Did your nippers miss too much school last term due to catching every bug going? And is there anything parents can do about it? Dr Neil Fell, a family medicine expert from Dubai London Clinic, and Shirin Janoos, a dietitian at Health Factory, answer common parental queries
The doctor says:
We all want to prevent our kids from catching too many bugs. How can we minimize the chances, and will using more hand sanitizers in school actually help?
While good hygiene practices in terms of washing hands after play time and before you eat should always be observed as a matter of course, sending your child to school with hand sanitizer is probably a little over the top. First of all, there is no solid evidence to prove that using alcoholic hand cleansers actually prevent kids from getting germs. This is because you catch infections from all sorts of different sources – be it bugs in the air, on surfaces you touch, or through things you eat.
Furthermore, it’s perfectly normal for primary school aged kids to catch a large number of bugs, most of which can be classified as upper respiratory tract infections that aren’t serious. Of course, I’m not saying we should never clean – hygiene is important – but taking it too far isn’t a good idea either.
How important is sleep?
Sleep is a very important factor, and there is clear evidence to suggest that children who are sleep deprived can’t function properly at school academically, and may be prone to becoming more physically run down too. Considering young children of primary school age require approximately 11 to 12 hours’ sleep a night, it’s also probable that the vast majority of kids don’t actually get enough sleep.
I’d always suggest removing things like televisions or games consoles from the bedroom. They can be over- stimulating, and children will often be tempted to keep playing on them after lights out. Being consistent as a parent helps too. If you are trying to establish a routine, make sure you stick to it as much as possible.
There are so many kids’ vitamin supplements available. Which ones, if any, are useful?
I used to say, ‘as long as you have a healthy diet, you don’t need to bother with vitamin supplements.’ But over the years, that view has changed, mainly because I think it’s quite difficult for people to maintain a consistently healthy diet in this day and age. We are more reliant on processed foods due to our lifestyles, and even when we try our best to consume natural produce, it’s difficult to know exactly how much goodness it offers, due to modern food production techniques.
So, I would say vitamins do have a part to play – and taking a daily multi vitamin certainly won’t do you any harm. One vitamin many people are lacking in here (surprisingly enough) is vitamin D. This is due to the fact that we cover kids in sunblock whenever they go outside, which prevents 99 per cent of its absorption through the skin, and for much of the year, we tend to avoid the excessive heat by staying indoors. Vitamin D is a vital component when it comes to bone development, and there is also anecdotal evidence to suggest the lack of it can cause weakness, fatigue and joint pain too.
The dietician says:
What impact does a healthy diet have on the immune system?
Research has proved that a poor diet is a major causative factor for impaired immunity among children. A child’s immune system is made up of proteins, tissues, organs and white blood cells that all work together to ward off illness and infection. So, to improve immunity and cognitive ability among children, a well planned healthy diet for the entire day could be used as an effective tool.
Although no diet can protect the child completely from illness, one rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy might help keep their immune system strong and able to fight illness.
What kinds of ‘super foods’ should be included in kids’ diets to give them that extra boost?
Children who eat a balanced diet with at least six varied servings of fruits and vegetables each day will probably get most of the following ‘immunity-boosting super foods’.
Vitamin C increases the immune system’s production of the white blood cells and antibodies it needs to fight off infection-causing germs. It’s important that children get enough vitamin C on a daily basis because it isn’t stored in the body. Some vitamin C-packed foods to include are citrus fruits, papaya, mango, kiwi fruit, broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes.
Vitamin E stimulates the creation of cells that destroy germs as well as the creation of ‘B-cells’ that produce bacteria-destroying antibodies. Some good sources of vitamin E include nuts, sunflower seeds, cold pressed vegetable oils, whole grains, olives, legumes, asparagus, spinach, brown rice, eggs, milk and organ meats.
Zinc-rich foods increase white blood cell production. In addition, zinc increases the production of ‘T-cells’ and helps white cells release more antibodies. The body needs zinc to ward off infection and aid in wound healing. Good, natural foods rich in zinc include zinc-fortified cereals, crab, beef, dark meat turkey, liver, egg yolks, dairy products and beans.
Omega-3 fatty acids protect the body against damage caused by such hypersensitive responses. In addition, these fatty acids also increase the activity of white blood cells that destroy bacteria. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flax oil and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.
Carotenoids, found in many yellow-orange vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, increases the infection-fighting cells in the child’s system.
Bioflavonoids found in deep-coloured vegetables can help protect the child’s body against environmental pollutants.
Probiotics support the immune system by promoting a healthy gut. About 70 per cent of immune cells are found in the gut; probiotics support a healthy intestinal environment and help down regulate the immune system to a balanced response.
What about exercise? How much is too much and how much is too little? Both extremes can cause kids to be run down, so how do we strike a balance?
Studies have shown that as little as 30 minutes of exercise can boost immune system activity. But how you exercise makes a difference. It has been observed that moderate regular exercise may increase white blood cell activity and increase their circulation throughout the body. In contrast, too much exercise at a high intensity can have a negative effect, and may actually decrease immunity. So, play with the children, ride bikes together, go on family hikes and run around with them on a regular basis to be a good role model and help them get their daily recommended exercise.
Numerous studies have shown that children who eat a well balanced breakfast before school perform better both academically and socially. Children can be fussy eaters, but these meals are generally a hit among the kids and can also help bundle in some good immune-boosting nutrients into their daily diet
1 Mixed Fruit Smoothie Smoothies are quick, they’re easy, and you can pack in all kinds of nutrients with fruit and yogurt that contains active cultures (they keep the gut healthy and strong for improved immunity). They’re a great power breakfast.
2 Breakfast Burritos, which include whole wheat tortillas, eggs and beans, can be a rich source of nutrients, including B vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and polyphenol antioxidants, that play a key role in brain functioning.
3 A bowl of oatmeal topped with cinnamon, pecans, brown sugar and fresh seasonal fruit is a quick immune-boosting and energising breakfast.
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