It’s that time of year again that many kids simply dread, and many parents heave a sigh of relief: “back to school!”
And as with many “new starts” a child’s fresh beginning in a new school or grade is a perfect opportunity to help him or her develop healthy habits, including taking the right supplements. Any child’s supplement regimen should include probiotics and prebiotics, which are safe for children – and there are no downsides!
One of the primary concerns – and realities – is that children (especially younger ones) frequently “bring home colds.” And when this occurs, it can be spread to other family members. This signifies that focusing on your child’s immune health, his or her ability to withstand those pesky colds and “stomach bugs” -- is a sound idea.
Why do kids get a lot of colds?
Let’s dispense with what doesn’t cause kids to get a lot of colds. According to board-certified pediatrician Cindy Gellner, MD of the University of Utah Health, these episodes have nothing to do with feeling cold in the winter (due to a lighter jacket).
Typically, when the mother’s transferred immunity to the baby begins to diminish, after about six months, infants can start to get colds – from about six months through kindergarten, wee ones can experience about seven colds a year; this number dwindles to five to six from kindergarten to teens; teens can get the adult average of three to four a year.
Children get more colds per year than adults because they are in the process of creating their own immunity; it’s just not there yet.
In addition, colds seem to be more plentiful for everyone in the winter, especially among families with school-aged kids. Why? Because unlike warmer weather, family remains indoors for long stretches at a time. This is true for classrooms too.
If you feel your child gets more colds than others, that’s probably not the case. However, said Dr. Gellner, the child who has a harder time recovering from a cold may have some sort of immune issue, and should be looked at by his/her pediatrician.
How can I help my kids improve their immune systems?
There are several simple things you can do to ensure your child has a healthier immune system. Overall health and fitness serve as building blocks to construct strong immune function.
Exercise/play: Too many kids loaf on the couch or bed playing with their digital devices or TV. Not only does this sedentary lifestyle contribute to overweight and poor BMI, it sets the child up for greater risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes at an earlier age. Playtime outdoors is always good for the fresh air, and for developing strength, agility, and overall physical fitness.
According to Medline Plus (from the NIH US National Library of Medicine), there are four theories how being active helps boost immunity.
- Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways.
- Exercise accelerates circulation of antibodies and white blood cells, enabling them detect illness earlier.
- The short-term rise in body temperature during and after exercise may prevent illness-causing bacteria from taking root.
- Exercise depresses release of stress hormones.
Speaking of stress, kids can get stressed over social media; have some quality unplugged family time, especially during dinner.
Also, handwashing is very important. Soap and water, regularly. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kills most bad bacteria and is safe for kids to use.
Diet is, of course, also a critical element in keeping kids healthy, especially meals featuring fermented foods, antioxidants, proteins, and good fats (such as Omega 3 EFAs).
What Supplements Boost Children’s Immunity?
Supplements are always good for children to take, especially starting with a multivitamin/mineral formula. In addition, especially during times of stress or winter, you may want to ensure your children take specific supplements that help promote overall good health with fewer bouts of colds or allergies.
Vitamins A, C and E will indeed help your child “ace” his or her immunity. All three vitamins help the immune system function normally, and also are known to de-activate free radicals, preventing them from being harmful.
Vitamin D has several roles in promoting immunity and not enough of it makes your child more susceptible to increased infections.
The essential micronutrient zinc is also involved in normalizing immunity. It is known to help fight infections when they do occur. And zinc lozenges are known to reduce duration of a cold.
There are quite a few probiotics that are excellent for building and sustaining immunity in children. One study in India showed that toddlers aged between one and three years who were given milk fortified with probiotics and prebiotics daily for one year had fewer bouts of illness than children who drank unfortified milk. The fortified milk in the trial contained prebiotic oligosaccharides (which is also found in breast milk) and the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis HN019.
Specifically, the researchers discovered that those children who consumed the probiotic and prebiotic daily had fewer cases of pneumonia, dysentery and lower respiratory infections, as well as fewer days of severe illness than those in the control group.
A meta-analysis looked at incidence of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) in adults and children. The researchers found that probiotics seemed to be more effective than placebo in reducing the number of people who experienced acute URTIs by about 47%, and also decreased the duration of acute URTI by almost two days.
And mothers who take probiotics during pregnancy may have children with reduced risk of childhood allergies, according to a study published earlier this year. Analyzing 28 trials of 6,000 women, the team found that taking a daily probiotic supplement from 36-38 weeks pregnant, and during the first three to six months of breastfeeding, reduced the risk of a child developing eczema by 22 percent. Most of the studies used Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
How to Help with School Anxiety
For some kids, however, back to school triggers anxiety. It is rather normal for many kids to have the “first day jitters” that can last a little while, but recedes once routine sets in and your child’s confidence is restored to normal.
If your child is prone to being a bit more anxious than others (but not to a degree that needs counseling), consider probiotics along with calming activities and foods, such as chamomile tea (add a touch of stevia or honey for some sweetness).
A new study on juvenile rats found that when fed a diet abundant in prebiotics along with bioactive milk fractions, the rats exhibited reduced anxiety-related behavior concurrently with a modified gene expression in emotion circuits.
Although performed in rodents, this study can theoretically be translated to humans – and especially for children who are considered “high strung.”
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is triggered often by anxiety and is also considered an autoimmune disorder. One randomized study analyzed the effects of probiotics and prebiotics on children with IBS. The researchers gave the participants either Bifidobacterium lactis 894, or inulin, or a combination (synbiotic).
Both the probiotic and synbiotic supplements were found to improve several IBS symptoms (after-meal bloating, abdominal fullness, bloating after meals, excessive mucus in the stool, and constipation). The synbiotic specifically was shown to help the children fully recover, compared to the prebiotic group.
As your kids begin to settle into their new school year, and anticipate such fun times as football games, Halloween, and the winter holidays, you can make sure they reduce risk of catching colds. Probiotics are widely available for children. There are flavored chewables, drinks, and an innovative, tasty MicroShot.