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Immune boosting tips for parents

A heartwarming domestic milestone little Belle has learned how to hug. She may not be walking or talking much yet, but if prompted she will scoot over, climb on to your lap and pop her head on your shoulder. She mastered this at precisely the same time she developed a horrible cold. As every parent knows, there are highs and lows to having kids. The highs include the hugs and the I-love-yous; the lows include being covered in snot.

Of course we were never going to put the hugs on hold for the sake of a runny nose, but I might have encouraged more distance if I'd known this would trigger the onset of Man Flu. The lovely husband, enamoured with Belle's new trick, has had a lot of contact with our littlest and is currently in bed, afflicted. Just recently I told a friend how excited I was to go through a full eight weeks with no germs in our house. I shouldn't have tempted fate.

Pre-kids, we were pretty healthy. I like to think that a lot of that had to do with nutritious food, but these days we're eating well and still coming down with germs. It's a common picture for anyone with kids in day care, where the average is a depressing 12 colds per year. It's no surprise when you consider that there are over 200 different viruses that cause the common cold, and kids can only develop immunity to one at a time.

The frustration with preventive healthcare strategies is that you never really know what you are preventing. I was getting so annoyed with all the bugs at home, especially without proof that my efforts to prepare fresh, healthy meals and snacks were paying off. However of course the benefits of a healthy diet for kids stretch beyond improved immunity brain development, balanced mood and better behaviour. Also, when I saw how quickly the kids were bouncing back from their bugs, I felt better.

But what about us as adults? How quickly do you recover from a bug? If you have kids who are bringing home day care germs, or if you just tend to get every bug going, then take a look at the immune boosting tips below. I can't promise you you'll never get a cold again, but having a strong immune system helps you to resist infection and respond better if you do succumb.

Exercise

Exercise helps to boost the immune system, with both mental (stress-relieving) and physical (lymph-draining) benefits. If you've previously been inactive, start out with some gentle walks, but ultimately aim to get some form of good physical activity every day.

Eat antioxidant-rich foodsSupplement friendly bacteria

Antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E, the minerals selenium, zinc, iron, copper and manganese, and other nutrients such as lycopene, anthocyanidins, betacarotene and CoQ10. You'll get a good intake of all of these if you eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables aim for at least five servings a day. The darker the pigment of the fruit or vegetable, the higher the nutrient content tends to be. So, for example, berries, spinach and broccoli are more nutrient dense than iceberg lettuce or sweetcorn. Preferably eat them raw or lightly steamed as cooking tends to cause nutrient loss. Raw nuts/seeds, herbs, spices and rooibos (red bush) tea are also extremely high in antioxidants.

Avoid nutrient robbers

Caffeine, alcohol, excess salt and artificial additives are all “nutrient robbers”, depleting your body of nutrients rather than nurturing your system. When you eat or drink something, always have a think about what it's going to do to benefit your body. For example, drinking a diet soda may quench your thirst, but the artificial sweeteners and colourings will have to be detoxified by vitamins and minerals in your body, so ultimately you could end up with a negative nutrient balance. In contrast, drinking water helps to flush toxins from your system, leaving a higher level of nutrients in your body able to do other jobs, such as boosting your immune system.

Friendly bacteria in your digestive system (also known as “good bacteria” or “probiotics”) pack a powerful immune-boosting punch. Friendly bacteria are depleted by caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, refined sugar, infections, antibiotics, some other medications and the birth control pill. These good bacteria are found naturally in “live” yoghurts or cheeses, but a supplement is often more effective especially if you have taken antibiotics or are on the contraceptive pill. Make sure you supplement a quality brand (for example Solgar, Life Extension or Kyo-dophillus) from a health food store and take them with food, but away from very hot food or drinks.

Bad fat out ...

The bad, saturated, hydrogenated or trans fats found in many chips, baked goods, chocolate bars, full-fat dairy products, processed meats and fried foods directly deplete the immune system.

... good fat in

On the other hand, good fats (omegas 3, 6 and 9) help to boost the immune system. These are found in fish (not fried!) especially oily fish, raw nuts (almonds, pecans, brazils, walnuts) seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax), avocado, olives and unheated oils such as olive/flax. Note that as nuts/avocadoes are calorie-dense, you need to keep portion sizes moderate. Also, when you cook with olive oil, don't heat it so high that it smokes (at which point the fat is now damaged) and never cook with flax/linseed oil over heat (fine for salad dressings.)

Detoxify your home

There's often not much you can do to avoid exhaust fumes and other environmental pollutants, but there's a huge amount you can do inside your home. Switch cleaning product brands to a green brand such as Seventh Generation, Greenworks or Ecover. If you must use a chemical product (eg mainstream Clorox) then use wipes instead of sprays to prevent the chemicals becoming airborne and triggering respiratory irritation. Avoid mainstream air-fresheners at all costs and use an environmentally-friendly alternative such as AirScense (Down to Earth). Alternatively look into the Norwex microfibre cleaning line which is completely chemical-free.

Up your hygiene

Flu viruses can live for two to eight hours on surfaces, so make sure you clean yours regularly. As public surfaces may not be as clean as you'd like, try not to touch your mouth or nose unnecessarily. Cover any coughs or sneezes with your hands, elbow or a tissue. Hands should be washed with soap or you can use a hand-sanitising gel. Make sure you dispose of all tissues after first use; no stuffing them up your sleeve!

Stay positive!

Chronic high levels of stress are damaging so try and incorporate relaxing exercise and activities into your lifestyle. If you do find yourself going through an unavoidably stressful period, then make sure you ditch the “nutrient robbers” and cram your diet with immune-boosting fruit and veg.

Supplementation

Supplementation works best alongside positive dietary and lifestyle changes. There's little point swallowing 1000mg vitamin C if you are eating fried food and smoking like a chimney. However vitamin C can work wonders given the opportunity. Look for a quality brand (Solgar, Natrol, Life Extension) and if you catch a cold, take 500 to 1000mg three times a day. If you are sensitive, choose the Easy-C by Natrol that uses a buffered form of vitamin C that is gentle on the stomach. Also consider the “Buried Treasure” ACF Fast Relief Immune Support formula from Rock On. To say that it tastes terrible is an understatement, but it is really effective. If you have a medical condition or are on any medication, any form of supplementation must be approved by your physician.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. She can be contacted at nourishbda@gmail.com

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Published September 02, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated September 01, 2011 at 8:43 pm)

Immune boosting tips for parents

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