By medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer, an expert in food, herbs and supplements
When kids go back to school they inevitably come into contact with a new batch of common cold viruses. When children are in the peak of health they can fight off infections with few, if any, symptoms, but when they are under par they may develop one cold after another. Cold viruses are also involved in 40 percent of asthma episodes in school children.
Boosting children’s immunity is not something you can do overnight, but good nutrition can enhance their immune health, preparing them for the cold and flu season ahead. Diet should always come first, so get them to eat at least five servings of fruit and veg per day, as for adults.
National Diet and Nutrition Surveys show there remains considerable room for improvement in the diet of British school kids who, in general, are eating too much sugar. Almost half (46 percent) of teenage girls have low intakes of iron putting them at risk of anaemia and reduced immunity, and significant numbers are deficient in vitamin A, vitamin B2, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, iodine and zinc. If your children are picky about food, or you worry that their diet is not as good as it should be, a multivitamin and mineral supplement designed for their age group will help to safeguard against these nutritional deficiencies.
Vitamin D is important for immunity, and research shows that kids with good vitamin D levels are less likely to experience a cold than those with low levels. Vitamin D levels tend to fall in autumn and winter when sunlight is too ‘weak’ to stimulate vitamin D production in the skin. One in five teenagers remain deficient in vitamin D all year round. Dermatologists do not recommend unprotected skin exposure to the sun to make vitamin D, and Public Health England now recommend that everyone takes a vitamin D supplement during autumn and Winter. Oral spray versions are available which kids may prefer – select one based on the child’s age.
Omega-3s are vital for a child’s brain development. These fatty acids are incorporated into brain cell membranes to keep them flexible and speed the transmission of electrical and chemical messages from one brain cell to another. The same omega-3s are also important for helping immune cells respond to signals for optimum immunity. Encourage your child to eat fresh oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards) as much as possible. If they won’t eat oily fish, then consider giving them an omega-3 supplement.
Probiotic bacteria help to stimulate immunity against both bacterial and viral infections, and can reduce the severity and duration of a cold if one should develop. These effects are thought to result from stimulating the activity of T-lymphocyte cells which regulate immune responses. Kids usually love fermented milk drinks and live bio yoghurts, so a regular intakes shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. Probiotic supplements are also available.
About Dr Sarah Brewer
Dr Sarah Brewer is a medical nutritionist and an expert in food, herbs and supplements. She qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in natural sciences, medicine and surgery. After working in general practice, she gained a master’s degree in nutritional medicine. Sarah is a licensed medical doctor, a registered nutritionist and a registered nutritional therapist.
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