By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
31 Aug 2021
The return to education in an in-person, group setting is bound to stimulate the immune systems of those who choose to take part. Although there is some evidence that increasing our contact with other living organisms may be considered a good exercise in general immune enhancement, many of us are currently looking for lower-risk ways to decrease our children’s risk of infection against influenza, the common cold, and other viral pathogens. Extra nutritional support can be an easy way to accomplish this, but the immune system needs a lot of different nutrients for it to work properly. Nutritional deficiencies have been associated with infection, but are also associated with exaggerated immune responses that involve severe inflammation, such as allergic reactions. Let’s look at the key nutrients for healthy immunity as we prepare our kids to go back to the classroom.
Zinc is an essential mineral, key to preserving the natural barriers to pathogens in the respiratory tract, digestive tract and the skin. When it comes to respiratory illness, it’s well documented that children who suffer from malnutrition have higher incidence of lower respiratory infections, with increased severity and mortality from pneumonia. Specifically, zinc supplementation has been shown to improve the clinical outcome and duration of pneumonia in children under the age of five.
In addition, consider that children with environmental and food allergies are especially in need of extra zinc as the passageways into their bodies are taxed by allergens, stressing out these barriers. Then there are the children with severe tree nut allergies who have to miss out on one of the top sources of zinc: nuts. Now, top these risk factors off with the rapid rate of growth that children and adolescents naturally experience, and zinc requirements are increased even further. That’s why many kids could benefit from taking a well-absorbed zinc compound, like zinc glycinate.
Vitamin D is especially important for regulating a healthy immune response. Like zinc, it plays a role in maintaining the physical barriers to infection in the mucosal membranes of the respiratory system and digestive tract. In a pediatric respiratory health study of 197 children, the acute lower respiratory infections (ALRIs) of bronchiolitis and pneumonia were correlated with low vitamin D status. Specifically, the mean average vitamin D level for infected children admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit was significantly lower than that observed for both the control (non-infected) group and ALRI subjects who were admitted to the general pediatrics ward.
Another study---a randomized, placebo-controlled trial that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010, investigated the effect of vitamin D supplements on the incidence of influenza A in school kids. What they found was that occurrence of flu in the children who were given 1200 i.u. of vitamin D was only 10.8 percent (18 out of 167 children) compared to 18.6 percent (31 out of 167 children) in those taking the placebo.
Since vitamin D is difficult to obtain in foods outside of fluid milk, and difficult to make enough in a Canadian climate where sunscreens are important sun protection, it’s easy to see why this nutrient needs supplementation. Children who wear clothing that covers most of their body (head, arms, legs), have darker skin (due to a natural ability to block the UV rays that stimulate vitamin D production), as well as kids who don’t go outside to play have increased risk of deficiency. A supplementary amount of 1,000 units daily is a safe and effective dosage for infants, toddlers and school-aged children—yet more may be required if any of the risk factors discussed above are involved.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is another key immune nutrient. Blood concentrations of the nutrient drop rapidly in conditions of stress and infection, suggesting a link between stress and infection risk. Vitamin C protects against the cell-damaging free radicals that form during the inflammatory response by the immune system, enhancing recovery. It also increases the activity of certain key players in of our immune system, like interferon, lymphocytes and neutrophils. In one pediatric study, 1 to 2 grams of supplementary vitamin C per day shortened the duration of the common cold by 18%, which was the equivalent of about half a day per cold duration.
No nutrient works in isolation; they work together as a team. For example, simultaneous supplementation of both zinc and vitamin C has been demonstrated to improve the function of virus-fighting natural killer cells and increase the distribution of lymphocytes, reducing the risk, severity and duration of infections.
Sugar Does Not Help Immunity
We all know that most children are attracted to sugary foods, and unfortunately, studies have shown that sugar interferes with cellular uptake of vitamin C. Add to this that sugar suppresses the activity of certain pathogen-killing immune cells for up to 5 hours after it is consumed and you can see why sugar is so bad for our immunity. Finally, the effect is prolonged in individuals with poor blood sugar control (even without diabetes). These are two of the reasons why reducing your children’s access to sugar-containing foods is vital to their immune system function. This can be as easy as replacing ice cream with fruit for dessert, or substituting toast and nut butter/sunflower seed butter and banana instead of sugar-coated cereals for breakfast. Avoid buying fruit ‘drinks’, as they are usually high in sugar, low in fiber, and are not fortified with vitamin C. Dilute real juice with a bit of water to fill the glass. These are just a couple of easy-to-implement ideas.
Safe Dosing for Kids
Weight matters more than age when it comes to proper dosing. If a 14 year old weighs the same as an adult (120 pounds or more), then an adult dose is typically indicated. If the child weighs half the weight of an adult, it is wise to give just half the dose per day. However, make sure your primary physician (MD or ND) remains informed about your child’s nutritional supplement regime.
How to Increase Compliance
Not all children are comfortable swallowing pills. Tablets can be especially difficult as they have more mass and are no longer smooth once cut into pieces. That’s why capsules are a better choice. All of the nutrient preparations by Pure Lab Vitamins are available in vegetarian, pull-apart gelatin capsules. They can be pulled apart, and the contents poured into a beverage such as a smoothie with little impact on the flavour of the final product when combined with fruits, avocado, and milk substitute. Be creative!
Remember: C, D and Z
A well-varied diet rich in natural, good quality foods is the foundation of health. But living in unprecedented times calls not for adequate nutrition, but optimal nutrition. Supplementing your children’s diet with good quality vitamins and minerals like zinc and vitamins C and D is a wise way to get the peace of mind that you may be looking for when it comes to their health, and yours, too.
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