With my eldest about to embark on 'big school' my thoughts are turned to how I can best support his immune system, especially at the moment.
Immune support is something that I support a lot of parents with – for some it can feel like their child is always sick, and often once they start at daycare or school it can feel like a crazy roller coaster of illnesses!
Did you know that our immune system starts to develop whilst we are in our mother’s womb and continues its maturation process throughout infancy and early childhood? And it is because their immune systems are still developing that young children are more prone to catching communicable illnesses such as colds and flu, conjunctivitis as well as gastrointestinal infections.
So where do you start when it comes to boosting the immune system? With 70-80% of your immune system located in the digestive tract this is a really good place to start!
Your child doesn’t need to have diarrhoea or constipation to have compromised gut health; a sign that it needs some extra love is low immunity. Did you know that one course of antibiotics alone can alter the gut bacteria for 12 months or more? So often I see children who've had to have multiple courses of antibiotics in a short period of time - restoring gut health often gets missed and then the children continue to get sick.
Antibiotic tip: If your child needs antibiotics make sure they are taking a good probiotic at the
SAME TIME - to ensure it's effective they need to have it 2-3 hours after the antibiotic (so not all the good bacteria is killed).
Probiotics can be effective in increasing immunity by boosting the healthy populations of friendly bacteria that regulate important immune defence chemicals. Taking a good quality broad spectrum probiotic can help support immune function and is a simple preventative measure.
Including probiotic foods such as natural unsweetened yoghurt, miso, kefir and fermented vegetables is an easy way to ensure children are getting a wide range of good bacteria into their diet.
Another great way to support gut health is with nourishing bone broths - not only are they packed with vitamins and minerals they are also a great source of collagen and gelatin, which is extremely restorative on the mucus membrane of your digestive tract. While bone broths are perfect to enjoy when sick, it's also a great idea to include them in your daily diet to ensure good health. These can be enjoyed on their own or you can sneak them into other foods, smoothies for example, so they are definitely friendly for the whole family.
Making your own bone broth isn't difficult but it does take some time and it does require quality ingredients. I personally love the bone broth range from NutraOrganics - tasty, dissolves well and is convenient to use whenever I need it.
Gelatin can improve gut integrity and digestive strength by enhancing gastric acid secretion and restoring a healthy mucosal lining in the stomach. When choosing a gelatin quality is key - look for organic where possible but always from grass fed beef. Gelatin is not the type that makes aeroplane jelly - you need to get this in a health food store - again I like the gelatin from NutraOrganics. It is really easy to use - make immune boosting gummies or pop in a smoothie for them are just a couple of examples.
As you will see below I love using elderberry in my herbal mixes for children, but you can also get dried elderberry and make your own syrup and gummies - immune and gut loving and so simple!
To make the syrup you will need:
1/2 cup dried elderberries
4 cups water
1 cup raw honey
1 tbsp cinnamon powder
1. Add elderberries, water and cinnamon in a pot, and bring to a boil.
2. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer until liquid reduces by half. About 45 minutes.
3. Strain elderberries from the liquid, smashing the berries to get everything.
4. Drain liquid into large glass bottle, and add honey.
5. Seal, shake to combine, and refrigerate.
For your gummies:
1 cup of the above elderberry syrup
½ cup hot water
¼ cup Gelatin powder
Silicone moulds or a container to pour the liquid into and then you can slice once set.
1. 'Bloom' the gelatin by adding 1/2 cup water to 1/4 cup gelatin (2:1 ratio) - mix the powder and water together with a fork and let sit for 5 minutes until its like a rubber ball
2. Add the hot water to the elderberry syrup in a small pot
3. Cut the gelatin into small cubes (roughly), add to the elderberry mix and then whisk gently until all lumps are gone.
4. Pour into moulds or small tupperware container and pop in the fridge for an hour until set.
Having access to effective natural remedies in the early stages of illness can be a key determinant of how quickly the illness lingers. Proactive use of specific remedies can shorten the duration and potentially reduce the likelihood of the illness developing into something more sinister. I recommend speaking with me in relation to exactly what you or child may need but I find these nutrients really important when it comes to supporting the immune syste
Vitamin D: a strong immune modulator and in Australia many of us are actually Vitamin D deficient! As well as vitamin D synthesis in the skin (from the sun) we can also obtain it from dietary intake - salmon, tuna, cod liver oil and sardines are sources of this nutrient.
Vitamin C: a potent antioxidant and is used up rapidly during an infection. Studies show that regular vitamin C consumption reduces the duration and severity of common cold episodes in children. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruit, rosehips, strawberries, sweet potato, broccoli and blackcurrants.
Zinc: affects multiple aspects of immune function and a clear link has been established between zinc deficiency and an increased susceptibility to infections. Zinc is associated with reduced duration of cold symptoms, decreased severity of symptoms and a reduced incidence of colds in children. Foods high in zinc include red meat, legumes, shellfish, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews and eggs.
Vitamin A: extremely important in supporting immune health as it helps to maintain the structural and functional integrity of the airways, gut and genitourinary systems. It's good to remember it is these systems that are our first line of defence against infection. Foods high in vitamin A include liver, cod liver oil, egg yolk, apricots, green leafy vegetables and cheese.
Quercetin: a naturally occurring flavonoid in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, it is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune modulating and antiviral. Research has shown that quercetin can reduce the infectivity of target cells and block viral replication at an early stage of multiplication for several respiratory viruses, as well as reducing the release of histamine in the body, so especially important with allergy reactions and viral infections. Foods high in quercetin include apples, broccoli, citrus fruits, garlic, raspberries, red onions and tomatoes.
The benefits of herbal medicine can not be underestimated - either through their immune modulating, antiviral or antibacterial properties. I often make up specific herbal tinctures for children to help support the immune system and to reduce the severity and length of any illness. Botanicals I like to use specifically with children include:
HOME REMEDIES FOR IMMUNE SUPPORT
There are many things we can easily make in our own kitchen without being a domestic god that help boost the immune system. Here are a few of my favourites - they are easy, don't take long and don't use many ingredients!
Onion syrup #1 - roughly chop up a large onion (brown or red) and place it into a pot with about 500mL of water onto the stove. Bring to the boil and add in something sweet like honey or raw sugar (this helps take the away the onion taste). Keep on a light boil for around 5 minutes. The water usually changes colour to brownish so don't be alarmed! Strain the liquid into a jar and pop into the fridge until it's cool. Take a tablespoon or shot glass of it every hour or two when feeling sick. This is great for coughs and sore throats.
Onion syrup #2 - I really like this version but you do need 24 hours for it to work. Thinly slice an onion, place in a mason jar and cover with honey, place in a warm spot for 24 hours and then strain. You can add grated ginger, garlic or turmeric to the mix too (as you can in syrup #1).
Garlic honey - peel a whole bulb of garlic and place it into a jar of honey and let it sit in the pantry to take a spoon here and there whenever the sniffle season begins. Again you can add ginger or turmeric for more healing properties.
Garlic lemonade - to prepare chop 3 cloves of garlic, place into a quart sized mason jar, and cover with boiling water. Let this sit for 15 minutes, then add lemon and honey to taste. Drink hot, up to 4 cups/day. This is safe for kids over 2 years old and for pregnant women, too. It can be used to treat cold symptoms and prevent colds and flu, too.
Manuka honey (make sure it's real manuka): - a spoon of this has wonderful immune properties!
Pineapple, ginger and turmeric freshly squeezed juice - great for coughs.
Fresh pineapple pieces to break up mucous in persistent, productive coughs.
Make kombucha or kefir into popsilices using organic yoghurt or juice
WE ARE WHAT WE EAT
The health of the immune system is greatly affected by a person’s nutritional status. Factors that reduce immunity include: nutrient deficiencies, excessive sugar consumption and consumption of allergenic foods. Something that can feel like a real struggle with those fussy eaters!
A good wholesome diet is really the best medicine to support a healthy immune system - think colourful foods such as blueberries, raspberries, avocado and sweet potato, and natural immune boosters such as onion, garlic and turmeric. But if diet is a struggle, which it can often be with children, we are also able to use specific multivitamin mixes designed especially for little people.
THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
We can't underestimate the power that environmental and lifestyle factors have on supporting overall health in our children. Some tips are:
Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and environmental toxins.
Participate in regular exercise.
Maintain a healthy body weight.
Ensure adequate sleep – sleep deprivation has consistently been shown to impair different components of immune function.
Stress management – it was recently reported that 1-2 children in every Australian classroom are too anxious to enjoy life. What is more, these problems often go unnoticed by parents and teachers.
Take steps to avoid infections, such as frequent hand washing.
Diffusing essential oils in the bedroom at night, such as eucalyptus, to help with congestion.
Eucalyptus and menthol rubs, like Euky Bear, rubbed onto feet with a pair of socks to stop night time coughing.
We don't have to wait until our child gets sick to find ways to boost their immune system - there is so much we can do through diet, lifestyle, herbal medicine, the right nutrients and a good functioning gut that can get them on the right track early!
To get a personalised approach for your child then make an appointment with me today and we can get their health and the right track!