Boost your child's immunity at the start of the school year

Ingy Deif, Monday 12 Sep 2011

Back-to-school hubbub also means there will be hubbub in the paediatrician's clinic. Ahram Online discusses with an expert ways to invest in our little ones' immunity


The beginning of the school year is usually associated in the minds of parents with their children experiencing bouts of illnesses: ‘flu, asthma and stomach infections, to name just a few.

When it comes to children, it seems that immunity is getting lower over time, which raises various questions regarding the reasons for such a decline in health and whether it has to do with a lack of awareness, pollution, changes in the nutritional values of our crops, unwise consumption of fast food, the stresses of the daily life, or all of these reasons added together.

Pin-pointing the factors might be tricky, but taking positive steps towards understanding the issue regarding lifestyle and nutrition in order to activate the immunity of kids might be within every parent’s means.

Observe your child

"It is of utmost importance to note that the concept of dealing with immunity as a 'quantity ' subject which can increase or decrease is a common misconception among parents who sometimes wish they could press a magic button by which the immunity of their kids might increase, "says Dr. Aesha El-Marsafy, professor of paediatrics at Cairo University.

“The issue is rather a normal immunity or a damaged one, and in the latter case, the parent must notice symptoms in their child and then seek accurate diagnosis from the doctor, who can categorise the problem as one of three: either the immunity of the child reacts in an unusual way in response to a certain factor, and this is what we call allergy, or the child cannot deal with microbes and this is noticed by the mother through repetitive bouts of illness, or the problem stems from within, and the immune system attacks itself."

Dr. El-Marsafy emphasises that it is the job of the parent to monitor and observe, and then the doctors can diagnose and intervene medically.

The key role of food and psychological stability

Dr. Abdel Hadi Mesbah, professor of immunology and fellow of the American Academy of Immunology stresses the importance of good nutrition in combating free radicals that swarm inside our body and cause various health problems, and here he highlights the absolute importance of antioxidants.

“The number of free radicals soar with the increase of consumed fats and exposure to radiation or toxic chemicals such as those found in cigarette smoke, or excessive exposure to sun light. They then attack the DNA in the cell and cause various problems, and a key combating factor in this regard is consuming foods which are rich in antioxidants which fight free radicals and boosts immunity remarkably," says Dr. Mesbah. He states that immunity-boosting antioxidants are generally a group of vitamins and minerals including:

Vitamin A is important in the production of growth hormone and a key element in strengthening the immune system, found as vitamin A or beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, broccoli, mangoes, melons, pumpkins, cabbage, mandarins, and peaches.

Vitamin B Group is of huge benefit to the immune system. Vitamin B1 is found in asparagus, green peas, mushrooms, lettuce and peppers. Vitamin B2 is found in broccoli, whole wheat, milk, mushrooms, and cabbage. Vitamin B3 is found in tuna, chicken and asparagus. Folic acid is found in broccoli, spinach, and peanuts. Vitamin B5 is found in mushrooms, lentils, eggs, avocados, and tomatoes. Vitamin B6 is found in nuts, seeds, broccoli and cabbage. Vitamin B12 is found in oysters, sardines, tuna, meat, milk and dairy products.

Vitamin C plays a critical role in stimulating the immune system and has a major anti-viral effect, especially against cold and ‘flu viruses and those that enter through the respiratory system. It is found in guavas, oranges and strawberries.

Vitamin E is very beneficial in combating infections and is mainly found in nuts, seeds, and wheat oil.

Selenium is an immunity-enhancing mineral that acts also as an antioxidant, found mainly in seafood and seeds, especially sesame.

Zinc is a key mineral in boosting immunity levels; it helps in fighting infections and may be added as a supplement in severe cases. It is found in oysters, seeds, liver, and dark chocolate.

Natural ways of enhancing our kids' immunity against various infections may also include psychological ones.

"One of the major roles of parents is to create a stable, happy atmosphere for their children, and it should be noted that a happier child is definitely a healthier one, "says Dr Mesbah.

"It is a fact that laughter has a direct link with immunity level, as it decreases the secretion of hormones that have a negative impact on the immune system. Laughter and happiness activate the NK cells that are responsible for dealing with many viruses, and unfortunately it had been noticed that although a pre-school kid smiles and laughs around 400 times a day, the number drops to 15 times a day when he is 35 years old."

He adds that while researchers at the University of Chicago proved that joy and laughter increase the average lifespan of a person by eight years, Japanese researches proved that we can even boost the immunity of babies who are breastfed if the mother is in a state of happiness.

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