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Your Child and Their Immune System

70% of the immune system is found in the digestive tract! This means the bacteria – both friendly and bad – in the gut can influence the immune system (1). When working properly, the immune system is designed to fight disease and keep bacteria and viruses at bay. Whilst exposure to bugs and germs in everyday lives can strengthen children’s immune system, if weakened at any time, our children become more venerable and susceptible to colds, flu and serious illnesses(2).


Top tops to boost your child’s immune system  

  

1. Eat the rainbow
Fruit and vegetables are a rich source of various immune boosting substances including fibre, and vitamins as well as phytochemicals including carotenoids and flavonoids. These substances are essential for the optimal functioning of the immune system.(3) 

Dietary fibre is the indigestible part of plant material and includes two main parts; soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre absorbs water to form a thick gel substance whereas insoluble fibre cannot be digested and remains unchanged through the digestive system. Soluble fibre can feed the good bacteria in the gut which can enhance your child’s immune system. Foods high in soluble fibre include; beans, peas, oats, barley, apples and citrus fruits.(4)

Vitamins are essential components of our diet and have been known to support the immune system. The table below highlights three vitamins that can help boost your childs immune system and what foods to find them in.(5)     

 Vitamin C Oranges

Grapefruits
Tangerines
Strawberries 
Bell peppers 
Spinach
Kale
Broccoli

Vitamin B6

Chicken
Cold water fish – tuna, salmon 
Green vegetables
Chickpeas

Vitamin E

Nuts
Seeds
Spinach

Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for the bright red, yellow and orange hues in many fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids play an important role in health – they are converted to vitamin A in the body which is essential to normal growth development alongside having anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Foods high in carotenoids include; squash, carrots, grapefruit, oranges and apricots.(6)  

 Flavonoids are a diverse group of phytonutrients found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Along with carotenoids, they are responsible for the vivid colours in fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Foods rich in flavonoids include onions, tea, strawberries, citrus fruit, kale, grapes and my spices.(7)

2. Sleep  
Without sufficient sleep, children’s body make fewer cytokines – a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation- which can dampen the immune system. This results in your child being more susceptible to a bad cold or the case of the flu.(8) Make sure your child is getting a good night’s sleep, try and get them to avoid watching a screen an hour before they go to sleep as this can impact their sleep. Reading or listening to music may help your child unwind and fall asleep faster. 

3. Outdoor play 
The benefits of outdoor play are endless – physical activity improves heart health, maintains a health body weight, strengths the bones and muscles and can create a stronger immune system.(9) Encourage your children to reduce their screen time usage and enjoy the outdoors. 

4. Friendly bacteria 
As bacteria can have an effect on immune functioning it is important that children have a diverse population of friendly bacteria in their gut! Taking a daily supplement of live cultures can help support their immune system.  


SOURCES

  1. Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical & Experimental Immunology. 2008;153:3-6. 
  2. How to boost your child’s immune system [Internet]. BBC Good Food. 2019 [cited 29 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-boost-your-childs-immune-system 
  3. Hosseini B, Berthon B, Saedisomeolia A, Starkey M, Collison A, Wark P et al. Effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on inflammatory biomarkers and immune cell populations: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2018;108(1):136-155.
  4. Natalie Butler L. Soluble and insoluble fiber: Differences and benefits [Internet]. Medical News Today. 2019 [cited 28 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319176.php 
  5. 3 Vitamins That Are Best for Boosting Your Immunity [Internet]. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. 2019 [cited 29 August 2019]. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-vitamins-best-boosting-immunity/ 
  6.  Szalay J. What Are Carotenoids? [Internet]. livescience.com. 2019 [cited 29 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/52487-carotenoids.html 
  7. Szalay J. What Are Flavonoids? [Internet]. livescience.com. 2019 [cited 29 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/52524-flavonoids.html 
  8. Boost Your Health with Better Sleep - National Sleep Foundation [Internet]. Sleepfoundation.org. 2019 [cited 29 August 2019]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity 
  9. Bento G, Dias G. The importance of outdoor play for young childrenʼs healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal. 2017;2(5):157-160. 


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