Top tips to boost your children’s immunity

Encourage your children to wash their hands regularly, advises nutritionist Alex Kirchin.

Encourage your children to wash their hands regularly, advises nutritionist Alex Kirchin.

The children are back to school and parents and pupils are now settled into the routine of early mornings, school runs, lunches and homework.

But with everything from head colds, chest infections and swine flu doing the rounds families are increasingly concerned about staying healthy and beating the bugs.

The classroom can be a breeding ground for germs and sometimes it can feel as if you are fighting an uphill battle trying to keep your children strong and healthy. No sooner have you nursed them through one illness than another comes along and threatens to floor them again.

Leading British nutritionist and health author Alex Kirchin, who has given seminars here, shares his 10 top tips for classroom hygiene and back-to-school health:

Back to school in good health

1. Hand washing

Germs on a child’s hands can be easily passed to other children by direct touch or indirectly by touching contaminated objects. Once on the hands they are easily transferred to the mouth and this is how many infections are spread, explains Alex.

Hand washing is the secret to keeping bugs at bay, he says. “It is therefore important to encourage children to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly, especially after every visit to the toilet and prior to eating or preparing food.

“Experts recommend spending at least 15 seconds - about the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday to You” twice - washing one’s hands properly.”

2. Healthy sneezing

‘Catch It, Bin it, Kill It’ is good respiratory and hand hygiene advice to help prevent the spread of germs.

“Teaching children to cough and sneeze hygienically and to bin their tissues after use should help to curb the spread of infection.”

3. Sleep on it

It is important not to underestimate the restorative power of sleep. When we sleep our body rejuvenates itself by replenishing lost materials and repairing wear and tear.

“Inadequate sleep affects the normal functioning of lymphocytes or white blood cells which are directly responsible for producing antibodies to fight against infections. So make sure your child is fully rested.”

4. Opt for organic.

Research indicates that organic food is more nutritious than non-organic - it contains higher levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

“According to the Soil Association it contains fewer potential toxins like synthetic pesticides and antibiotics. Seasonal fruits and vegetables have the highest nutrient content because nature naturally provides the foods you need at the best time. Generally antioxidant rich foods such as blueberries, raspberries, carrots and green leafy vegetables should help to keep immunity healthy.”

5. Herbal helpers

Alex Kirchin describes echinacea and elderberry as two top immune-strengthening herbs.

“Echinacea is well known for its effects on activating the body’s innate immune response and hence fighting infection, and elderberry can help alleviate early stages of catarrh and fight viral infections. Viridian’s Echinacea Throat Spray (£11.70 for 50ml ) with elderberry and honey is a personal favourite.”

6. Good gut bacteria

A good synbiotic formula - a nutritional supplement that combines probiotics (good gut bacteria ) and prebiotics (food for good bacteria ) - can also help to strengthen your child’s immune system, according to the nutritionist.

“Research published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology (Sept 2008 ) found that regular supplementation with synbiotics may reduce the severity and incidence of respiratory illnesses during the colder months.”

7. Boost their EFAs

Essential fatty acids are required for the normal functioning of lymphocytes (white blood cells ). Research has demonstrated that children with a history of recurrent respiratory infections fare better when taking supplements of EFAs. Organic cold pressed oils in a 2:1 ratio may provide maximum support.

8. Boost beta-glucans

“Beta-glucans are polysaccharides (molecules made up of many sugar units ). They occur most commonly as cellulose in plants and are well documented for their immune-supporting properties. Other food sources include yeasts, certain mushrooms, oats and barley. Alternatively, a good barley supplement should ensure an adequate beta-glucan supply.”

9. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a potent immune-stimulating nutrient. “It has been shown to inhibit viral replication and may reduce the severity of the common cold and shorten the duration of symptoms.”

Food sources include broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, strawberries, kiwi fruit and oranges. If incorporating these foods into your child’s diet proves tricky, you could always blend them into a delicious-tasting smoothie.

10. A good multi-vitamim.

Even the most varied fresh food diet may lack certain vitamins and minerals. A good multi-vitamin designed especially for children should ensure they get the essential nutrients needed to mount an effective immune response. Look out for vitamin A, beta carotene, the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper and iron.

“Opt for a multi nutrient that is free from additives, fillers and binders, where possible. Viridian’s ViridiKid Multi, for example, contains only 100 per cent active ingredient and no nasty additives (£14.00 for 90 caps ).”

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