Back to School – Staying Immune Strong for Kids
As our children head back to school this year, we are facing new challenges of how to keep our children healthy and well. In addition to the usual parent stresses of making them a healthy lunch, adequate sleep and getting them up on time to the bus, we now have to wrestle with the concerns of COVID and all of its kissing cousins Delta, Epsilon, Lambda and many others yet to appear.
As a father of three teenage children, I share your concerns and burden on keeping my children safe, healthy, and immune strong. Here are a few my Pharmacist Pro Tips for keeping your little one’s immune system healthy and well.
There is just no substitute for good, quality sleep. This is why I put it first on the list. Insufficient sleep can significantly impact your child’s immune system.
Studies have shown, less than 7 hours of sleep can increase your risk of a cold infection by 3-fold. Furthermore, children need a lot more sleep than adults. Depending on their age, children sleep requirements range between 8-12 hours of sleep per night.
Pharmacist Pro Tip #1:
Develop a bedtime routine that will yield 8 or more hours of sleep. Having trouble sleeping? Check out my Pharmacist Dosing Recommendations for Melatonin.
Exercising for 20-30 minutes or more per day not only improves your mental health and overall focus but has a positive impact on your immune system. When you exercise, you help flush bacteria and toxins out of the lungs and airways reducing your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness. Exercise also helps increase white blood cell circulation (WBC), the body's immune system cells that fight disease.
Make sure your child is involved in a sport or exercise of some kind so they are getting this important immune strengthening activity. Another option is to schedule a study break later in the evening and go on a 20 minute walk with them.
Pharmacist Pro Tip #2:
Exercise strengthens the immune system! Make it a routine to walk for 20 minutes after family dinner.
Kids will be kids. Which means they love to connect and interact with their environment by touching things. Be it a toddler who explores the world by putting everything in their mouth or the teenager who is too forgetful or stubborn to wash their hands. Poor hand hygiene is still a major source of infection.
This topic undoubtedly has been covered a zillion times before, so I will keep this to the point. My Pharmacist Pro tip is to use soap and water to clean the hands for 20 seconds whenever possible. If that is not available, the next best option is to use a hand sanitizer containing 60% ethyl alcohol. Anything less that 60% does not provide the antibacterial/anti-viral power to properly clean the hands.
Pharmacist Pro Tip #3:
Keep a small bottle of 60% hand sanitizer in your car or bookbag for when soap and water is not near by.
Simply stated, you are what you eat. Or perhaps a more relevant analogy would be, the healthier the food, the healthier your immune system. Your body needs the proper fuel to function well. And your immune system is no exception. While this article is not intended to cover all aspects of a proper diet, there are some foods that are more beneficial to your immune system.
Pharmacist Pro Tip #4:
- Citrus Fruit – Grapefruit, Oranges, Tangerines – no surprise here. It contains Vitamin C, known for its ability to support your white blood cells.
- Red Bell Peppers – This amazing vegetable contains almost 3 times as much vitamin C compared to an orange. And makes for a great snack!
- Broccoli – I know, I know…blah...but it is jam packed with vitamins A, C, and E.
- Kiwi – I love Kiwi because it is portable, tasty and packed with folate, potassium, vitamin K & C
- Almonds – Vitamin E is an important part of your overall immune strength. A half-cup serving of almonds provides almost 100% of the recommended daily amount.
- Yogurt – avoid yogurts with flavor as they will have sugar. Instead look for plain or Greek yogurt that have “live or active cultures” and add some honey or fruit.
Perhaps the question I get asked most often is which supplements are best for my child's Immune Health. Assuming your kids are like mine in that they skip a meal, eat fast food, get inadequate amounts of sleep (who doesn’t) or all of the above, then supplementation can help bridge those gaps when life gets a little too hectic. There are supplements that work best when taken “long term” and there are other supplements that are for “Immediate” need. Below are my recommendations for each category.
Pharmacist Pro Tip #5: Use these Supplements for Daily Immune Support
These supplements are intended to be taken daily to support proper immune function. They are not very useful once your child is sick.
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Melatonin (see my recent article about proper Melatonin dosing)
Pharmacist Pro Tip #6: Use these Supplements for Immediate Immune Support
These supplements are very powerful and intended to be taken when your immune system has been compromised. They have good data and long-term use for strengthening the immune system rapidly.
- Andrographis is one of the strongest herbs for immune support. Best formulated in combination with other herbs, Andrographis is a powerful immune modulator and anti-inflammatory. Ideally the herb should be standardized to 30% Andrographolide or higher. Ages 12 and older. HybridCR Rapid Immune Defense.
- Elderberry contains high concentrations of standardized anthocyanins and flavonoids. Can be used for Children ages 3 and up. Found in HybridEB+ Complete Elderberry Immune Support.
- Echinacea Purpurea comes in many different varieties but it is the root of the Echinacea Purpurea that contains the powerful immune enhancing benefits. Look for products that use standardized Echinacea purpurea and preferably in combination with other adaptogen herbs.
- Panax Ginseng – using the correct ginseng makes all the difference. Panax or Red Ginseng contains the proper Ginsenosides that engage T cells and NK cells for fast immune support. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
- Selenium is the most powerful anti-oxidant on planet earth. For this mineral a little goes a long way. Recommended dose no more than 150 – 200 mcg/day.
- Zinc is a powerful anti-viral that has been a staple of many immune protocols. Best combined with Selenium for a more robust immune response. Can also be used alone in higher doses but often causes nausea and GI discomfort.
- Garlic - containing allicin has powerful anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Garlic increases immune health by engaging protective NK cells and macrophages.
- Oregano - rich in antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and reduce inflammation. Oregano also contains carvacrol and thymol, two compounds associated with strong antiviral activity.
Every back-to-school season presents challenges on how to keep our children healthy and well. But the 2021-22 school year presents brand-new challenges families have never had to face before. As an immunology expert, pharmacist and a father, I hope my Pharmacist Pro Tips help to keep your family's immune system healthy and well.Medical Disclaimer
Not all of these recommendations may be appropriate for your child. Your child’s age, overall health, other illnesses and medication will determine if these are appropriate.