Boosting children’s immunity in winter

Because young children’s immunity is still developing, they are more prone to catching winter chills than the older child and adult.

The common cold is the biggest reason for absence from school or work, and the most common reason people visit the doctor.

While an adult who is not in contact with children can expect to suffer about two or three episodes throughout the year, children and families with children are likely to experience significantly more. In fact, young children may catch six to 12 colds a year.1

Another reason that young children come down with frequent infections is because the viruses and bacteria that cause them spread easily and rapidly from person to person in crowded, closed spaces such as daycare centres, preschools and schools. If your child displays symptoms of the following common illnesses, please see your healthcare practitioner:2

Children’s immunity can be challenged by many conditions

  • Colds and flu
    Colds are caused by a large number of viruses and characterised by a sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, mild fever, headache and cough. The symptom profile of flu is similar to that of a cold, but can be more severe, usually has a rapid onset, and can include symptoms such as chills, higher temperatures, aches and pains, and vomiting
  • Croup
    Croup is a viral infection that affects the voice box and the airways, making it hard for the child to breathe. It is most common in toddlers, but can also affect older children
  • Sinusitis
    Children with sinusitis present with nasal discharge, daytime cough, and may complain of symptoms such as pain or tenderness around the eyes, cheekbones or upper teeth and severe headache
  • Strep throat
    A common bacterial infection in children and teens, strep throat causes pain in the throat, swollen, tender glands in the neck, headache and fever
  • Pneumonia
    Symptoms may include a cough with shortness of breath, fever, loss of appetite and low energy levels. In more severe cases shaking chills, chest pain and difficulty breathing may be seen
  • Ear infections
    The symptoms – predominantly pain – are due to fluid build up that causes pressure on the eardrum. Acute otitis media often clears up on its own, but sometimes the fluid can stay in the ear causing trouble hearing
  • Conjunctivitis
    Commonly known as pinkeye, conjunctivitis is an infection of the white part of the eye and can be caused by viruses, bacteria or chemicals, or may accompany an allergy

Natural medicines to boost children’s immunity look out for

Elderflower/elderberry

The elderflower is traditional used for fever management, colds and flu, chronic nasal catarrh, sinusitis and to increase resistance to illness.6

Modern research shows it has antibacterial, antiviral (including against influenza viruses) and immune stimulating effects.5,7

Elderberry is often used together with vitamin C and zinc to support the natural process of recuperation.5

Quercetin

Quercetin, a naturally occurring element in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, is widely used in natural medicine. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting and antiviral properties

Vitamin A 

Vitamin A plays an important role in immune health. Together with the skin, the mucosal lining of the airways, digestive and genitourinary tracts form our first line of defence against infection. Vitamin A helps to maintain the structural and functional integrity of these cells. 1

Supplementing with vitamin A has been reported to be effective in repairing immune function in well-nourished children suffering from vitamin A deficiency.13

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is used up rapidly by the body during infection.

A large review of studies has found that regularly taking vitamin C reduces the duration of common cold episodes in children.15

Zinc 

Supplementing with zinc has been shown to shorten duration of cold symptoms, decreased severity of symptoms and a reduced incidence of colds in children.21,22

How to prevent childhood infections

  • Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and environmental toxins
  • Participate in regular exercise
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Ensure adequate sleep – sleep deprivation has consistently been shown to impair different components of immune function
  • Stress management – it was recently reported that 1-2 children in every Australian classroom are too anxious to enjoy life.3 What is more, these problems often go unnoticed by parents and teachers
  • Take steps to avoid infections, such as frequent hand washing

Nutrition

The health of their immune system is greatly affected by a child’s nutritional status. Factors that reduce immunity include: nutrient deficiencies, excessive sugar consumption and consumption of allergenic foods.4

Dietary factors that enhance immune function include all essential nutrients and antioxidants. Thus, consistent with good health, optimal immune function requires a diet that:

  • is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts
  • excludes junk foods, excessive amounts of saturated fats and refined sugars
  • has adequate protein
  • has plenty of pure water

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Children's Immunity

Speak to your healthcare practitioner for more information about supplementation. Make sure to always read the label and use only as directed. If symptoms persist, see your healthcare practitioner.

References

  1. Cold and flu. Lung Foundation Australia. Viewed 18 June 2014, http://lungfoundation.com.au/patient-area/lung-diseases/cold-and-flu/
  2. Common childhood infections. American Academy of Paediatrics 2005. Viewed 18 June 2014, http://www.thepediatriccenter.net/docs/beuf/1month/CommonInfections.pdf
  3. Anxious kids suffer in silence: professor. Nine News 20 June 2014. Viewed 21 June 2014, http://news.ninemsn.com.au/health/2014/06/20/10/22/anxious-kids-suffer-in-silence-professor#51q6To81e7qWsUxe.99
  4. Murray MT, Pizzorno J. The encyclopaedia of natural medicine, 3rd NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
  5. Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, et al. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement Altern Med 2011;11:16.
  6. Engels G, Brinckmann J. European e HerbalGram 2013;97:1-7.
  7. Kinoshita E, Hayashi K, Katayama H, et al. Anti-influenza virus effects of elderberry juice and its fractions. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 2012;76(9):1633-1638.
  8. Roscheck B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, et al. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry 2009;70(10):1255-1261.
  9. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms of an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1(4):361-369.
  10. Davis JM, Murphy EA, McClellan JL, et al. Quercetin reduces susceptibility to influenza infection following stressful exercise. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2008;295(2):R505-509.
  11. Higdon J. Vitamin A. Micronutrient information center, Linus Pauling Institute 2003. Viewed 21 June 2014, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminA/
  12. Stephensen CB. Vitamin A, infection, and immune function. Annu Rev Nutr 2001;21:167-192.
  13. Lin J, Song F, Yao P, et al. Effect of vitamin A supplementation on immune function of well-nourished children suffering from vitamin A deficiency in China. Eur J Clin Nutr 2008;62(12):1412-1418.
  14. Field CJ, Johnson IR, Schley PD. Nutrients and their role in host resistance to infection. J Leukoc Biol 2002;71(1):16-32.
  15. Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013;1:CD000980.
  16. Higdon J. Vitamin D. Micronutrient information center, Linus Pauling Institute 2004. Viewed 22 June 2014, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminD/index.html
  17. Drake VJ. Nutrition and immunity. Micronutrient information center, Linus Pauling Institute 2010. Viewed 22 June 2014, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/immunity.html
  18. Sundaram ME, Coleman LA. Vitamin D and influenza. Adv Nutr 2012;3(4):517-525.
  19. Munns C, Zacharin MR, Rodda CP, et al. Prevention and treatment of infant and childhood vitamin D deficiency in Australia and New Zealand: a consensus statement. Med J Aust 2006;185(5):268-272.
  20. Roxas M, Jurenk J. Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Altern Med Rev 2007;12(1):25-48.
  21. Kurugöl Z, Akilli M, Bayram N, et al. The prophylactic and therapeutic effectiveness of zinc sulphate on common cold in children. Acta Paediatr 2006;95(10):1175-1181.
  22. Das RR, Singh M. Oral zinc for the common cold. JAMA 2014;311(14):1440-1441.
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