Back to School Immune System Boosters

Yes, it is that time of year again when the stores are full of back to school supplies and it’s time to start thinking about how healthy your child’s immune system is. As Fall and Winter approach so does cold and flu season and having kids at school means more opportunities for them to catch germs and bring them home to the rest of the family.

A healthy immune system is designed to protect us from all those germs, but it doesn’t always catch them all. Making sure your child follows a healthy lifestyle regimen is a good way to make sure his immune system is able to do the best job it can in preventing illnesses. That includes eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, getting regular exercise, and getting adequate amounts of sleep. To get your child ready for back to school, he may need a little extra of all these things to give his or her immune system a boost.

Here are some other natural ways to boost the immune system.

Load up on vitamin foods – According to Lexi Hagenson, licensed acupuncturist and nationally certified herbalist, Vitamin C can help boost the immune system. Incorporate foods such as grapefruit, goji berries, broccoli and bell peppers into your child’s snacks and meals to help him or her get some extra Vitamin C. Vitamins work best when we get them from foods or whole food supplements instead of isolated synthetic vitamin supplements so go for foods rich in vitamins rather than a multi-vitamin supplement. If you have a picky eater and need to use supplements, look for ones with vitamins from whole food sources.

Keep your probiotics healthy – Probiotics are the “friendly bacteria” that live in our guts. We have over 500 types of bacteria that naturally live in our intestines to help with digestion and are part of the immune system. They also help with getting nutrients out of our foods for the body to use. B vitamins, vitamin K and folate are all delivered to the body this way and about 10% of our energy comes from the work these friendly bacteria do. There are also some bacteria that have specific functions within the immune system such as making more T cells. To show how probiotics can help boost the immune system, consider a study reported by the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. This study showed 40% less colds and intestinal infections in New Zealand athletes studied when they took probiotics. Making sure you have a healthy supply of probiotics in your gut to fight off illness causing bacteria is one way to support a healthy immune system.

Using Kefir to make shakes or smoothies, giving yogurt for snacks, or using energy bars and cereals that have probiotics are one way to get more probiotics into your child’s system. There are also yogurts you can buy made from rice, soy or coconut milk if you want to avoid dairy. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, Brewer’s yeast and microalgae are other non-dairy sources. Just be sure to read food labels and look for products that say “live active cultures”. Taking high quality probiotic supplements such as acidophilus, bifidus or a full-spectrum of probiotics is another way. This is especially important if your child has been on a round of antibiotics as they tend to kill off the good bacteria in the gut. You can also keep your natural probiotics healthy by including foods in the diet that are considered prebiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrate fibers called oligosaccharides. You can’t digest oligosaccharides but your good bacteria can. Since you can’t digest these fibers, they remain in your gut and feed the good bacteria living there. Oligosaccharides are found mostly in fruits, honey, onions, legumes, and whole grains. For instance, soybeans, oats, whole wheat, and barley all have oligosaccharides.

Herbs that may help – There are certain herbs that many people swear help keep them healthy during cold and flu season and there are some studies to support these claims. Whereas more research is warranted before many doctors or scientists are willing to endorse these claims, some of these herbs may help give your immune system a boost. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider to make sure these are safe for you or your child and compatible with any type of medicines or dietary restrictions you have. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), Ginseng is one of the herbs that can give the immune system a boost. Other herbs that some find helpful for immune system health are echinacea, licorice root, astragalus, and elderberry.

Medicinal mushrooms for immune support – Chinese medicine has long used medicinal mushrooms for a variety of health reasons including boosting the immune system. Mushrooms from the forests are rich in antioxidants, beta glucans, enzymes, polyphenols, proteins, and triterpines and are among nature’s most nutrient-dense foods. Mushrooms such as cordyceps, reishi, maitake, wild black trumpet, and Poria cocos are thought to be among the most powerful and beneficial foods on earth and can all be found in this whole food supplement  for a rich source of proteins and antioxidants. Shiitake and reishi mushrooms in particular have been found to stimulate macrophages which are a type of white blood cell that attack foreign invaders in the body. Beta Glucan derived from baker’s yeast also has the ability to bind and stimulate macrophages and can be found in this mushroom/algae supplement along with reishi, cordyceps, maitake, shiitake, Turkey Tail, and Agaricus blazei mushrooms, astragalus and AFA bluegreen algae.

More support from the kitchen – A couple of other things worth mentioning when looking to boost the immune system are garlic and green tea. Green tea has lots of antioxidants that fight off free radical damage and support immune system health. Another benefit of green tea is that it stimulates the liver causing it to secrete interferon that can protect against infections.

Alliums are foods such as leeks, onions and garlic. Foods in this family are known to have natural antibiotic properties to help fight off germs. Allicin, found in garlic, is released when the garlic is crushed or chopped and has antibacterial and antifungal properties, has been found to improve immunity and has been found to be useful in fighting off colds. Some of the benefits are lost with cooking so wait to add garlic right at the end of a recipe. If you are on blood thinners, check with your healthcare provider before using garlic as it may not be compatible with your medication.

To get ready for the new school year, get those school supplies together and all the other school accessories, but don’t forget about giving your child’s immune system a boost. Keeping your child’s immune system healthy will mean less school days lost due to sickness and lessen the chance of bringing those germs home to you.

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