Back to School Immune Support for Kids

As kids head back to school this year, they may be mingling in person more than they have for some time. While that’s a good thing for their social lives, it also means there’s more risk of cootie-swapping. As we head into fall, many parents are understandably thinking about how to support their kids’ immune systems. 

A healthy, resilient immune system starts with a healthy lifestyle. Lack of good nutrition, sleep, fresh air, and sunlight tends to weaken kids’ natural defenses. Certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs have also been shown to support immune health. Here are some good strategies for helping kids stay healthy this fall.

1. Stick to a healthy routine

Times are challenging, and we’ve all experienced disruptions to our normal routine. This is stressful for most people, but it can be especially hard for kids, who thrive on consistency, both mentally and physically. 

A structured daily routine with regular bedtimes, wake-up times, and meal times helps regulate kids’ circadian rhythms, which is important for healthy sleep as well as for immune function.1 Lack of good sleep, of course, has a negative impact on immune response.2

Routine is also mentally reassuring and can help kids feel more secure, reducing their stress. Psychological stress also weakens the immune system.3

2. Encourage outdoor play

“Go play outside” is classic mom advice, and for good reason. Fresh air, sunshine, and exercise are all important for helping kids stay healthy. 

Outdoor play is more active than indoor play and a great way for kids to get exercise, which supports their overall health and immunity.4 Not only is there better air circulation outdoors, which means less cootie-swapping with other kids, breathing in the fresh air also increases oxygen, which helps cleanse the lungs and supports healthy white blood cell activity.

Exposure to sunlight also has some direct health benefits. It helps regulate circadian rhythms and supports the production of melatonin, a crucial hormone for sleep. It also helps us synthesize vitamin D, which is crucial for a healthy immune system.5 

Vitamin D helps activate certain immune cells that defend against bugs, so it’s no surprise that low vitamin D levels are linked with an increased risk of respiratory health issues.6 In fact, many health researchers believe that the seasonal uptick in common bugs during the colder months can be partly explained by lack of sunshine, and a resulting lack of vitamin D.

On that note, we should acknowledge that outdoor play is often seasonal and weather-dependent. When the days shorten and the weather gets more inhospitable, the kids will be getting less sun and less vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements can help families cover their bases and support healthy levels of this important vitamin.

3. Put colors on the plate

Every mom knows that kids need to eat their fruits and veggies to stay healthy. Colorful fruits and veggies are rich in antioxidants, which play an important role in supporting healthy immune function and protecting against oxidative stress that can damage cells.7 Many studies have confirmed that eating plenty of fruits and veggies enhances immune function.8

The colorful pigments found in fruits and vegetables are calling cards for a range of antioxidants. You’ll find carotenoids in orange and yellow foods, anthocyanins in blue and purple ones. Vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants for immune health, is found in many colorful fruits and veggies, including bell peppers, berries, citrus fruits, and leafy greens. 

Putting a rainbow of colors on the plate is a good way to make sure your kid is getting a healthy variety of antioxidants and nutrients. If you’ve got a picky eater, try making a daily smoothie. You can sneak in a variety of fruits and veggies and your kid will be none the wiser. A smoothie also tastes like a treat and can replace less healthy sugary treats. 

Keep the kids away from the unhealthy white foods, like refined white carbs and sugar. Too much of these foods can spike blood sugar levels, increase oxidative stress and inflammation, and dampen immune function.9,10,11 They can also disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, which also impacts immune health.

4. Immune support supplements

While supplements can’t replace a healthy diet, they can certainly add to it. Even with the best of intentions, most families don’t eat perfectly healthy all the time. If you struggle to get your kids to eat what’s on their plate, or you just want to cover the gaps in their nutrition, a children’s multivitamin may help ensure they are getting the complete range of vitamins and minerals they need.

If you’re looking for more targeted immune support, vitamin C and zinc are particularly helpful, with many studies showing that they can help support the body’s defenses against common bugs.12,13,14 Vitamin C isn’t stored in the body and needs to be replenished regularly, so it’s a good supplement to have on hand. Vitamin C Gummies are an easy way to get kids to take their vitamins.

What about botanicals? Elderberry has gotten a lot of buzz recently for its immune support potential, with a number of small studies showing that it supports the body’s defenses against respiratory bugs.15,16,17 It’s rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C and quercetin, a flavonoid that also has clinically shown potential for upper respiratory immune support.18 

Interestingly, quercetin seems to work in synergy with vitamin C, with vitamin C helping to recycle quercetin in the body.19 This is the kind of synergy that nature provides, and one of the reasons we love whole food-based supplements such as elderberry. 

Quercetin also helps enhance the action of zinc in the body by helping to transport zinc across cell membranes.20 Our certified organic Elderberry Immune Support Gummies conveniently include a little extra vitamin C and zinc too, so you can get the benefits of all three together. 

Immune Health and Resilience

No immune system is bulletproof against catching bugs, particularly when there’s something extra contagious going around. But a healthy, resilient immune system is good at defending itself when needed and then bouncing back. Simply put, when we take better care of our immune system, it takes better care of us. 

Establishing healthy habits for your kids, like proper bedtime, outdoor exercise, healthy eating, and supplements as needed, will support their health and immunity now and reinforce a standard of self care that may help them live healthier lives in later years.

References:

1.  Waggoner SN. Circadian Rhythms in Immunity. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2020 Jan 10;20(1):2. doi: 10.1007/s11882-020-0896-9. PMID: 31925560; PMCID: PMC7357859.

2. Eric J. Olson, M.D. “Lack of Sleep: Can it Make You Sick?” Mayo Clinic, Nov. 2018.

3. “Stress Weakens the Immune System.” American Psychological Association, Feb 2006.

4. Carlsson E, Ludvigsson J, Huus K, Faresjö M. High physical activity in young children suggests positive effects by altering autoantigen-induced immune activity. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016 Apr;26(4):441-50. doi: 10.1111/sms.12450. Epub 2015 Apr 18. PMID: 25892449.

5.  Leavy, O. Immune-boosting sunshine. Nat Rev Immunol 10, 220 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nri2759

6. Aranow, Cynthia. “Vitamin D and the immune system.” Journal of investigative medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research vol. 59,6 (2011): 881-6. doi:10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755

7. Puertollano MA, Puertollano E, de Cienfuegos GÁ, de Pablo MA. Dietary antioxidants: immunity and host defense. Curr Top Med Chem. 2011;11(14):1752-66. doi: 10.2174/156802611796235107. PMID: 21506934.

8. Banafshe Hosseini, Bronwyn S Berthon, Ahmad Saedisomeolia, Malcolm R Starkey, Adam Collison, Peter A B Wark, Lisa G Wood, Effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on inflammatory biomarkers and immune cell populations: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 108, Issue 1, July 2018, Pages 136–155, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy082

9. Yu S, Zhang G, Jin LH. A high-sugar diet affects cellular and humoral immune responses in Drosophila. Exp Cell Res. 2018 Jul 15;368(2):215-224. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2018.04.032. Epub 2018 May 1. PMID: 29727694.

10. Takahashi, K. , Chang, W. , Moyo, P. , White, M. , Meelu, P. , Verma, A. , Stahl, G. , Hartshorn, K. and Yajnik, V. (2011) Dietary sugars inhibit biologic functions of the pattern recognition molecule, mannose-binding lectin. Open Journal of Immunology, 1, 41-49. doi: 10.4236/oji.2011.12005.

11. Jafar N, Edriss H, Nugent K. The Effect of Short-Term Hyperglycemia on the Innate Immune System. Am J Med Sci. 2016 Feb;351(2):201-11. doi: 10.1016/j.amjms.2015.11.011. PMID: 26897277.

12. Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94. doi: 10.1159/000090495. Epub 2005 Dec 21. PMID: 16373990.

13. Maggini S, Beveridge S, Suter M. A combination of high-dose vitamin C plus zinc for the common cold. J Int Med Res. 2012;40(1):28-42. doi: 10.1177/147323001204000104. PMID: 22429343.

14. Hemila H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013;(1):CD000980.

15. Barak V, Halperin T, Kalickman I. The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines. Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6. PMID: 11399518.

16. Tiralongo, Evelin et al. “Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” Nutrients vol. 8,4 182. 24 Mar. 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8040182

17. Porter RS, Bode RF. A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Products. Phytother Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):533-554. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5782. Epub 2017 Feb 15. PMID: 28198157.

18. Heinz SA, Henson DA, Austin MD, Jin F, Nieman DC. Quercetin supplementation and upper respiratory tract infection: A randomized community clinical trial. Pharmacol Res. 2010 Sep;62(3):237-42. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2010.05.001. Epub 2010 May 15. PMID: 20478383; PMCID: PMC7128946.

19. Colunga Biancatelli, Ruben Manuel Luciano et al. “Quercetin and Vitamin C: An Experimental, Synergistic Therapy for the Prevention and Treatment of SARS-CoV-2 Related Disease (COVID-19).” Frontiers in immunology vol. 11 1451. 19 Jun. 2020, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.01451

20. Husam Dabbagh-Bazarbachi, Gael Clergeaud, Isabel M. Quesada, Mayreli Ortiz, Ciara K. O’Sullivan, and Juan B. Fernández-Larrea. Zinc Ionophore Activity of Quercetin and Epigallocatechin-gallate: From Hepa 1-6 Cells to a Liposome Model. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2014 62 (32), 8085-8093 DOI: 10.1021/jf5014633