5 tips for healthier kids

Getting sick is an inevitable part of childhood. In fact, it is important in order to build and strengthen the immune system. 

It doesn’t make it any more bearable. 

I know you want the best health possible for your little one. And I know you work hard to achieve it. But we all know those bugs spread around the playground, and you are left feeling powerless and wishing that you could do more.

Never fear, there are many things you can do to support your child in achieving optimal health day to day and a speedy recovery in the face of illness...

1. Support their gut health

We now know that the function of the gut is far more extensive than just the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. In fact, did you know that the majority of our immune system resides in the gut? This is one of the reasons why it is extremely important to keep the good and bad bacteria in our little one’s bellies balanced. The constant barrage of inflammatory, aggravating and eradicating agents that our kids are exposed to – including antibiotics, other pharmaceuticals, sugar, processed foods, heavily sprayed conventional fruit and veggies, or undiagnosed food sensitivities – can imbalance their gut flora, not only allowing other organisms to take hold and proliferate, but also for their own defences to be impaired.

And it even starts before then… a child’s gut flora and immune function is largely inherited from their mother – partly in utero, but also through childbirth and coming through the birth canal. If your flora was out of whack, then your babe will inherit a similar profile. Did you require a C-section birth? Then we know that your little one will have a higher concentration of organism found on the skin than a baby who was delivered vaginally.

Probiotics – both from foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and kvass, or a supplement –  are a great way to repopulate the delicate and vital gut bacteria, and to help bring things back into balance. You also want to focus on plenty of prebiotics (the food for the probiotics). This is essentially fibre, and can be found in kid friendly foods such as apple, banana, sweet potato, onion, garlic and legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas etc) and more.

2. Grandma was right – chicken soup!

Modern science has confirmed that the good ol’ fashioned chicken soup is not just an old wives tale. In fact homemade broth, particularly from chicken bones, contains an impressive array of nutrients that not only support the immune system, but also can nourish the delicate mucous membrane of the digestive tract.

Amino acids, which are in abundance in homemade broth form the building blocks for our immune system. N-Acetyl-Cysteine, an amino acid which is particularly high in chicken broth, is known to have a thinning and expectorant effect on mucous. This great news for any sniffly noses or rattling chests.

Furthermore, broth – from any animal bones, is rich in gelatin, an important factor in healing and soothing the mucous membrane through the digestive tract. Knowing how important the gut is in immune function, it is easy to see why nanna’s chicken soup really could be the best medicine - plus you can spike it with more immune supportive foods like garlic, onion, turmeric, thyme and ginger to name a few.

3. Minimise sugar

The impact of sugar on immunity is two pronged (probably more!). Firstly, we know that sugar of any kind, fuels bacteria, yeast and viruses. Have you ever noticed that when your little one is unwell, all they feel like eating is sugary or carbohydrate rich foods? This in a nutshell is actually whatever bug has taken hold providing those signals, and supplying that stream of sweetness will only allow it to hang around longer. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that the consumption of sugar actually has a suppressing effect on the immune system. So not only are the bugs getting stronger, but our defences are becoming weaker. A better choice would be protein rich foods, fat and veggies, and if they really are crying for some sweetness then opt for diluted fresh juice or manuka honey – both of which have redeeming immune supporting properties.

4. Support not suppress a fever

While a fever too high can be dangerous for our little ones, we do need to remember that the body is trying to help not hinder the healing process. Bacteria and viruses cannot survive at a high temperature; hence inducing a fever is the body’s way of eliminating the bad guys. While we hate to see our little ones in distress, reaching for paracetamol too quickly to halt this process, can actually result in prolonging the sickness. 

Comforting measures including plenty of clear fluids and electrolytes, light food, light clothing, a damp compress on the forehead or back of the neck, and lots of love from mum will be effective in supporting the body’s innate healing mechanisms. However, if your child’s fever rises quickly, they are extremely pale or have skin rashes, complaining of pain, are profusely vomiting or suffering diarrhoea, are not improving in 48 hours, or any other symptoms that are causing concern then they should be immediately seen to by a doctor.

5. Address food sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities are definitely on the rise among children today, and can cause issues outside of the directly related symptoms that they are experiencing. If a child is consistently exposed to a food or substance that causes irritation and reactivity, then not only will their gut function and intestinal membrane become impaired, which we know to result in decreased immune function, but also their immune system is constantly reacting, essentially leaving it with less capacity to fight bacteria and viruses that come along. While the effect on the immune system can't exactly be measured, we can look at a markers such as secretory IgA through a comprehensive stool analysis, which can give insight into our gut based immune function.

Unlike food allergies, which tend to be immediately apparent, food sensitivities can develop over time, and also have a cumulative effect – what may be ok to eat one day, could be incredibly reactive the next.

Other considerations

I could go on forever (or at least a really long time!) about all of the factors that contribute to our health and the function of our immune system. Some key things to consider include:

  • nutrient deficiencies
  • stress
  • environment
  • sleep quality (and amount)
  • time spent outdoors (we want more of this!)
  • past illness and infections

While looking at all the factors may feel overwhelming, it can also be empowering because there are SO many that are modifiable and many gentle, yet effective remedies that can be employed (food, herbal medicine, supplementation etc).

Have you been on the merry-go-round of sickness? Our expert team can support you to hop off and provide you the tools to support the whole family when illness strikes again. Book online HERE

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