The kids are back in school and the lines will soon begin to blur between school season and cold season as kid pass around their germs. All told, an estimated 22 million school days are missed every year, just because of the common cold. (1)
When kids are home sick, parents must be home as well – time that not many can afford to lose from work. Then, it cycles through the family…wouldn’t it be better to simply boost your child’s immune system from the get go?
Looking beyond the sniffles, a strong immune system in childhood is important for a lifetime of wellness. While we can never guarantee our children will have perfect health, the importance of a well-functioning immune system cannot be understated. Focusing on a few simple changes – controlled exposures, supplemented nutrition, reduced stress, and adequate rest – can make a significant difference to boost your child’s immune system and position them for a lifestyle of overall wellness.
Exercising the Immune System with Controlled Exposure
Research done by Thom McDade, PhD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University, noted that early exposures to animal feces and the occurrence of diarrhea in toddlerhood was correlated with a stronger immune system in adulthood.
Since that time, McDade and his team have added more to the growing body of evidence for beneficial exposures, including one published in 2012 by the American Journal of Human Microbiology.
They evaluated over 1,400 participants and their early environmental exposures, finding similar results. It seems that, by exercising the immune system in exposures to certain triggers, it can function better later in life. (2) A “bored” immune system that has not been exercised, is left to turn against itself. While basic hygiene is obviously important, we need to be careful not to go overboard in sanitization and sheltering our kids from normal environmental exposures.
Supplementing a Strong Immune System with Beta Glucan
The gut is a key player in the immune response, affected heavily by the foods that we – and our children – consume. A whole discipline has emerged in this field, called immunonutrition, evaluating the way that nutrient intake and foods affect the immune system and efficient responses. (3) As the science continues to emerge regarding the nuances of food intake, gut health, and immune response, we can feed our children varied nutrients in order to give them the best foundation possible.
Supplementing where dietary intake comes up short can be a valuable tool, as well, with a micronutrient blend, improving recovery time. (4) Beta glucan stands out as one of the more prominent micronutrient supplements for immune system support, as demonstrated in 2013 by University of Kentucky researchers.
Beta glucan is noted in many studies for its ability to modulate the immune system. Children in this study also showed both reduced stress and improved mucosal immunity. The “strong effects of glucan supplementation on the overall health status of all children in this group” indicate beta glucan as a safe and beneficial supplement to support children’s immune systems. (5)
Reducing Stress to Free the Immune System
We think of stress in terms of terms of bills and work and adult lives, but children are not exempt from its effects. Because a body weighed down by stress is limited in its ability to thrive, it’s important to help children reduce stress and regain both general health and the care-free feeling that childhood should bring!
Excessive homework is a major source of stress for children, beginning as young as Kindergarten and only increasing in workload into high school. Kids are expected to learn all throughout the school day, then come home to continue the work for hours each night.
A 2013 study from Stanford evaluated the effects that this kind of stress has on kids, finding 82% of respondents indicating at least one physical symptom related to it, including “sweating, headache, exhaustion, weight loss, weight gain, stomach problems, and/or sleeping difficulties.” (6) Helping children manage their time and expectations
Sleeping the Sick Away
Kids aren’t sleeping enough anymore, from homework overload to screen time obsession. A stable circadian rhythm is important for an efficient immune response, so when sleep is disturbed, our immune systems are as well. (7)
Encouraging stable bedtime routines and adequate sleep can give your child’s body the time it needs to recover before a long day of exposure to illness. Taking screens – TVs, tablets, devices, phones – out of a child’s room while they sleep is one of the best places to start. (8)