5 Immune Boosting Tips for Back To School

by Jahwei Chen-Graf, Naturopath and Herbalist at HAALo

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The end of summer and shift into the back to school routine is bittersweet… the days get shorter and crispness creeps into the night air. Both kids and adults need to be well rested and well nourished to ensure a strong immune system in order to stay healthy. The change of season along with the germs and viruses children are exposed to in a classroom could potentially be a recipe for frequent illness. Parents, caregivers and other children in the household are also vulnerable to sickness that children may bring home from school. Luckily, there are several simple things parents can do to boost their children’s immunity during this time of transition.

1. Sleep

One of the most basic and overlooked factors that deeply influence the immune system is sleep. Sleep deprivation has consistently been demonstrated to impair immune function and mood. Children need a regular rhythm and adequate sleep in order to thrive. It is easier to adjust from the late night summer hours if you do it gradually. In the week or two leading up to school starting, try to get your kids to bed 15 minutes earlier each night and wake them up 15 minutes earlier each morning until you reach your desired bedtime for back to school.

How much sleep is enough?
3-6 year olds: 10-12 hours a day
7-12 year olds: 10-11 hours a day
12-18 year olds: 8-9 hours a day
Adults: more than 7 hours a day

2. Nutrition

Another building block for optimal immune function is healthy food. We should never underestimate the power of regular, wholesome meals to keep us healthy. Sugar and processed foods need to be kept at a minimum since sugar lowers the immune system. Specific nutrients such as Vitamin A and beta-carotene, Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin D are linked to immune response.

The best way to make sure your kids are getting these nutrients is by eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, nut and seeds as well as high quality protein and whole grains. Fermented Cod Liver Oil is a very rich source of vitamins A and D.  Vitamin D is also made by the skin on exposure to sunlight for 15-20 minutes a day.

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Get your kids outside daily to breathe fresh air, get exercise and manufacture their own Vitamin D from sunlight! Some minerals critical for strong immunity are iron, zinc and magnesium. Iron is found in red meat, liver, prunes and molasses. Cooking in cast iron pans also improves iron levels. To help absorb iron, make sure you eat a vitamin C rich food with it. Zinc is found in nuts and seeds, red meat and oysters. Magnesium deficiency is also common and linked to immune function. Foods high in magnesium include seaweed and soaked and sprouted grains. Epsom Salt baths is another way to get magnesium through the skin. A high quality multivitamin and mineral is recommended to ensure nutritional gaps from the diet are covered. Ask your healthcare provider to recommend a good kid’s multivitamin.

3. Herbs

Herbs that help boost the immune system include Echinacea, Astragalus, Elderberry, Garlic and Medicinal Mushrooms such as Shitake. Elderberry syrup is a wonderful tonic that tastes great and kids will take. A daily spoon or two will help boost their immune systems. Herbal tinctures of Echinacea or Astragalus could be added to the elderberry syrup to disguise the taste. Astragalus Root supports deep immunity and should not be taken during acute illness. Echinacea Root is good to take as a preventative as well as during acute illness. Herbal teas rich in nutrients are also a great way to improve immunity and prevent illness. Herbs such as nettles, alfalfa, calendula, rosehips and elderflowers are all good choices. Garlic and shitake mushrooms could be used in cooking.
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4. Probiotics

Colonization of good bacteria in the gut leaves less room for the harmful bacteria to flourish. A healthy gut flora supports immune function and protects your child from sicknesses (especially stomach bugs!). Fermented foods naturally rich in beneficial probiotics include yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut. Ask your healthcare practitioner to recommend a good quality probiotic supplement, especially if your child has had to take antibiotics. Letting your kids play in the dirt (clean earth, free of heavy metals and  toxins) helps to colonize their gut and improve immunity. Avoid hand sanitizers and use plain old soap and warm water for hand washing.

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5. Flower Essences

Addressing the emotional aspect of going back to school is also important to help kids adjust and prevent illness. Children entering kindergarten or school for the first time may need extra support to deal with issues of separation from parents and a new environment. My favorite flower essence for times of transition is Walnut. Teenaged children entering high school or middle school often face their own emotional challenges. For best results see a flower essence practitioner to have a combination tailored to your individual child.

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All the best for a happy and healthy back to school!


 

Jahwei Chen-GrafJahwei Chen-Graf is a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist at HAALo specializing in women’s and children’s health. She can be directly reached at lotusnaturalmedicine@gmail.com.

 

 


 

For more immune-boosting tips, sign up for Get Prepared for the Cold & Flu Season: Choosing the Right Herbs to Support the Immune System, a class designed to boost your confidence and skill in using immune-boosting herbs for yourself and family. It takes place on September 26.

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