Our immune system and its responses develop and evolve from the moment we are born. From the moment we are exposed to the world, our body acts quickly to make distinct immune responses accordingly. Our immune system learns to retain memory through innate and adaptive immune responses and develops into a more robust system as we grow older. During our lifetimes, we are exposed to many foreign challenges that the body has to deal with. In their early years, children have an immature immune system that needs boosting and caring for through diet, exercise, and environment.1
History has shown us that nutrition and hygiene have significantly improved our children’s health in the developing world. Although many are exposed to pathogens, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, the body finds amazing ways of protecting itself.2 Research has also shown that good gut health from infancy can affect the development of the immune system. This remains an area of continued study, with some suggestions that good prebiotics and probiotics in children’s early years could produce positive results.3
It is worth noting, and as many of us will know, breast milk is full of immune-enhancing antibodies and white blood cells. Breast milk is a foundational life source that is a force of nutrition, unlike anything else. For those who are able, breastfeeding is good for building an infant’s immune system, which can guard against several diseases right at the beginning of their lives.4 As solid food is introduced into our child’s diet, a new chapter begins, and by school age, our kids have preferences and are experimenting with flavor and texture.
So, how can we support our children’s immune system and, therefore, its overall function? Here are XTEND5’s top 5 tips!
1. Try getting five fruits and vegetables into your kid’s diets every day.
Parents.com suggests portion guidelines as two tablespoons for toddlers and one cup for older children. They also mention the importance of phytonutrients found in many colorful fruits and vegetables and how these boost the production of white blood cells.5
Studies show that sleep can have a strong influence on our immune system. As a child’s immune function is still evolving and is technically speaking “immature”, sleep as a regulator is crucial for good immune health.6 The American Academy of Sleep suggests that children between the ages of two and twelve get between 12-14 hours of sleep on average.7
Letting our children run around is good for boosting their immune systems. Studies have shown that exercise could clear out bacteria in the lungs and airways. White blood cells also have the opportunity to circulate more rapidly and therefore, could detect illnesses quicker and get to work. Exercise reduces stress and the release of stress hormones that can impede the immune system functioning well.8
4. Lower or eliminate sugar.
Sugar can weaken the bacteria-fighting immune cells. The effects of drinking a sugary drink can have an impact for several hours.9
5. Avoid creating an overly sanitized environment.
An article in the New York Times mentions the work of Dr. Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Center and professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, who describes how being exposed to bacterial microbes at an early age can affect shaping a child’s immune system. She is quoted, saying: “Studies have shown that priming or seeding of the microbiome in the child is absolutely critical. While you don’t want to go out and expose your child to aggressive infections, you don’t want to create such a sterile environment that their immune system doesn’t develop normally; it puts them at risk of developing immune diseases.”10
Boosting children’s immune systems can be fun and inspiring. Get creative and remember to extend grace towards yourself, your child, and others, especially in the current climate. Do your best to help educate your children on the beauty and nutritional benefits of eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise, and playing in the dirt a bit!
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