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Naturally Boost Your Family’s Immune System

Winter (i.e. flu season) is coming and with toddlers who are nursing less and less, Meredith and I were wondering what we could do to naturally boost their immune systems. We both hope to continue breastfeeding for a while, and maybe breastfeeding is enough. According to Kellymom, studies show that some immune factors may be even more concentrated during this second year of breastfeeding. Regardless, our toddlers’ immune systems are on our minds, so here are some tips we found that might help boost the immune system in members of your whole family.

Probiotics: Probiotics provide the “good” bacteria to your gut (as opposed to the “bad” bacteria that cause illness). These bacteria work in a number of different ways to enhance aspects of the immune system. You can find probiotics in pill, powder or liquid form. I buy mine at the health food store. They are located in the refrigerated section. They probably sell them at regular grocery and drug stores, too. You can also find probiotics in yogurt and kefir (and no, you don’t need to buy the specially branded yogurt).  According to an article from the University of Michigan, you should eat the following foods in conjunction with the dairy to help multiply the probiotics:  spices, tea, red wine (okay, you should drink wine, but don’t give it to your kids 😉 ), berries, apples and beans.

You can even find probiotics for your pets. I buy my dog’s probiotics at the health food store. They are right next to the probiotics for humans. I just sprinkle some on his food.

Vitamin D: Is it just a coincidence that we get less vitamin D in the winter due to low sunlight, but more colds and flu? Well, maybe not. Researchers found that those with low vitamin D levels were more likely to suffer from respiratory infection. Humans produce vitamin D with exposure to sunlight, but this is often not possible in the winter for many reasons (the position of the sun, wearing more clothes, not outside as much). You can use this handy calculator to figure out how much exposure you or your child needs to make adequate vitamin D. Is this tool accurate? I have no idea. It was developed by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, which sounds pretty official.

 If sunlight isn’t enough for you or your child, you can also get vitamin D through certain foods like fish (especially salmon with bones…yum!) or fortified milk or orange juice. You can also find vitamin D supplements.

Warning: some recommend cod liver oil to increase vitamin D intake. This can be very dangerous for the babies of pregnant women because cod liver oil contains high levels of vitamin A in the retinol form. Avoid cod liver oil while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Eat locally and/or seasonally: I’m a big believer that nature gives us what we need when we need it. Of course, humans have pretty much manipulated the world to where this isn’t always true or possible, but sometimes it still is. In many areas, meat and fish are the main sources of local and seasonal food. These foods also happen to be high in immune system boosting nutrients like zinc and vitamin d (in the case of fish). Oranges, which contain another immune system booster, vitamin C, are typically harvested in the winter months. Nuts and seeds also contain many of the immune system boosting nutrients like vitamin E and zinc. Even if nuts and seeds aren’t harvested in the winter (though some are), they will keep well if you store them correctly.  

Find and maintain balance: Trust me, I know this is easier said than done. Even good stress can throw your immune system off. Try not to over-schedule yourself or the kids. Take advantage of the dark evenings and get to bed earlier (ha! I know – this one is tough). Make sure your kids are getting enough downtime and enough family time.  

Hug, touch, and hold your family: Some studies show that touch alone can reduce stress and boost the immune system. This is a good excuse to sleep next to your kids, wear your toddlers, and hold your baby as much as you want. And don’t forget your significant other – even sex can boost your immune system.

For more information about the immune system, Dr. Sears has a lot of information on his website.

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Published in Food Health