5 ways to boost your child’s immunity
It’s cold and flu season – here’s how you can strengthen your child’s immune system to help them dodge winter bugs.
Watching your child battle coughs, aches, fever, runny noses, sore throats and other symptoms of cold and flu is tough on the whole family.
But you can take action to help your child face the peak virus season with their best foot forward.
The best way to support kids’ immune systems through winter is to adopt basic good living principles, says Dr James Best, of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
“A balanced diet packed with veggies and fruit, regular physical activity, sufficient sleep and being on top of their vaccinations,” he says.
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Balanced diet: Serve a healthy variety of foods
Rather than trying to boost intake of a particular nutrient or vitamin, Dr Best believes offering healthy, well-balanced fare best serves your family at meal times.
“The best diet you can implement for them is a balanced one containing the five food groups, with a focus on fruit and vegetables and enough iron and calcium rich foods. To be honest, there’s no need to overcomplicate it,” he says.
Let kids get dirty
Letting your kids enjoy a little dirt action could actually be good for their developing immune systems.
A 2012 US study found exposure to dirt and germs during childhood was an important determinant of adulthood sensitivity to allergic and autoimmune diseases.
And a 2009 Northwestern University study indicated contact with infectious microbes early in life may provide protection from cardiovascular diseases as an adult
“Some parents do get overzealous as far as germs and dirt is concerned, however micro germs are a part of everyday life and inevitably co-exist as part of our natural environment,” Dr Best says.
“As long as you’re teaching your kids good hygiene practices, such as hand washing, you’re good,” Dr Best says.
Pets make healthy play mates
There’s no need to freak out if the family pooch gives your toddler a big sloppy kiss on the mouth.
Canadian research found children who grow up around pets, particularly dogs, had higher levels of two types of immune-boosting gut bacteria associated with lower risk of allergic disease and obesity.
Establish a good sleep routine
A 2017 study of adult twins by University of Washington concluded sleep deprivation suppressed the immune system.
And Dr Best says children are no different.
“Kids require more sleep than adults, so the best thing you can do for them is ensure they get enough sleep and their sleeping pattern is consistent, as it’s better for their body clock and overall health,” Dr Best says.
Consider vaccinating against the flu
Adults are usually willing to get a flu vaccination, but often to want to spare their children from the experience – but that is misguided, according to Dr Best.
“Several children died from last year’s particularly bad strain. Since children have a higher risk of complications from the flu, getting those who are older than six months vaccinated is advised, especially if they have other health issues like asthma. Discuss with your family doctor,” he says.
Written by Claire Burke