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Kids and colds

Natural ways to support your children's immunity this spring

Children certainly catch more colds and viruses than adults. In fact, most youngsters will have eight to 10 colds each year before they reach the age of two.

"This is because their immune system is learning and adapting and is being exposed to bacteria and viruses they haven't been close to before," explains Registered Nutritional Therapist Olga Preston. Olga, from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition's Brain Bio Centre, (www.ion.ac.uk) adds that "you can get a virus once or you can catch it again, depending on the virus and on your immune system. The rhinovirus (RV), for example, is responsible for half of the colds and causes a runny nose, sore throat, headaches, cough and muscle aches. Transmission is through aerosol transmission and self-inoculation – hand-to-hand contact with contaminated hands, or hand to surface contact with contaminated objects. It is common for children to get colds in winter but if your child seems to be getting cold after cold it is time to support their immune system."

Give them healthy whole foods

"Choose whole foods for your children's nutrition," says Dr SimonĊ½ Laubscher, formulator of the WelleCo supplement range (www.welleco.co.uk). "As a simple rule, it if looks like it did in nature by the time it reaches your plate, then it's a whole food and it hasn't been overly processed. This means it's less likely to contain added chemicals that can increase your toxic load and impact on your immune system. Eat the colours of the rainbow – by which I mean including a large, colourful variety of foods to boost antioxidants which, in turn, boosts the immune system. Also, reduce sugar intake where possible - obesity is linked to inflammation which in turn impairs the immune system, making it hard for the body to defend itself."

Support their gut health

"What is key here is that 70 to 80 per cent of your child's immune system is in their gut," says Olga Preston. "Your gut bacteria, which are essential for your immune system, regulate the immune response, and alterations of the gut bacteria can cause immune dysregulation." Olga recommends ensuring that your child eats plenty of good sources of prebiotic foods to feed the good bacteria. This includes things like oats, peas, lentils, beans, berries and garlic. She adds: "We also need to include good sources of fibre for regular bowel movements. Fruit, vegetables, oats, and pulses, nuts and seeds are all wonderful sources of fibre.

"Probiotic foods can help increase the good gut bacteria; for example kefir can be enjoyed as a drink or added to smoothies, sauerkraut can be added to sandwiches or salads and miso paste can be added to stir fries and soups."

Try some natural medicine

"Often parents feel helpless in the face of yet another cough or cold," says Pamela Spence, a medical herbalist, (www.pamelaspence.co.uk). "Getting to know the simple kitchen remedies is a great way to introduce your children to natural medicine as well as an effective way to get on top of troublesome symptoms. Making sure they have enough rest, hydration and a light diet will all help their bodies to fight the lurgy and build a strong immune system. Herbal teas, served cold and even mixed with fruit juice, make a really easy way to help kids feel more comfortable. Chamomile can soothe fractious tempers and helps the progress of a temperature. Thyme tea as a gargle can help calm a sore throat and ginger can help if they are feeling chilled. Of course, when you are looking after children it's crucial not to overextend your capabilities and, if in doubt, always seek medical advice."

Shopping list essentials

Here are some healthy foods to support your child's immunity:

Vitamin C
Try these: oranges, peppers, kiwis, berries, pomegranates, melon, dark leafy vegetables, peas and tomatoes.

Zinc
Try these: eggs, lamb, nuts and seeds, pulses and wholegrains, sardines.

Vitamin D
Try these: sardines, salmon, mackerel, trout and fortified mushrooms.

Vitamin A
Try these: chicken, liver and eggs.

Omega-3
Try these: salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.

Try this!

Medical herbalist Pamela Spence suggests giving your child an elderberry syrup to help the immune system fight off viruses. She says: "Not only does it taste nice (which really helps!) but elderberry has an antiviral component that can assist the body in its fight and it's packed with vitamin C too. Not only has the elder gifted us its berries, but the elderflower is also a very useful herb to clear stuffy noses and dry up excess mucous. It can be taken as a syrup or the dried flowers can be made into a herbal tea."

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