucans, beta-glycosides, and other substances that have been determined in some research to significantly stimulate our innate immune system. Some mushrooms are a rich source of selenium, magnesium, and zinc, all of which may play a direct or indirect role in boosting immunity.
Research is still emerging about the power of mushrooms. Considering that they can be added to soups, casseroles, sauces, and salads, they couldn't be easier to incorporate into your child’s diet.
There are four mushrooms of special significance:
Maitake (Hen-of-the-Woods) In a Japanese study, maitake mushroom extract was found to significantly inhibit the influenza A virus from replicating, and it stimulated the production of antiviral cytokines such as TNF-alpha. Interestingly, it was made even more powerful when combined with shiitake mushroom extract. Both shiitake and maitake are edible mushrooms that can easily be added to our diet, but they can also be found in tincture and dried capsule form.
Shiitake mushrooms are an Asian culinary staple and easy to find in supermarkets. Whole shiitake, as well as its purified fractions, have been shown to have antiviral activities against the hepatitis C virus, herpes simplex virus, and human immunodeficiency virus as well as influenza. The best way to get the benefits of shiitake is to eat them, but they can also be found in medicinal mushroom blends in tinctures and dried products.
Reishi mushrooms. Another antiviral powerhouse fungus is the woody, and therefore inedible, reishi mushroom. Reishi has been recognized as a medicinal mushroom for thousands of years. Reishi has the ability to combat many viruses, such as herpes, Epstein-Barr, and hepatitis. It has also been found to be effective in killing influenza A virus, which causes many outbreaks of flu throughout the season, including the very virulent and dangerous H1N1 strain of flu.
Substances called triterpenes are one of the main beneficial compounds in reishi alongside the beta-glucans. Triterpenes are very bitter-tasting, making reishi rather inedible. But just because you can't throw it in your stir-fry doesn't mean that you should avoid it. You can typically find reishi in capsule, powder, and tincture form.
Cordyceps. Although cordyceps mushrooms are technically not a mushroom but a parasitic fungus, they have been touted as a "cure-all" in many ancient cultures. Cordyceps are known for being antifungal and antibacterial. The anti-influenza effect of cordyceps extract is thought to be driven by increased natural killer cell activity along with other virus-killing cytokines. In addition, cordyceps have been shown to improve lung health by decreasing inflammation in both chronic asthma and other lung diseases. This may be because they increase blood flow, enhancing oxygen use and acting as an antioxidant. Cordyceps is not grown for culinary purposes, but can be found in tablets, tinctures, and powders. 4
It is important to mention the role of sleep in maintaining a healthy immune system. The lack of sufficient amounts of sleep is a hallmark of modern living, and it is commonly perceived that in the long run this makes us sick. An increasing amount of scientific data indicate that sleep deprivation has detrimental effects on immune function. 5
Tips to enhance your child’s sleep
Insist on a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends.
Encourage your child to play outdoors after school.
Beware of hidden sleep stealers, such as sweets and artificial colours/flavours.
Turn off electronics one hour before bed.
Adequate moderate exercise has consistently been shown to boost immunity. 6 Exercise also ensures that your child is sufficiently tired so he/she can rest at night.
General diet tips – your child needs all the nutrition he/she can get. But what does that mean in reality? It can be difficult to ascertain this without appropriate testing. In reality, many children suffer from some degree of malnutrition. This can come from inadequate intake especially in the case of fussy eaters, and/or gut inflammation and/or blockage from heavy metal toxicity.
In general, children benefit primarily from a VARIED plant-based diet, together with moderate amounts of lean protein, certain dairy foods and whole grains. As most children do not have limitless appetites, it is essential to feed these foods as the main staple of their diet, limiting other foods as a treat and if they have eaten all the essentials.
Keep warm. There is some evidence that warming nasal passages can slow the replication of viruses. 7 Allowing your child to do the old-fashioned steam inhalation over a warm bowl of water and essential oils such as eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint. 8
Encourage children to wash their hands with warm soapy water frequently throughout the day, especially after sneezing, coughing, and returning home. Alcohol wipes are useful to an extent but it is important not to remove the natural germ killers that reside on our skins.
There are many herbal remedies that would be useful to boost immunity and reduce viral infections. A customised herbal tincture that contains antivirals, adaptogens, and antimicrobials. Herbs such as Japanese Knotweed, Isatis, Echinacea, Andrographis, Rhodiola can be very useful.
Hemilä H. (2017). Vitamin C and Infections. Nutrients, 9(4), 339. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9040339
Read, S. A., Obeid, S., Ahlenstiel, C., & Ahlenstiel, G. (2019). The Role of Zinc in Antiviral Immunity. Advances In Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(4), 696–710. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz013
Bollinger, T., Bollinger, A., Oster, H., & Solbach, W. (2010). Sleep, immunity, and circadian clocks: a mechanistic model. Gerontology, 56(6), 574–580. https://doi.org/10.1159/000281827
Horn, P. L., West, N. P., Pyne, D. B., Koerbin, G., Lehtinen, S. J., Fricker, P. A., & Cripps, A. W. (2015). Routine exercise alters measures of immunity and the acute phase reaction. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 115(2), 407–415. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-014-3028-1