How Is Your Child’s Immunity?
Many people have asked me over the years what I recommend to help strengthen and protect children from getting serious infectious diseases. This article will cover several important aspects of strengthening your child’s immune system. The major function of the child’s immune system is to protect their little bodies against common childhood disease such as whooping cough, rubella, tetanus, typhoid, etc. infection, as well as colds and flu, herpes, hepatitis, etc. Reduced efficiency and poor performance of a child’s immune system has many causes, among which are junk-food diets, devitalised, “chemicalised” as well as antibiotic-containing foods, environmental chemicals, medical drug use, passive smoking, stress, domestic issues, and under-nourishment or nutritional deficiencies – a very common cause of a child’s immune deficiency.
Are you concerned about your child’s poor immune status, does he or she continually get sick each autumn and winter? Is there recurrent cough, asthma or eczema? Let’s go over some of the following categories in more detail:
- Psychological: provide a stress free and loving home environment for your child
- Improve your child’s digestion & bowel by avoiding drugs like antibiotics as much as possible.
- Improve the diet through reducing junk foods and known toxins, like aspartame.
- Remove potential offending allergy-stimulating foods – like dairy, wheat, etc.
- Stimulate the body’s recovery with sound nutrition and appropriate supplementation.
Psychological factors and your child’s immune system
I think that the immune system is a kind of a “tuning fork” that almost reflects the harmonics of the way children perceive their outer and inner environment, especially the first seven years – their formative years. From observing many children in clinical practice over the years, I have found that children of high sensitivity, without a “release mechanism” for their sensitivity, along with a less than strong constitution may well end up with a chronic immune disease issue as an adult. It is as if their immune system has now turned on them, after years of emotional as well as disease suppression. Observations in the clinic will tell you that certain children seem to develop certain types of health problems – depending on their sensitivity and personality as well as of course any inherited traits and characteristics.
American psychologist James Pennebaker, Ph.D. found that children who confide their feelings, traumas and secrets to parents, caregivers and their friends as well as to themselves have healthier psychological profiles, greater immune responses, and fewer incidences of acute or chronic illness. Are you a parent or caregiver who encourages your child to be assertive, to speak up – or do you repeatedly tell them to “shut-up” – with the old fashioned belief that children should be seen and not heard? Psycho-neuro-immunologist George Solomon, studied assertiveness, and his finding was that children who assert their needs and feelings have stronger immune responses, and the ability to overcome a wide range of diseases usually associated with immune dysfunction.Is your child easily stressed, anxious, or unhappy for example after a divorce or separation? All too often we look at the physical body when it comes to our children’s recurrent immune health issues – please don’t forget that the emotional responses govern immunity to a huge extent. Happy kids are generally healthier kids. Recurring arguments or discord in the home may cause a sort of “background noise” in your child’s psyche that produces low grade and sometimes continual form of stress – leading to a weakened immune system. You may get a report from the teacher at school that your child is more stressed or tense. These recurrent problems and arguments at home will often cause a disharmony in your child’s little body that can make certain muscles tighten on themselves. This can commonly affect the muscular tubes of the bowels, for instance, resulting in problems with the digestive tract such as poor digestion and constipation, or the respiratory tract (the bronchial tubes) causing asthma or coughs, just to mention a few.
Do we really need antibiotics to “fight ”disease in children?
It makes sense to use natural treatments for ear infections, viruses, sore throats, and coughs. Reserve the antibiotics for life-threatening diseases, such as meningitis and pneumonia, though these can be caused by viruses too, and then antibiotics are completely ineffective.
I have written about this many times before, I am still concerned at how many children receive antibiotics indiscriminately, and sometimes even for ridiculous instances like a small cut on the finger! The medical approach is still that bacteria, viruses and other various disease causing microbes attack us from out there, and that they, are the very causes of infection. Medicine disregards the fact that we share our own bodies with microorganisms which are hardier and more adaptable than we are. We have over 400 species of bacteria in our large intestine alone, if we kill one we may kill all – genocide.
The common symptoms of an acute infection are protective, even if they make you feel sick. Fever stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells, pain and fatigue are signals designed to immobilise the ailing body, conserving energy and decreasing the likelihood that the infection will be spread through contact with others. So do we really need antibiotics? Very occasionally (read very rarely) for life threatening conditions. The most frequent conditions for which doctors prescribe antibiotics are ear infections, particularly acute otitis media in young children (middle ear infection) In adults it would be for upper respiratory tract infections (colds), acute bronchitis, and sinusitis, with colds and bronchitis accounting for almost 30% of out of hospital antibiotic prescriptions in NZ.
One of the main reasons that antibiotics are routinely (over) prescribed in New Zealand is the medical belief that antibiotics will “prevent a complication” of acute otitis such as mastoiditis (infection of the mastoid bone, the part of the skull to which the ear attaches). In Holland, children older than one year of age are no longer treated with antibiotics for acute otitis media, antibiotic treatments were abandoned for such cases during the 1980’s, yet the incidence of mastoiditis there has remained extremely low. One problem with antibiotic treatment of otitis is its inappropriateness use in children with chronic otitis, which is persistent fluid in the ears lasting for weeks, months, or even years. Although bacteria are usually present in the middle ear fluid of children with chronic otitis, there is absolutely no evidence that antibiotics can “cure” this condition.
In my clinical experience, over three quarters of children with ongoing chronic otitis media have major unresolved food allergy problems; in fact, the appropriate elimination diet resolves the “infection” for 90% of such cases. This treatment fiasco for otitis media is a glaring example of the error that occurs when modern medicine seeks the cause of the illness in a microbe rather than in the characteristics of the actual little patient who presents with an illness.
Having seen so many children over the years with acute ear nose and throat problems, I can tell you categorically – antibiotics only hinder a child’s recovery from an acute illness. My experience is that once you start your little ones on the “drug merry-go-round”, you will find it hard to get out of this pharmaceutical fun park. I have never been there with my 4 kids, they always responded with any acute condition with basic herbs such as echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus, licorice, etc, also Omega 3 supplements and homeopathic medicines. And your children will respond as well, so please do consider the naturopath or your health food shop before rushing to the doctor with your child when they develop an acute ear, nose or throat infection.
Be Wise – think before you immunize
The increasing incidence of allergic disorders in Western nations is now universally recognised, with studies now revealing that every third child in industrialised societies having an allergic disorder. In some areas the incidence of asthma has increased 200% in the past 20 years. Another survey showed a 46% increase in death rate nationwide from asthma between 1977 and 1991. There is a school of thought that the so-called minor childhood illnesses of the past, including measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox, infections organisms which entered the body through the mucous membranes, served a necessary and positive purpose in challenging and strengthening the immune system. In contrast, the vaccines of these diseases today with poisons such as thimersol (mercury) are injected by way of a needle directly into the system of the child, thereby bypassing the mucosal immune system. (the mouth, tonsils/adenoids, throat, etc) As a result, mucosal immunity becomes relatively weak and quite stunted in many children, complications of which may be the rapid increase in asthma, eczema, nasal allergies, food allergies, and a general pattern of sickness in today’s kids.
Reports are now appearing from widely separated countries around the world in which vaccinated children were found to have significantly more allergic disorders than children with limited or no vaccines. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist – simple observation has been throwing strong suspicion on childhood vaccines in their present numbers and applications as posing one of the major causes of the increasing pattern of sickness, allergies, autistic-spectrum disorders, and other neuro-behavioural problems now being seen all too frequently in our kids.
Avoid Toxic Chemicals
Try not to use commercial sunscreens, shampoos, or toothpaste on your children. Use sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and avoid chemicals with names you do not understand! Do you have tiny children who crawl? Then please always take your shoes off as you enter your home and make other family members and friends do the same. Not only does this prevent problems like tracking in chemicals as below, but it is much more hygienic in other ways (no animal droppings tracked in, no mud, etc.). An American Environmental Protection Agency study was done recently on the wearing of shoes in the home. They found that toxic herbicides commonly used on lawns for weed control are tracked into home interiors on the shoes (or bare feet) of anyone walking on a treated lawn for up to a week after the spraying. These chemicals can accumulate in carpet/rug dust up to 100 times as great as on the lawn itself. Removal of the shoes before entering the home reduced the residue by more than 90% (wiping the shoes reduced the herbicide carried in by up to 33%). The obvious concern in the home is that small children playing on carpets can breathe in the chemicals or ingest it when they put their fingers in their mouths. An study in one small community found that 23% of the children tested had toxic herbicides in their urine. Small children have less developed immune systems and are more susceptible to toxins of various kinds. You don’t smoke inside, great, that’s admirable, but please tell me why then do you still wear your outdoor shoes inside?
Here are some foods to consider in your child’s diet. Some of these foods are fine when consumed occasionally, but regarding the “not so good foods” it is best if you restrict them from the diet. Avoid pesticide laden foods wherever possible and try to go for organic. For proper integrity of their upper respiratory tract, children’s diets should contain large amounts of natural vitamins A and C derived from fruits. For Vitamin C go for oranges, strawberries, peaches, carrot, cabbage, nectarines and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, squash, red bell peppers). Vitamin A is found in particularly in high amounts in egg yolk, kahawai, mackerel, trevally, butter, cheese and yoghurt.
Great Childhood Food Choices
- Fresh fruits and vegetables if your children are willing, but you may need to change the way you cook and present vegetables at the table. Never give in, always challenge kids with different fresh vegetables – many love to eat raw carrot strips for example.
- Organic whole milk, (unpasteurised/unhomogenised) yogurt, and butter when possible(non-organic animal products may contain antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones)
- Organic chicken and turkey, as well as beef for the same reason. Fish, chickens, and eggs are good sources of omega-3 fats if the animals eat green plants and algae.
- Free range eggs: Eggs improve the function of the immune system due to the cell membrane strengthening effects of the phospholipids in eggs.
- Organic yoghurt: This only applies to the child who has no allergies to dairy products, particularly cow’s milk. Yoghurt can either stimulate allergies, or boost immunity instead – so beware. Many studies have been performed to validate the therapeutic and preventive effects of yogurt and lactic acid bacteria on diseases such as ear nose and throat infections, gastrointestinal disorders, and asthma. The results of these studies, in general, support the notion that yogurt has a beneficial immuno- stimulatory effect on the child. There is a strong evidence that increased yogurt consumption may enhance the immune response, which would in turn increase resistance to immune-related diseases. When I say yoghurt, I don’t mean the flavoured little pottles available in the supermarket – most contain loads of sugar, and some even artificial sugars such as aspartame! So please do look at the labels.
- Whole grain products, (only if not wheat or gluten intolerant) e.g. breads, biscuits (contains more fiber and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals than enriched wheat and bleached white flour)
- Fresh garlic and ginger Include in cooking. They both stimulate numerous aspects of immunity, and children generally don’t have the hang ups like adults about the “smell” that garlic has, and enjoy the pungent taste of ginger.
Not So Good Childhood Food Choices
- Soy milk (depletes calcium and impairs thyroid function) Go for rice milk instead if your child has a milk allergy, and if your child can tolerate milk go for organic whole milk.
- Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (cannot be metabolised) Read labels, many products are now sweetened with corn syrup, avoid them if you can.
- Partially hydrogenated fats in biscuits, muesli bars, crackers, and chips (promotes several aspects of allergic stimulation).
- Refined sugar Studies have shown that only one teaspoon of white sugar decreases white blood cell activity (neutrophils) by almost 40% only 5 minutes ingestion on the tongue. Avoid artificial sugars like aspartame, it was discovered in 2006 in Italy that there may well be a link with lymphoma and aspartame, and asthma is exacerbated by this toxin.
- Peanuts An allergenic food for many children. Does your child have immune and/or behavioural problems and eat plenty of peanut butter? Then stop and see what happens.
- Foods rich in artificial flavors and colours. Instead give them fresh fruits and any vegetables or vegetable juices they will swallow. Fresh juices are colourful and sweet, and most kids love them. Are you still giving your kids those sugary sachet drinks?
- Banana and pineapple. I have found that many children who are dairy intolerant in particular, seem to have some problems with these fruits. This is particularly so with eczema.
- Deep fried foods, e.g. Fish and chips (saturated fats help to promote allergies)
- Canned tuna fish (mercury exposure)
Supplements to boost your child’s immunity
There are dozens of products you can give your child, and my advice for you is to get expert advice: from your naturopath or health food shop. This is an area where is it probably not good to self-prescribe. One product which you will find very useful is a high quality Vitamin C powder I created and kids love it!
Multivitamin and mineral formula
If your child is a fussy eater or doesn’t eat a wide variety of foods, they may well benefit from a multivitamin and mineral formula. Your naturopath can recommend a good one for that suits your child’s needs. If you choose not to give your child a multivitamin on a daily basis, you can use one when they are unwell, as their need for nutrients often increases during sickness.
It is not generally advisable to give several separate nutrients such as iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins to boost your child’s immunity, without consulting your health care professional.
Omega 3 – Rich in DHA
Ii think it is a good policy to start giving Omega 3 when you start to light fires of heaters. When I was a child in Holland, it was customary to give halibut liver oil (gross!) when the months had the letter “r” in them, because they are the colder months. Establishing the proper ratio of fats in a child’s diet is one of the most important nutritional adjustments you as a parent can initiate. Many children we see in the clinic have a significant imbalance of fats, too much omega-6 fats (vegetable oils like canola) and trans fats (fried foods and hydrogenated fats), not enough omega-3 fats (fish, fish oils). This imbalance can significantly contribute to allergies, infections, and attention and behavioural problems in kids. Supplement kids’ diets with the essential fatty acid DHA. A 250mg or 500 mg capsule of DHA rich or one teaspoon of fish oil per 25kg kgs of body weight will provide adequate omega-3 fats for your child. And remember, a multivitamin will make the Omega 3 work a lot better too.
I find that probiotics are one of the most beneficial supplements to give your child with any immune based problem. They are easily given – and most taste sweet, which improves compliance. They can help prevent and treat gastrointestinal infections by preventing the attachment of harmful bacteria to the wall of the digestive tract. The normal balance of bacteria in a child’s body can be upset by various factors including; antibiotic use, chronic diarrhoea or constipation, lack of breastfeeding, gastrointestinal infection, and a cesarean birth, so children with any of these factors are especially good ‘candidates’ for probiotic supplements. Give twice daily for 10 to 14 days, before meals, with a little warm/tepid water.
- Luoma, T. C. Essential fatty acids. Muscle Media. 64:62-68, 1997.Trans-fatty acids contribute to lower immune system responsiveness.
- Huis Veld JH. Gastrointestinal flora and health in man and animal. Tijdschr Diergeneeskunde 1991;116:232-239. [Article in Dutch]
- Vaccination: A Shot in the Dark,Harris L Coufter & Barbara Loe Fisher, Avery Publishing Group, Inc., Garden City Park, NewYork, 1991, page 47.
- Vaccination, 100 Years of Orthodox Research Shows that Vaccines Represent a Medical Assault on the Immune System, Vera Scheibner, Ph.D., 1993. Page 33.
- Moore WE, Cato EP, Holdeman LV. Some current concepts in intestinal bacteriology. Am J Clin Nutr 1978;31:S33-S42.
- Periman, P., et al. Antibiotic-associated diarrhea. N Engl J Med. 347(2):145, 2002
- Soffritti, M., et al. First experimental demonstration of the multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered in the feed to Sprague-Dawley rats. Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, Bologna, Italy Environ Health Perspect. 114:379-385, 2006.