How to Boost a Child's Immune System

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Healthy active children
Healthy active children (Image: www.flickr.com)

Both adults and children need healthy immune systems. It is the immune system that fights off viruses and bacterium that we come in contact with every day. As adults, when we catch a cold or flu, we tend to scold ourselves for not taking better care of ourselves. But the average child doesn't quite know what her immune system is yet, much less the steps she needs to take to keep it strong and healthy.
Just taking these few simple steps will get children on a path of boosting and maintaining a healthy immune system.

Things You'll Need

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin C
  • Yogurt with live cultures such as acidophilus lactobacillus or bifidus
  • Multi-vitamin

One of the most immediate ways to strengthen cells that keep a child's immune system functioning properly is to feed it whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. These don't have to be organic, but as unprocessed as possible. Fruit and vegetables in their natural state have vitamins and minerals that immediately absorb into the body and strengthen the immune system.
If your child is a picky eater (as most are) you may have to experiment with various ways of cooking vegetables and adding them to their diet. The key is to avoid processed food. Fruits tend to be easier to get kids to eat because of their natural sweetness. Keeping fruit as close to its natural form (minimizing cooking) as possible will also maintain their vitamin and mineral content and be more beneficial to your child's body.

Child with fruit and veggies
Child with fruit and veggies

Zinc is an essential trace element that plays a vital role in a growth and development as well as immune system response. While you don't want to have a child take more supplements than is necessary, one way to be sure they are getting enough zinc is to buy a low-sugar, low-salt, zinc-fortified cereal. Most fortified cereals will state this right on their box.
Children typically need between 10 to 20 mg. of zinc per day and fortified cereals provide roughly 15 mg. Read food labels to be sure of how much zinc you are getting. Avoid choosing highly processed and cereals sweetened with refined sugar, as the negative effects these have on the body will outweigh the positive effects of the zinc.

Yogurt is a favorite of children, and they don't even realize that by eating it they are doing something good for their bodies. Give them yogurt that contain probiotics. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as "live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."
The two main groups of these microorganisms are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Within these groups there are different species and different strains of the bacterial organisms.
These microorganisms are similar to the healthy bacteria that already live in our stomachs. By ingesting food products that contain these probiotics, it increases the numbers of microorganisms that help us maintain strong immune systems. When selecting yogurt, be sure it says "probiotic" or "live active cultures" on the label and avoid the brands that are high in sugar.

Vitamin C is required for many bodily functions to work properly. It helps form the structural basis of tendons, bones and ligaments, the synthesis of cholesterol in our bloodstream, and even with the production of molecules that transport and convert fat cells into energy. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. An antioxidant helps the body defend itself against free radicals, which are cells that are damaged and want to cause havoc in our bodies. These free radicals can be the result of many things, from stress to pollutants.
Having nutritional defense against free radicals is necessary to a healthy immune system. The problem is that people do not make vitamin C within their bodies, so it must come from dietary sources or nutritional supplements.
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C for children ranges from 15 to 45 mg. (Consult your child's pediatrician to determine the proper dosage for your child.)
Vitamin C is readily available in foods such as orange juice, strawberries and broccoli. If your child has a hard time getting the proper amount of vitamin C through diet, there are many chewable supplements made for children on the market.

To boost the immune system there are many other vitamins and minerals that need to work together in order to be effective. We don't always get the right combination in our meals and since children are often fussy eaters the chances that they get all the vitamins they need from food is even slimmer.
To make sure that your child is getting all the vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain immune function supplement their dietary intake with a multivitamin. There are many healthy choices on the market that are not loaded with sugars and food dyes.

Along with eating healthfully, there are other steps to take to boost a child's immune system. The first one is getting adequate exercise. With all of the game stations that are on the market today, more children (even very young ones) are sitting in front of a screen instead of being outside in the fresh air getting exercise.
The best option is to find an activity that you and your children like to participate in together. If you can't be outdoors because of weather, try an activity like swimming at the local Y.
If your child can not pull away from the games, there are new games coming out every day that involve interactive physical activity. These are excellent alternatives to the couch potato games.

Everyone wins with outdoor activity
Everyone wins with outdoor activity

Rest is a major key in boosting and maintaining a healthy immune system. Children need more rest because their bodies are working hard at growing. Be sure your child gets adequate sleep every night in a healthy, safe and peaceful environment.

Sleeping child
Sleeping child

Help your child manage stress. Stress can deplete a child's immune system the same way it can an adult's. While you may think your child has no care in the world, if you are stressed, your child senses it. Usually children do not know how to handle stress so they tend to internalize it, which leads to worry and lack of sleep.

Tips & Warnings

  • Have a family activity night. Children get much more involved when mom or dad are having fun with them. This will not only help your child get exercise, it will help you get exercise and destress as well.
  • Avoid sugar. Sugar lowers the body's ability to fight germs by 40 percent and most edible consumer products geared for children are loaded with it. Read all food labels to determine which foods are low- or sugar-free.

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