BOOST YOUR CHILD’S IMMUNE SYSTEM
The maturing immune system:
A baby is born with an immature immune system, which needs time, good nutrition, sufficient rest and a number of infections to grow stronger. Yes, you heard right! In infants and children, the gradual exposure to bacteria and to viruses, like the common cold, helps develop the immune system!
Repeated infections in children are common, normal and usually self-limiting. The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne estimates that the average, healthy 12 year old can expect to have had about 67 infections during his short life and 37 of these he experienced in his first 6 years. (Buchanan, N. Childhood Medicines: What They Are and When You Need Them. Doubleday, Australia 1987, p.13) This means that, on average, children are fighting some kind of infection every other month!
The majority of these early infections, approximately 61%, are upper respiratory infections, colds and rhinitis, followed by tonsillitis and bronchitis. Acute otitis media (middle ear infections) comprises 1.3% of total general practice presentations and 8% of children’s problems. ( Bridges-Webb C, Britt H, Miles DA, Neary S, Charles J, Traynor V. Morbidity and treatment in general practice in Australia 1990-1991. Med J Aust 1992; 157 (Suppl): 1S-56S.)
Since it seems quite “normal” that the average child, up to the age of 10, gets approximately 6 colds per year, parents should firstly not despair and secondly support their child’s immune system as best they can so that their child may experience fewer infections to start with, manage those he gets with fewer complications and needs a shorter time to recover.
Fewer complications means less orthodox medicines such as antibiotic, paracetamol and decongestants and that means stronger immune systems in the long run. As a matter of fact, these medicines may be of little use. A number of well-designed studies and detailed analyses have demonstrated that there were no significant differences in the clinical course of acute ear infections between children treated with antibiotics or given a placebo. Worse still, early antibiotic use has been linked to an increased risk for developing childhood asthma! (Marra F, Lynb L, Coombes M, et al. Does antibiotic exposure during infancy lead to development of asthma?: A systematic review and metaanalysis. Chest 2006 129: 610-618.)
The repeated use of antibiotics is also linked to an increase in recurrence of certain infections such as tonsillitis and otitis media. In her book “Poisonous Prescriptions” Lisa Landymore-Lim states that “Children who have been exposed to antibiotics on several occasions in general appear to suffer from tonsillitis and otitis media, these conditions appearing to increase in frequency and intensity with increasing exposure to antibiotics”. (Landymore-Lim, L. Poisonous Prescriptions. West Australia 6008, 1994, p. 141)
Very recent reports seem to suggest that decongestants are not effective and may even be dangerous for very young infants or if accidentally given in over-dose. The Food and Drug Administration in the US (FDA) has concluded that over-the-counter cough and cold formulas are not effective in children and may not be safe. From 1969 to 2006, 123 children died in related deaths as reported in May 2008 by CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews.
Even the humble paracetamol should be considered as a last resort medication. It is warranted to administer it if a child runs a temperature of 40 degree Celsius or higher. Up to this temperature it is recognized that fever is a beneficial process and the use of paracetamol to lower low to moderate temperature is questionable.
Aspirin is no longer recommended in children under 12 years of age because it can cause Reye’s Syndrome, a severe hepatic injury and encephalopathy.
The five top naturopathic recommendations for boosting your child’s immune system:
- Steer clear of suppressive medicines such as antibiotics, decongestants and paracetamol.
These medicines do not work with the body’s innate ability to throw off disease and may largely be ineffective and even dangerous for some infants. As mentioned previously, their efficacy and safety has lately been questioned and medicines such as antibiotics have been linked to a greater recurrence of tonsillitis and otitis media as well as an increase in asthma. They should not be considered for simple, uncomplicated infections.
- Life-style factors such as a healthy, balanced diet, exercise and sufficient rest & sleep play a great role in a healthy immune system.
Breast is best! It delivers the correct amount and concentration of nutrients that a baby needs during the different stages of development and contains at least four anti-infective protective substances which are largely absent from cows milk. These substances protect the baby against disease until it can develop its own supply. This happens gradually during the first year of life.
To maintain a healthy immune system and prevent infections a fibre-rich, nutrient-dense diet should be consumed, optimal in all vitamins and minerals and low in sugar and refined and convenience foods.
The diet should contain a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, cooked dried beans and peas, lean red meat, free-range chicken and fish. Sufficient levels of zinc, copper, iron, selenium, protein and vitamins, especially vitamin C, A and B6 are necessary for a well functioning immune system.
Even when the diet is well balanced supplementation may be warranted during times of stress and before immunisation or to help overcome illness. If the child is a fussy eater a nutritionally balanced protein powder, suitable for children, can be used to make delicious thick shakes which supply the child at least with some basic vitamins and minerals as well as amino acids, important for repair.
In my clinic I commonly find children suffering from repeated infections frequently lack sufficient protein, iron and zinc. All three of those nutrients are found in lean red meat. They do not eat enough fruit but are served fruit juices by their parents in the mistaken believe that they deliver concentrated vitamins. Their diet consists of too much refined and processed foods and sugar, which will further deplete their vitamin and mineral stores.
Foods which enhance the immune system:
Apricots: contain beta-carotene, iron. (please note that some children may react adversely to the preservatives on dried apricots)
Avocado: are a calorie dense food and contain vitamin E, C, D, B6 and riboflavin as well as good fats in the form of monosaturated fats.
Sprouts: contain vitamin C and are best made at home for added freshness.
Beetroot: a valuable tonic for convalescents; it contains antioxidants and folate (Note: Makes urine and stool look red!)
Blueberries: a virtual powerhouse in nutrition! They contain vitamin C and anti-bacterial compounds.
Broccoli: contains vitamin C, beta-carotene, fibre, calcium, potassium and folic acid
Carrots: Two carrots contain more than 24mg of beta-carotene, 5 grams of fibre, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and selenium
Oranges and Kiwi fruit: contain vitamin C and fibre. (Eat the fruit and avoid orange juice)
Brown rice: contains fiber, is mineral rich, contains magnesium, selenium, vitamin Bs, iron, zinc
Lentils: fiber, folic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and B vitamins.
Sweet potato: contains more fibre, beta-carotene than white potato and contains some calcium
A warning about sugar!
Refined sugar consumption dramatically inhibits immune function by reducing the white blood cells’ ability to engulf and destroy bacteria. Avoid sugary foods as well as fruit juices and fizzy drinks!
Regular exercise makes the body stronger and builds endurance. The main benefits are due to improved cardiovascular and respiratory function. This enhances the transport of oxygen and nutrients into cells and carbon dioxide and waste from the tissues for elimination.
- Stress management and TLC are not to be underestimated and are of great benefit to both the patient and the caregiver.
Stress, negative attitudes and lack of sleep stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which we experience as fight or flight reactions. The immune system functions better under parasympathetic nervous system control and this part of our nervous system controls our functions during periods of rest, relaxation, meditation and sleep. As a matter of fact, potent immune enhancing components are greatly increased during our deepest levels of sleep.
Massage is most probably one of the oldest healing interventions and can be beneficial on both the physical and emotional level. It is said to relax the central nervous system, sooth tight, tense and aching muscles, improve circulation of both blood and lymphatic fluid and is therefore able to speed up healing. It is a wonderful way to share TLC with your child!
Please remember that babies and children are capable of experiencing stress just like any person. Changes in environment or routine, vaccination or prolonged exposure to the elements (heat and cold) can all be perceived as stressful by the body.
Flower essences, such as Rescue Remedy, are a wonderful and effective way of helping soothe tempers or delicate natures.
- A healthy gut is absolute necessary for a well functioning immune system.
A vast number of immune cells are found in the gut area. The immune system has been described as a kind of see-saw with the gut associated immune cells as its pivotal point.
Adding probiotics to your child’s diet either, in form of a supplement or as plain yoghurt, is advisable as is making sure that the diet contains sufficient fibre from fruit and vegetables.
Regularity is also important and it can be achieved through a healthy diet, sufficient water intake and exercise.
- Naturopathic and homoeopathic medicines provide an excellent, safe and effective alternative to commonly prescribed or over the counter medicines once an infection has taken hold.
Homoeopathics are gentle yet fast acting remedies suitable for even the youngest child. They are easy to administer and they are mostly “taste-neutral”, so children will actually take them! There are homoeopathics for helping the body manage fever, nasal congestion, coughs, ear aches, teething, stomach aches, diarrhoea, rashes and more.
Homoeopathics should be prescribed by a qualified practitioner and there are some remedies that a naturopath or homoeopath may recommend to have in your medicine cabinet as stand-by remedies suitable for the whole family.
Tissue salts, which aim to correct mineral imbalances, are also a valuable weapon in helping manage many illnesses because they are relatively inexpensive, readily available and easy to dispense. One of the tissue salts which is recommended at the first stages of an infection is Ferr.Phos. or phosphate of iron. It is indicated in congestion, inflammation, high temperature, quickened pulse and whenever there is a need for more oxygen, as is the case when the body fights an infection.
Many herbal remedies are easily given as teas, syrups and tinctures. The list of herbal remedies suitable for children is long.
Chamomile to help induce sleep and for its antispasmodic effect.
Peppermint to reduce fewer and dill and fennel to calm upset stomachs or colic.
Lemon balm for its antiviral properties and for its quietening effects on the nervous system.
Marshmallow root for coughs which need to be soothed.
Linden flowers to reduce fevers.
A well known combination of Yarrow, Elderflowers and Peppermint, in short YEP-tea, slightly sweetened, is a pleasant tasting tea which can be give at the first sign of a cold and throughout the illness. Yarrow has an anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic action, Elderflower reduces catarrh and increases sweating and therefore supports elimination of toxins and Peppermint reduces fever and nausea. I like to add Linden Flowers if the child has actually come down with the flu rather than a simple cold since this herb is well known for its anti-viral, anti-influenza action.
As with homoeopathics, herbal remedies should be prescribed by a qualified naturopath or herbalist.