Immune systems are like an army. They need to be exposed to the enemy to learn how to defend, fight and become strong. The enemy in this case being bacterial and viral of course. The natural therapist perspective is to provide the immune system with the weapons and tools it needs to be able to protect you from harm.
To encourage the body’s defences to work at their optimal best and not to do the job for it. Antibiotics, albeit necessary at times, if overused will weaken the immune system, leading to a resistance and a reliance on more medication.
Different life stages have different needs when it comes to fighting the enemy. Let’s take a closer look at each life stage and how you can support immune function for all members of your family…
Babies and Infants
The majority of a baby and infant’s immune strength comes from the gut in the form of beneficial bacteria. How ‘beneficial’ this is depends on a number of variables including mode of birth (i.e. vaginal or caesarean delivery) and method of feeding (i.e. breast or formula), amongst other things. You may like to read more about this in my article, Unlocking the Key Ingredients that Will Change Your Immune System for Life.
Therefore good quality probiotics specific to infants can be a great support for the immune system. Studies have shown that babies taking a probiotic supplement suffered with less respiratory infections in a childcare setting, than those not taking a supplement.
When it’s time to start introducing solids then nutrition can play a key role in immune support. Choosing organic brightly coloured fruit and vegetables are a great start to your baby’s journey to good health and immune strength.
School Age Children
As children grow they may need more support with specific tools for the immune system. Particularly if they are sick often, taking a while to recover from an illness, and requiring medication such as antibiotics frequently.
Olive Leaf extract is a good place to start for building immune strength, and preventing infections. It is palatable and easy to take, and good quality organic sources can be readily found.
Effective herbs that help strengthen the immune system, prevent and treat respiratory infections, include Echinacea, Elderberry, Pelargonium, Andrographus and Astragalus to name a few. Not to mention the good old tried and trusted Vitamin C and Zinc. The difficulty with this age group is in the taste!
Fussy eaters and older children can be a challenge to many parents. Especially when trying to give them the nutrients they need via food and/or supplements. Things that have worked well for me and some of my patients are:
- Hiding vegetables in patties, stews, soups and smoothies.
- Providing a variety of chopped up vegies with dips such as hummus and avocado.
- Adding everything such as fruit, vegetables and supplements to a yummy smoothie.
- Mix liquid herbs with a small amount of blackcurrant cordial in a medicine cup.
- Mix powders or liquid herbs with soda water and drink with a straw.
- Mix medicine with juice and freeze into ice cubes.
Adolescents and Teenagers
A time for rebellion! Although, rebellion is less likely if taking supplements daily has become the norm through primary school, so starting early is the key. Don’t panic however, if you’re new to the whole supplementing journey.
If your teens have been sick and missed out on a party, or get together with friends, or missing school frequently and have to catch up all the time, that is often enough of an incentive to get them motivated. Many of my teen patients are bright, self-aware, responsible young people, only too happy to try and help themselves.
Remember that adult doses of herbs, vitamins and minerals apply to children over 12 as a general rule. Exceptions exist for smaller teenagers, and consulting an expert is the key to knowing the right supplement and the right dose. Most can actually start swallowing tablets now which can make it even easier, and more convenient.
Food and nutrition is still super important at this time of growth, so making sure there are loads of good nutritious snacks in the fridge and pantry will counterbalance all those teenage ‘junk food’ cravings.
Setting your children up for life with a strong, efficient, resilient immune system is the key to good health and longevity. In this forever changing environment setting good examples and supporting them through life’s challenges is the least we can do.