It’s that time of year again. Everyone is sniffling, sneezing, and complaining of stuffy noses and fatigue. Over 200 kinds of viruses can cause the common cold, and no one is immune until they catch all of them. The Center for Disease Control estimates that over twenty million school days are lost just due to colds.
Encouraging your children to wash their hands frequently and avoid putting their fingers in their mouths can help reduce the chance they’ll catch a cold, but it’s impossible to completely avoid communal surfaces or casual contact with cold sufferers.
What you can do is take steps to boost their immune system so their bodies are better able to go to war against viruses.
Get More Sleep
A good night’s sleep doesn’t just make your child more alert and focused, but also healthier. It’s a scientific fact that sleep deprivation can adversely affect your immune system.
An immune system under attack needs proteins called cytokines, which help fight off infection and reduce inflammation. Because cytokines also encourage restful sleep, they’re released during your sleep cycles. Less sleep means less cytokines. A child whose mind and body have been refreshed by uninterrupted slumber is better able to fight off colds and other viruses.
Eat More Vegetables
Phytonutrients are a class of chemicals that give plants color and a measure of protection from the onslaught of the microbial, fungal, and insect world. There are tens of thousands of these nutrients. Some that you may have heard of include:
- Carotenoids, antioxidants that can be converted to Vitamin A in the body
- Flavonoids, including some found in green tea and citrus fruits
- Resveratrol, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory found in grapes and grape juice
- Glucosinolates, found in broccoli, kale, and cabbage
To maximize the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects, your child would ideally eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
Drink Your Juice
Vitamin C has long been considered a viable remedy for the common cold. Recent scientific research has shown that the effects are not quite as powerful as commonly thought, but there is a measurable boost. Daily doses of vitamin C have been shown to reduce the duration of a cold in children by about 14%. In practical terms, that means about four fewer days a year lost to sickness.
Considering the vast amount of scientific research dedicated to the multiple benefits of exercise, it may come as a surprise that scientists don’t know why, exactly, exercise does exert an effect on the strength of the immune system. Like taking Vitamin C, the effect is not enormous, but it is marked. It’s also very specific: Hard workouts like marathons or weight-lifting to the point of exhaustion actually suppress your immune system for a period of time. But moderate exercise such as light jogging has the opposite effect.
Supplement Your Diet
Back in the day, parents used to force their kids to take a teaspoon of cod liver oil every day. What they didn’t know was that cod liver oil is rich in omega-3 fats, now known to be immune system boosters. If your family won’t stomach fish for dinner three times a week, consider a fish-oil supplement. These days, they come in the form of gummies.
Probiotics can also have a positive effect on your child’s immune system. If your children won’t eat yogurt, check with your doctor if a supplement would be beneficial.
It turns out that even without the benefit of scientific research, your grandparents were right: The key to a healthy life is to eat right and exercise, all in moderation.