The immune system is the body’s defence against infectious organisms and other invaders, collectively called pathogens. Through a series of steps called the immune response, the immune system attacks pathogens which invade body systems and cause disease.
When a child is born they have the protection of non-specific immunity. This includes physical barriers such as skin, mucus membranes, saliva, tears, mucus and gastric acid as well as inflammation and certain white blood cells. As they grow their specific immunity develops; this involves the formation of antibodies, which remember a pathogen and how to effectively eradicate it from the body. If babies are breast fed they will receive some antibodies from their mother.
When a child first attends day care or school, their immune system will encounter a large number of pathogens they have not been exposed to in the home environment. It is not unusual for them to have a constant runny nose, sore ears or a cough. Whilst this is not unusual it doesn’t have to be the norm. This is where we can help by providing you with advice specific to your child and their circumstances.
Apart from a healthy immune system, it can also be underactive or overactive. Underactive immunity is also called weak immune function or immunodeficiency. It simply means your immune system is not providing valuable protection against pathogens, resulting in frequent coughs, colds and various infections. It can be caused by stress, poor dietary choices (too much sugar, not enough vitamins and minerals) as well as poor gut health.
Overactive immunity, also referred to as a hyperactive immune system, results in allergies and auto-immune diseases. Allergies result from an overreaction of the immune system to a substance which is not usually harmful to the body; such as dust mites, pollen, animal dander, foods and chemicals. These substances are called allergens.
Foods to enhance immunity:
- Fibre rich nutrient foods
- Variety of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
- Wholegrain bread, cereals and brown rice
- Protein – organic or grass fed meats
- Beans and legumes
- Good Fats
- Coconut Oil
Foods to avoid:
- Corn syrup, sugar, fruit juices
- Partially hydrogenated oils
- Fried foods
- Polyunsaturated oils
- Processed grains
- Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours
- Soy foods
- MSG foods
Lifestyle Factors to consider:
- Physical / outdoor activities
- Reduce stress
- Good sleep routine
- Oral Hygiene
Sometimes it is necessary to supplement with specific nutrients in the short term to help restore or improve immune function. This will vary depending on the child and it is important you seek advice from a naturopath or nutritionist.