With winter comes flu. The chances of either you or your child getting the flu this season are as high as they always were.
But your child is certainly more susceptible to this contagious viral attack than you are. For one, a child’s immune system still underdeveloped and not mature enough to tackle the infection. Plus, the child is more likely to come in close contact with the virus, especially if the child is social with other children or goes to a crèche or play school.
And even when your child has contracted the infection, it is not just about soothing his discomfort through this bout of illness. It is also about rebuilding his defences once the flu has come and gone. An exposure to the cold or flu virus compromises your little one’s immune system and this too needs to be addressed.
As parents, we always want our children to be healthy. One way is to build their immune systems and to make them strong enough to withstand common infections such as the flu. Another is to boost their immune systems after they have undergone a health shock and replenish their strengths to withstand other infections in the future.
The thing about flu is, that once you or your child get it, you have to live with it for an average of 5 to 10 days, no matter what you do to treat it. Most parents know this, but won’t acknowledge it when they rush their little ones to the doctor with mild flu-like symptoms, asking the doctor to miraculously get their child rid of the horrid infection.
But in reality, once your child starts displaying the symptoms of this viral infection, there is little else to do but ease his or her discomfort and prevent any possible complications. With homeopathic medicines, allopathic medicines or even natural remedies for that matter, you can ease the symptoms such a fever, runny nose, congestion and cough. But none of these can speed up your child’s recovery.
This is the real truth, unfortunately.
So, the best way to go about tackling this wicked flu is to keep your child naturally insulated against it.
You can do this at home! Boost your little one’s immune system, that is.
Vitamins, minerals and probiotics are your child’s best bets when you are trying to build their immune systems. Nothing can beat a healthy diet that consists of the right mix of these three, not even external supplements, when it comes to building your child’s immunity.
Still, here are some immunity boosting ingredients that you can consider for your child, of course after checking with your doctor first and keeping in mind your child's taste preferences and any allergic restrictions.
Folic acid is a must for healthy blood, which is again a pre-requisite for a good immune system. Folic acid can be incorporated in your child’s diet by making sure that foods like lentils, dark leafy greens, avocado, peas and okra find a place on his plate.
At one point in history, garlic was known as Russian Penicillin, thanks to its excellent anti microbial properties. One cannot stress less on how important garlic is in your child’s diet. In fact, traces of garlic can even found in several easily available supplements. But to get the best benefits of garlic’s antiviral and antibacterial properties, you need to find a way to sneak it into your child’s plate in its raw form (which may be easier said than done). If not, don’t despair. Getting cooked garlic (at least) on your child’s plate is no problem at all with well loved foods such as dal-khichri or aloo paratha.
Zinc is most commonly deficient in our diets. It is widely believed, though not scientifically proven, that a zinc deficiency results in a defective immune system. Animal foods are considered better sources of zinc, so for non vegetarian toddlers, zinc can be given in the form of meats. For vegetarian children, dark chocolate, mushrooms, beans, spinach, and nuts and seeds are viable alternatives.
L-Methionine is an essential amino acid that is vital for the formation of our white blood cells, the antibodies that help prevent infections. High quantities of this are just as bad as low quantities are. So be sure to include nuts, cheese, dairy, beans, eggs, fish and soy in moderate quantities in your child’s diet. Follow a food chart based on your child’s age after consulting your paediatrician, so as to ensure that you don’t go overboard.
Though medical opinion is divided on whether Vitamin C boosts the immune system, it is widely agreed that Vitamin C helps to lessen the intensity and the duration of a flu infection. Citrus fruits, papayas, kiwis, bell peppers, guavas, snow peas, etc. are great sources of this vitamin and most of these are easy to incorporate in any child’s diet.
Additionally, other vitamins such as A, E, B6, B12 and D also play a vital role in building a child’s immune system. A vitamin A deficiency increases susceptibility to infections and a vitamin D deficiency decreases the resistance against them. All in all, a nutritious diet that is rich in all vitamins and minerals is beneficial for a child’s immunity in general.
An antioxidant named Selenium also plays a vital role in your child’s resistance to infections. Together with Vitamin E, this anti-oxidant actually boosts your resistance to common infections and allows your child’s body to fight it off without resorting to external medications. Foods such as garlic, butter, sunflower seeds, brewer’s yeast, grains, walnuts and certain seafood are rich sources of Selenium and must be incorporated in your child’s diet.
If your toddler is a recurrent victim of colds and flus, you might want to lower the number of his bouts by giving him a daily dose of probiotics. Probiotics as a term refers to the healthy bacteria that live naturally and normally within our digestive tracts. It is their presence in our guts that helps our bodies fight the bad bacteria that enter in and try to make us sick. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles or even our very own ‘ghar ka achaar’ are great sources of probiotics and while all may not be easy to incorporate in your child’s diet, yogurt certainly is. Try a fruit yogurt if your child is especially picky.
Additionally, if you can get your hands on these extracts or tinctures (since they are not that readily available everywhere), echinacea extract, elderberry and ginseng are also great immunity boosters. Elderberry, calendula and echinacea are common preventative herbs used in South Africa and while calendula is considered great for more wintery climates, echinacea works better in drier climates as it helps clear out the lymphatic systems. Even elderberry for that matter, if you can get your hands on it, boosts the production of certain immune cells and is considered safe to give to babies and children, provided you use extracts from the right elderberry plant.
In a nutshell, if flu vaccines are not your regular cups of tea, you might want to pay special attention to your child’s dietary intake. By boosting your child’s immunity naturally, you can certainly keep doctors and medicines at bay.
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