While our children’s immune health is always on our mind, fall is often the time of year we start to see those common cold symptoms making their way into the home, making it the perfect time to strengthen your child’s immune system.
With cold and flu season hitting us during fall and winter, and even into spring, getting a head start on supporting the whole family’s immune system is super important! To face the cold weather with more robust internal defences (and fewer sick days!), here are five ways to support your child’s immune system.
1. Soap Up Often!
Kids are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections such as flu viruses, respiratory illness, and sore throats because they attend schools and other group settings and are not always the most mindful about hygiene. The #1 way to ward off sickness is to practice frequent handwashing, so encourage your child to lather up regularly.
Have your child lather for 20 seconds or say the ABCs twice. Make sure kids avoid the habit of touching or rubbing their face, especially the nose, eyes, and mouth, and have them wash up before and after they eat, and when they come inside. Hand sanitizer can also help in a pinch!
2. Take a Multivitamin
Another lifestyle factor that can minimize the risk of your kids getting sick is ensuring they are eating unprocessed, fresh, and wholefoods low in sugar. Because it’s not always easy to ensure your kids are eating well-balanced meals 100% of the time, especially for time-crunched families and picky eaters, one of the best ways to close nutritional gaps is to incorporate a multivitamin and mineral.
A good multivitamin will contain a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals needed for healthy teeth, bones, skin, nerves, brain, metabolism, and immunity. Look for the multivitamins containing zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin K2, especially the ones that are naturally sweetened with stevia and xylitol.
3. Serve More Probiotic-Rich Foods
Studies have shown that mild flu symptoms from flu infection can occur in as many as 50–77% of infected people,  which explains why a healthy immune system is a critical factor. With roughly 70% of our immune system being located in our digestive tract, probiotics are another way to support immunity. These good, healthy bacteria specifically enhance immunity, help prevent infections before they start, reduce the need for antibiotics, and improve digestion and nutrient absorption.
Building up good gut bacteria can be achieved by serving up more probiotic-rich foods and taking a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods such as pickles, kombucha (they have many flavoured kinds that kids would like), or unsweetened yogurts mixed with fresh chopped or pureed fruit make a great snack. If you have an extra picky eater, try a kid-friendly probiotic powder that you can mix into their favourite drink, or sprinkle onto their cereal for a painless dose of immune-strengthening good bacteria.
4. Out with the Sugar and in with Vitamin C-Rich Fruits and Veggies
Sugar has been shown to alter our microbiome in some pretty extreme ways, like feeding the more pathogenic sugar-loving bacteria, which can crowd out beneficial, immune-strengthening bacteria. Sugar has also been shown to decrease the effectiveness of our white blood cells. Instead of sugary snacks, have fruits rich in vitamin C and antioxidants like oranges and blueberries. Load up on fibre-rich veggies (also good for the gut) such as carrots with protein-rich hummus and nut butter on celery.
5. Get Some Sunshine in a Bottle
Outside time is so important not only for the exercise and fresh air, but for the vitamin D also known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Even though we need to encourage our kids to be outside as much as possible all year round, come fall, the amount of time they can really enjoy the sunshine is limited.
The body absorbs sunlight using cholesterol to convert it to a usable form of vitamin D, which is required by our immune system in particular. Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses and a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection.
A study done by SickKids found that one third of urban Canadian toddlers were deficient in vitamin D.  Kids can stock up now by taking 1000 IU of vitamin D daily to counter what we aren’t getting during our long, dark, northern winters.
With appropriate vitamin and mineral support, a healthy lifestyle, and proper hygiene we can get our kids back on their feet again, and prevent the cold and flu from interfering with all of our lives, and support our children's immunity.