Foods Vitamins and Minerals to Help Keep Your Kids Healthy
Well the kids are back at school and the air is getting crisp. Children are washing their hands at school before lunch using their hand sanitizers between classes coughing into their sleeves covering their noses and mouths when they sneeze and not sharing water bottles – all good and necessary. Parents are emphasizing enough sleep (the recommended amount of sleep for children younger than age 5 is 11 hours or more per day; for children 5-10 10 or more hours per day and for children 11 and over 9 hours or more). They should also be emphasizing a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
As a nutritionist parents often ask me how can I help my child fight off colds and flus and infections during the winter? Even though some children and families receive flu vaccines they know that they may not be 100% immune to the flu as a result. Also besides the flu there are many other rogue viruses and bacterial infections which get our attention during many a winter. Let's discuss some ways to optimize your child's immune system to fight off as much as possible!
Let's start with the ones you might find most familiar.
- Vitamin C. It may not prevent a cold from occurring but studies show it will shorten the number of sick days.
- Probiotics. Thanks to yogurt commercials many people now know what nutritionists have been saying for years: 70% of your immune system is in your gut. In the field this is known as GALT: gut-association lymphoid tissue. Studies show that probiotics stimulate GALT and enhance immunity. If your child takes an antibiotic talk to your healthcare provider about recolonizing their gut flora with probiotics. I recommend that probiotics and antibiotics be separated by 3-4 hours. Researchers have concluded that gastrointestinal flora is essential in the development of healthy immunological systems in children.
- Garlic. Research has demonstrated garlic's broad antimicrobial effects. Compounds in garlic can help fight against bacteria viruses and yeast. While aged raw garlic may be best benefits can be gained by roasting and adding to soups. Like:
- Chicken Soup. This is a great way to get many of the 5 servings of vegetables and fruits recommended daily. Rich in antioxidants vitamins and minerals and garlic! Researchers have found that chicken soup's mix of ingredients reduces inflammation calming all the irritation that accompanies a cold or flu.
- Multivitamins and Minerals. Vitamins and minerals work in metabolic pathways that help our immune systems fight infection and disease as well as detoxify harmful compounds and remove them from our bodies. Because stress both physical and emotional can increase our need for nutrients as our bodies fight and detoxify it is important to optimize our intake with a daily multi. With all the over-scheduling that goes on in our busy lives we are often adding poor intake fast or processed and refined foods along with simple sugary carbohydrates to the mix of emotional and physical stress. This combination takes its toll on our immune systems making us more vulnerable to disease.
- A multi won't fix everything but vitamins such as our B's C and minerals like magnesium help our adrenals manage the amount of stress hormones they produce.
- Vitamins A E and minerals like zinc and iron help optimize our immune systems.
- Vitamin D has many functions including immune system support reducing inflammation and antibacterial and antiviral properties. Many adults and children are vitamin D deficient or insufficient. This can be determined by a simple blood test which may indicate the need for higher doses for a short period of time. After that what is found in a multi may be enough to support sufficient levels.
- Fish oils are often a good source of Vitamin D as well as Vitamin A along with Omega 3 fatty acids that can reduce inflammation as well. Grandma's cod liver oil and chicken soup ring tried and true! If taking a fish oil make sure the label indicates that it has been molecularly distilled and is free of contaminants.
- I also recommend a clean multivitamin and mineral. By that I mean one without artificial colors flavors sweeteners or chemical preservatives. A November 2007 article in the medical journal LANCET revealed that artificial colors and benzoate preservatives (found in many candies) increase impulsivity and reduce attention in children found to be sensitive. My feeling is when it comes to vitamins and minerals why add ingredients that are working against balancing our children's bodies.
- On that note if your child is getting run down and sniffling do not load him up on sugar! Sugar can feed some of the microbes you are hoping that your child will be able to fight while it also weakens some of the good bacteria that is working as GALT. Sometimes colds and flu happen after a party not only from the germ exchange but also from the sugar consumption. When your child has had too much of the sweet stuff help to alkalize their body and provide balance with a bowl of vegetable soup a vegetable/apple smoothie a green drink or salad or raw vegetables and hummus dip.
- Echinacea. Has a good safety profile with adverse events uncommon. Due to cross-sensitivity individuals with allergy to ragweed chrysanthemum marigold and daisy may be at increased risk for allergic reaction. A 2004 study found a combination of echinecea propolis and Vitamin C to be effective in preventing respiratory tract infections in children. I recommend that echinacea not be used regularly throughout the season but intermittently and as needed. Propolis is a natural resin created by bees.
- Coconut oil has broad spectrum antimicrobial properties and is delicious to include in recipes throughout the winter.
Doses of any of the supplements noted above will vary based on a child's age and size. So discuss what is advised for your child with your healthcare provider and have a wonderful and healthful fall and winter season!
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Text Book of Functional Medicine. David S. Jones MD Editor in Chief. Institute of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor Wa. 2006. Diet and the Fundamental Physiological Processes: Enhancing Optimal Function and Reducing Disease.pgs 356-364. Balance of Flora GALT and mucosal integrity pg 444-450.
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