It comes as no surprise to me that scientists are concerned that the measures we’ve had to take in order to combat Covid-19 have weakened the immune systems of young children who have not been able to build up resistance to common bugs, leaving them vulnerable now that mask-wearing and social distancing have come to an end, and the winter season beckons.
We’ve spent the best part of eighteen months distancing, shielding, sanitising, and not venturing to pastures new, so our resilience to viruses won’t be as strong as it would be during times of ‘normal’ activity.
Have our immune systems forgotten how to fend off disease-causing agents? Will we all be picking up bugs and viruses left, right and centre as the colder months begin?
Never has it been more important to ensure that our immune system is in good shape, ready to fight off whatever the coming months have in store.
The good news is that by the time a person reaches adulthood, their immune system has already had exposure to plenty of bacteria and viruses and is able to mount an attack against most of these invaders because they have the antibodies. The immune system has already learned how to destroy these microbes and will not forget, even in the wake of long-term lockdowns.
But what about younger children, whose immune systems are still in the learning phase? We want to see children playing on the floor, getting dirty, and being exposed to lots of people in lots of environments to build a strong immune system and a healthy population of gut bacteria. There are now, through no fault of their own, millions of young children with underdeveloped immune systems, leaving them more likely to pick up viruses and infections.
What happens to children with an underdeveloped immune system?
With this in mind, let me share the experience we have had with my 18-month-old granddaughter, Jessie. Born just one month before the first lockdown, she has spent much of her infancy in a very shielded environment. When she was finally able to start going to nursery in June of this year, we knew that the big change in environment would mean picking up a couple of viruses as she adjusted to mixing with other children and her nursery teachers. It wasn’t just a couple of cases of the sniffles though – Jessie picked up one virus after the next, including a particularly nasty bout of norovirus. I don’t think her immune system knew what was happening to it with so many unknown microbes on the attack.
The last virus she had displayed all the symptoms of Covid-19, so we did a PCR test which was negative. We held off giving her antibiotics as long as we could, but when the virus turned into a bacterial infection affecting her chest and nose, antibiotics were needed – just a three-day course of amoxicillin. These cleared up the chesty cough but didn’t help with the rhinitis/sinusitis (antibiotics rarely do). I had a chat with our local pharmacist who said that she probably needed another course of oral antibiotics. I asked why the GP would prescribe oral antibiotics for something so localised – wouldn’t a nasal antibiotic be more effective, not having to pass through the gut? It all comes down to cost, unfortunately. We decided to try a different route and gave her some Sterimar nasal spray, made from micro-diffused sea water, and it worked very well. This is the one we used: https://www.boots.com/sterimar-baby-nasal-hygiene-0-3-years-50ml-10112027
In addition to the nasal spray, we built up her gut flora with bone broth, Greek yoghurt, live bacteria and a broad-spectrum vitamin/mineral supplement suitable for toddlers. https://www.naturesaid.co.uk/children-c3/mini-drops-range-c7/mini-drops-multivitamin-p16
I am pleased to say that Jessie is now thriving once again, loving nursery with no sign of any more viruses yet!
I have always been a strong advocate of antibiotics when there is a need for them, i.e. for a bacterial infection, not a virus.
Any course of antibiotics should be followed up by a course of probiotics to replenish the friendly gut bacteria that the antibiotics have wiped out.
In Jessie’s case, the antibiotics gave her diarrhoea, which is a common side effect as the delicate balance of bacteria in the bowel can be upset by the work of the antibiotics. Some antibiotics can have long-lasting effects on the balance of gut bacteria which is why it is important to recolonise the gut after a course of antibiotics with probiotics, in both supplement form and via foods such as live yoghurt, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and kimchi.
You can also feed the bacteria in your gut by eating fibre-rich prebiotic foods, such as nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and berries.
More ways you can build your child’s immunity
- It is perfectly safe to use the powder from one of the Live Bacteria capsules daily as soon as your child has been weaned, mixed in a little yoghurt or porridge
- Make sure you get outside as much as possible to expose your child to dirt and also top up vitamin D levels. If the sun is out (whether in summer or winter), get out! Breathing in some fresh air is also a great way to boost mental health.
- If your child won’t eat oily fish, try an Omega 3 supplement to boost white blood cell count, vital for fighting off infections. We recommend the following: NORDIC NATURALS – gluten-free, yeast-free, and dairy-free, containing no artificial colouring, flavouring, or preservatives, non-GMO and third-party tested, surpassing the strictest international standards for purity and freshness. Can be taken as liquid: https://www.amritanutrition.co.uk/products/dha-junior-119ml (great for ages 1+). Or in the form of gummies: https://www.amritanutrition.co.uk/products/nordic-omega-3-tangerine-treats-30-gummies (For 2 years and older). [*If ordering from Amrita Nutrition you will need an activation code to order which is V26DXU.]
- Avoid processed foods and keep sugar consumption to an absolute minimum as both will have a detrimental impact on the immune system.
- Elderberry – make a homemade syrup or buy an organic one
- Garlic – this is most beneficial when chopped and left out for 10 minutes. It is best eaten raw or added at the end of cooking. Garlic has anti-bacterial and immune-enhancing properties.
- Coconut oil – this is anti-viral; you can easily cook your child’s food in it and bake with it too
- Mushrooms – these contain immune-modulating phytochemicals, including beta glucans; they also contain vitamin D. Add mushrooms to homemade sauces/ soups etc. If your child doesn’t like them, try blending them so they cannot be detected.
- Raw local honey – this is great for warding off colds; you can give your child a teaspoon of it or drizzle it onto porridge etc.
- Fermented foods – great to support the bacteria in the gut, which is home to 80% of our immune system. Your child may like to have a small glass of kombucha as a refreshing fizzy drink (it is packed with live bacteria), or some kefir, kimchi or sauerkraut.
- Pumpkin seeds – these are high in zinc, crucial for our immune system. You can use pumpkin seeds in baking, or have them as a snack on their own, add them to smoothies or top soups with them.
- Oily fish – great for immune health; anti-inflammatory. Homemade fishcakes using salmon often goes down a treat with children.
- Sweet potatoes – contain good amounts of beta carotene which is the pre-cursor to vitamin A. This is essential for a robust immune system.
- Bone broth – this is great for supporting gut health, which in turn supports our immune system
- Vitamin C rich foods – peppers, broccoli, oranges, berries, Brussel sprouts
- Turmeric fresh or powder – add to soups, curries etc
For recipe ideas, check out the selection on these websites:
Or if you would prefer to buy a book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immunity-Foods-Healthy-Kids-Fighting/dp/1844830098
You can learn more about the connection between gut health and children’s health in my post A Child’s Health Begins In The Gut on the blog here: https://justfortummies.co.uk/childs-health-begins-gut/