Each year, when the children return to school, parents prepare for their children’s immune systems to face a few weeks of colds and other illnesses.
Add to that list this year a deadly pandemic, with some symptoms that can mimic other diseases. As children go to school now, cases of Covid-19 are on the rise and children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated against the virus.
Having a well-functioning immune system influenced by lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious foods, exercising and sleeping can help reduce the risk of Covid-19, according to guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At the same time, no single food will totally stop someone from contracting the coronavirus or curing the disease, the World Health Organization said.
“We know that immunocompromised people are more likely to contract Covid and become seriously ill,” said CNN medical analyst Leana Wen, emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute’s School of Public Health at George Washington University.
“We don’t know to what extent improving your immunity would alienate Covid in any way. This might make sense, but we don’t have the data to say this is the case. However, from a common sense perspective, we should do everything we can to improve health anyway. “
Because the immune system involves several functions that take place throughout the body, strengthening it requires a few basics, said Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are seven ways to strengthen your child’s immune system with hygiene, nutrition, rest, and more.
1. Encourage personal hygiene
Protecting your child from disease starts with trying your best to keep him from being exposed to infectious agents, said Maya Adam, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University in California.
“This involves maintaining hygiene practices,” said Adam. “Washing your hands is very important. The first thing we can teach our children is to wash their hands as often as the environment allows. And as much as recommended in your location, follow the guidelines on mask wearing and social distancing. Try and be sensible about not staying in large groups, especially if there are potential sources of infection. “
Encourage hand washing when your kids get home from school or when they’re about to eat, said Julia Zumpano, a registered and licensed nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Unless they shower before bed, ask them to wash their hands and face before bed too, she added.
2. Follow vaccination schedules
Children under age 12 cannot be vaccinated against coronavirus, but following schedules for other immunizations is critical to all children’s long-term health, said Adam. Ask your child’s pediatrician what vaccinations he needs at this stage of life, Zumpano recommended.
“(I’m) encouraging parents to trust the fact that the reason we don’t have polio cases, for example, is because a vaccine has been introduced for it,” said Adam. If and when your children are eligible, vaccinating them against the coronavirus is the key to keeping them healthy and ending the pandemic.
“Once the vaccine (Covid-19) is available and approved for children under 12, my 11-year-old will be one of the first, I hope, to receive it, because I think vaccines are part of our overall health.” added Adam. “It’s like brushing your teeth and flossing at night. It’s like getting enough sleep and having balanced nutrition.”
3. Feed them balanced nutrition
When it comes to using foods to support immune function, one method recommended by all these experts is balanced nutrition.
“A lot of parents shudder when they hear it because there’s a lot of confusion about ‘What does this really mean? What do I need to do?’” said Adam, who is also the author of “Food Love Family: A Practical Guide to Child Nutrition.”
“If you do something for your kids in terms of nutrition,” she added, increase the variety of fruits and vegetables as much as your budget allows.
Vitamins B, C, A and zinc are some other micronutrients that help immune cells fight infections, said Dr. Mark Corkins, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics nutrition committee. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, red meat, poultry, nuts and seafood.
Foods such as salmon, organic meats, green leafy vegetables and dairy products provide vitamin A. All food groups contain varying levels of B vitamins. And citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes are rich in vitamin C.
4. Promote bowel health
The microbiome in our gastrointestinal tract helps regulate the functioning of our immune system, said Corkins, who is also the St. Jude Chair of Excellence in Pediatric Gastroenterology and a professor at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. Foods with probiotics that support the microbiome include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and sourdough bread, said Adam.
Stefanski recommended eating foods in their complete forms as often as possible, since “intestinal bacteria are nourished by certain dietary fibers”.
5. Prioritize sleep
It’s during sleep that bodies regenerate, so helping your children maintain a healthy sleep routine is also essential for immune function, Zumpano said.
Young children can relax by reading or being taken for a leisurely walk outside before bed, suggested Adam. Older children can relax by listening to audios or stories from meditation apps.
“Start this routine an hour before they are supposed to be sleeping because it helps them make a better transition to sleep,” she added.
Also, a dark, cold room is more conducive to adequate sleep, Stefanski said. The American Academy of Pediatrics details the amount of sleep children need depending on their age.
6. Help them reduce stress
Since chronic stress is an immune system depressant, keeping an eye on your child’s mental health by promoting quality time, conversations during activities and available mental health professionals is also important in supporting immunity, said Adam.
“I know it sounds impossible,” said Adam. “But if you’re going to eat, try programming so you can eat with your kids and talk to them. A lot of research has been done on mealtimes and how this is beneficial to children’s mental health, because it gives them a regular forum where they can say things… It’s much less effective to go up to a child and say, ‘Is something bothering you? ‘ “
7. Let them play outdoors
Since exercise releases mood-boosting chemicals, the subsequent reduction in stress can support immune strength, Zumpano said.
“Children should mostly play, but having them outdoors as much as possible, running, playing, doing whatever they like to do shouldn’t feel like punishment, but something they can safely engage with.” said Adam.
(Translated text. Read the original in English here.)