A strong and healthy immune system is the foundation of good health for your child now and in the future. Because a child’s immune system is still developing, it is not unusual for them to experience frequent colds, respiratory and gastro intestinal infections.

Daily contact with many other children increases the likelihood of this. However, if your child has too frequent or prolonged infections, it probably means their immune system is weak and needs some help.

What can weaken the immune system?

A poor, nutrient deficient diet is the biggest reason why a child may have a weak immune system. Young people growing up today have a vastly different diet to that of their parents and grandparents when they were children.

Fast food, soft drinks, chips, chocolate and lollies have become a daily part of many children’s lives. Food that comes in brightly coloured packets filled with articifial colours, flavours and preservatives has taken dominance over basic fresh foods like vegetables, fruit, fish and meat.

Vegetables and fruit are an excellent source of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants children need to keep their immune system strong and without them health problems will inevitably surface.

Vitamin C and zinc are especially important nutrients for a strong immune system and many children do not get enough of these in their diet.

One of the greatest problems with modern day diets in children is that they are so high in sugar. Sugar directly suppresses the immune system and creates an environment where bacteria can thrive, making infections more likely.

A lack of essential fatty acids in the diet is another major problem. The omega 3 fats EPA and DHA are only found in fish, fish oil supplements and some fortified foods. Many children rarely eat fish.

The role of food sensitivities

Food sensitivities are a huge strain on the immune system, and they can result in symptoms such as asthma, eczema, a blocked or runny nose, headaches, frequent colds, abdominal bloating and recurrent ear infections. Removing the culprit foods from the child’s diet can offer a major improvement in health and well being.

Problem foods

Foods that children commonly develop a sensitivity to, include dairy products, gluten and yeast.

  • Dairy products include milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream and all other foods containing casein (milk protein). Dairy products are a fairly recent addition to the human diet; we have only been eating them for the last 10 000 years of our two or more million years on the planet. Dairy allergies are very common amongst children and may promote conditions such as eczema, asthma, ear infections and allergic rhinitis.
  • Gluten is present in wheat, rye, oats and barley, and all foods containing these. It can be quite difficult to avoid gluten since the Western diet is based on flour, and gluten is hidden in many processed foods. Wheat is the most concentrated source of gluten, and it too is a recent addition to the human diet. Gluten intolerance can produce digestive problems such as diarrhoea or constipation, and other far ranging symptoms such as headaches, anaemia, skin rashes and mood changes.
  • Yeast is present in very many foods and sensitivity to it is common. Children who are sensitive to yeast may experience abdominal bloating, a headache or poor concentration after consuming foods like bread and cheese (both high in yeast). In some people dietary intake of yeast can feed yeast infections such as Candida, tinea, jock itch or ear and throat infections. Foods high in yeast include yeasted bread, cheese, malted milk drinks, store bought fruit juices, tomato juice, mayonnaise, yeast extracts and mushrooms.

Dietary guidelines for a strong immune system in children

  • Set a good example by having a healthy diet yourself. Children learn by example; they are more likely to do as you do, rather than as you say.
  • Limit time spent watching television or playing computer games, as these activities can encourage snacking on junk food.
  • Children with poor appetites may require five small meals per day rather than three large ones.
  • Omega 3 essential fatty acids are vital for brain and eye development, and may help to prevent conditions like asthma and eczema. Fish is the best source of these fats so try to make it a regular part of your child’s diet.
  • Make sure your child always has plenty of fresh water to drink, rather than sugary drinks like cordial, fruit juice or soft drinks.

Treating infections naturally

If your child does come down with an infection, olive leaf extract is a powerful natural antibiotic. The active ingredient in olive leaf has a powerful anti-bacterial effect, and has the ability to interfere with a virus’ ability to replicate. Another great anti microbial herb is thyme; it is especially useful for infections of the respiratory tract; it is great for coughs because it promotes the excretion of mucus.