8 Best Ways to Boost your Child’s Immune System during this Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world’s attention to the immune system, the body’s defence force against disease-causing bacteria, viruses and other organisms that we touch, ingest and inhale every day.

What can you do to protect your child from the virus? How do you boost your child's immune system or at least make sure that it will function normally? Here are the ways you can adopt to keep your child's immune system at the best possible level.

1. Healthy Diet

foods and fruits to boost immune system

Children’s immune systems can take a hit if they're not being supported by healthy foods. To keep kids well, limit their overall intake of additives and sugar.

Serve more fruits and vegetables. Carrots, green beans, oranges, strawberries: They all contain carotenoids, which are immunity-boosting phytonutrients, says William Sears, M.D., author of The Family Nutrition Book. Phytonutrients may increase the body's production of infection-fighting white blood cells and interferon, an antibody that coats cell surfaces, blocking out viruses. Studies show that a diet rich in phytonutrients can also protect against such chronic diseases as cancer and heart disease in adulthood. Try to get your child to eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day. (A serving is about two tablespoons for toddlers, 1 cup for older kids.)

2. Boost sleep time.

Studies of adults show that sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to illness by reducing natural killer cells, immune-system weapons that attack microbes and cancer cells. The same holds true for children, says Kathi Kemper, M.D., director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research at Children's Hospital, in Boston. Children in daycare are particularly at risk for sleep deprivation because all the activity can make it difficult for them to nap. How much sleep do kids need? An infant may need up to 16 hours of crib time a day, toddlers require 11 to 14 hours, and preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours. "If your child can't or won't take naps during the day, try to put her to bed earlier," says Dr. Kemper.

3. Breast-feed your baby.

Breast milk contains turbo-charged immunity-enhancing antibodies and white blood cells. Nursing guards against ear infections, allergies, diarrhea, pneumonia, meningitis, urinary tract infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Studies show that it may also enhance your baby's brain power and help protect her against insulin-dependent diabetes, Crohn's disease, colitis, and certain forms of cancer later in life. Colostrum, the thin yellow "premilk" that flows from the breasts during the first few days after birth, is especially rich in disease-fighting antibodies, says Dr. Shubin. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life. If this commitment isn't realistic, aim to breastfeed for at least the first two to three months in order to supplement the immunity your baby received in utero.

4. Guard against virus spread. 

Fighting germs doesn't technically boost immunity, but it's a great way to reduce stress on your child's immune system. Make sure your kids wash their hands often—and with soap. You should pay particular attention to their hygiene before and after each meal and after playing outside, handling pets, blowing their nose, using the bathroom, and arriving home from daycare. When you're out, carry disposable wipes with you for quick cleanups. To help kids get into the handwashing habit at home, let them pick out their own brightly colored hand towels and soap in fun shapes, colors, and scents.

Another key germ-busting strategy: "If your child does get sick, throw out her toothbrush right away," says Barbara Rich, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. A child can't catch the same cold or flu virus twice, but the virus can hop from toothbrush to toothbrush, infecting other family members. If it's a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, however, your child can reinfect herself with the same germs that got her sick in the first place. In that case, tossing the toothbrush protects both your child and the rest of your family.

5. Banish secondhand smoke. 

If you or your spouse smokes, quit. Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 harmful chemicals, many of which can irritate or kill cells in the body, says Beverly Kingsley, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. Kids are more susceptible than adults to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke because they breathe at a faster rate; a child's natural detoxification system is also less developed. Secondhand smoke increases a child's risk of SIDS, bronchitis, ear infections, and asthma. It may also affect intelligence and neurological development. If you absolutely can't quit smoking, you can reduce your child's health risks considerably by smoking only outside the house, Dr. Kingsley says.

6. Help calm their stress and anxiety.

In today’s fast-paced world where parents are overstressed and children often over-scheduled, it can take a toll on immunity. Children’s bodies have the same response to stress that adults’ do—their cortisol and adrenaline rises. When this elevation in stress hormones is sustained, their immune systems’ response is lowered. In fact, one research review that specifically looked at early life stressors, assessed that "individuals exposed to chronic stressors can exhibit immune dysregulation."

It’s important for children to have lots of down time, time for creative play, and simply times of rest. Busy bodies need to take a break every now and then for their immune systems to thrive.

7. Maintain your child's microbiotia.

Our microbiome is the collection of friendly bacteria that naturally occurs in our guts. They protect our digestive tracts, help us to digest food, and shield us from invading bacteria and viruses. As such, maintaining a healthy microbiome can help a child's ability to fend off infection. In order to do so, probiotic supplements can help maintain a healthy gut and support immune health. Of course, speak to your family practitioner before starting your child on regular probiotics, as it can vary based on age.

8. Supplements for Kids.

Be cautious about taking immune system supplements. With supplements, moderation is key.

In my opinion, the best supplement to boost a child’s immune system is Vitamin C. Vitamin C cannot be produced by the body and it's easily destroyed by heat. Therefore, your kid might have inadequate level unless he or she is taking enough of fresh fruits and vegetables. Again, a moderate dose supplement of Vitamin C might do the trick. If you kid is taking enough of fruits and vegetables, vitamin C supplement may not be necessary.

Disclaimer: All information presented is not intended to replace the guidance from your healthcare practitioner.

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