by Dr. Lisa Watson
It’s back-to-school time again! An exciting time for parents and kids – and the viruses and bacteria that are heading back to school with them! For many kids back-to-school means back to runny noses, sneezing, coughing, colds and flus. And for parents it means sick kids, missed work days – and likely coughs and colds of their own! But fear not fellow parents, below are my top ten tips for boosting your child’s immune system for back-to-school!
1. Get a good night sleep
During sleep our immune system is busy producing immune cells that help us to fight off the bugs that lead to colds and flu. With the change in sleep schedules at back-to-school time a lot of kids aren’t getting the sleep they need. School-aged children and teens need around 10 hours of sleep per night – so get them to bed on time!
2. Teach proper hand washing
Encourage your kids to wash their hands thoroughly several times per day. Most kids wash their hands for less than 10 seconds but it takes 20 seconds to effectively clean hands. Avoid using antibacterial soaps – most colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Regular soap is as effective at killing germs as antibacterial soap and doesn’t lead to the development of antibacterial-resistant bacteria strains.
3. Cover your cough properly!
As kids we were taught to cough or sneeze into our hands – but times have changed! When you cough or sneeze into your hand you then transmit viruses and bacteria to everything you touch – door knobs, stair rails, other people. Teach your kids to cough or sneeze into their elbow – this is known around our house as the “vampire cough” technique. It’s one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs, and my kids think it’s hilarious!
4. Feed your immune system
Eating a diet rich in immune-boosting nutrients is one of the best ways to keep our kids (and ourselves!) healthy during back-to-school. Orange, red, yellow and dark-green fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, beta carotene and other antioxidants and phytonutrients necessary for proper function of our immune system. Beans, lean meats and whole grains are a source of zinc, which is necessary for growth and immune function.
5. Skip the sweets
Refined sugars – found in candies, cakes, muffins, chocolates and sweetened beverages – decreases the function of your immune system for up to six hours after eating it. That’s a whole day of school! So skip the sugary school snacks and encourage your kids to eat fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks instead.
6. Take your vitamin D
If you live in Canada you need to take a vitamin D supplement through the fall and winter. All of us – mothers, fathers, grandparents and kids all need to take our vitamin D. In Canada we don’t get enough sunlight between October and April to make vitamin D, resulting in widespread deficiency. And since we need vitamin D to make antimicrobial peptides – our body’s natural antibiotics – it is no surprise that cold and flu season starts just as our vitamin D levels fall. Doses are based on body weight – around 800IU for children and around 2000IU for adults.
7. Battle bad bugs with good ones
Probiotics are good bacteria that live in our digestive tracts but they are good for more than healthy digestion. Research shows that probiotics improve the function of the immune system by decreasing numbers of bad bacteria, enhancing function of immune cells and strengthens the mucosal lining of our gut. Adults and children who take probiotics take less sick days and children have fewer incidences of ear infections, strep throat and colds.
8. Treat a cold early
When your kids come home with the first signs of a cold or flu, don’t hesitate to start treating them before it gets worse! There are a wide variety of herbal medicines, nutrients and supplements that are fantastic for boosting your child’s immune system at the first sign of sickness. Elderberry, vitamin C, Echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus – and many other – options are available through your Naturopathic Doctor.
9. Stay hydrated
Drinking water and clear fluids keeps you hydrated and prevents viruses and bacteria from adhering to the lining of your nose and throat. During back-to-school season I also suggest parents, kids and teachers drink herbal teas to enhance their immune function. At the Integrative Health Institute you can purchase the Immuni-Tea I formulated for my own family – a delicious blend of Echinacea, elderberry, ginger, astragalus and other herbs to enhance immune function and keep your whole family healthy!
10. Keep your kids home
Stop the spread of germs and keep sick kids home. Your child will get well faster with rest and appropriate care, rather than going to school and getting more rundown and exposed to more viruses and bacteria.
Dr. Lisa Watson is naturopathic doctor practicing at IHI. She has a special clinical interest in pre-natal health and kids & teen care. Look for more of her writing on her personal website, www.drlisawatson.com or follow Dr. Watson on twitter.