5 of the best 'back to school' immunity builders

Dr. Carel-Piet van Eeden
September 6, 2022

As lockdown regulations ease, it is very likely that learners will soon be heading back to school. This, understandably, will have you feeling deeply concerned that your child may be exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom or on the playground. And even though available information indicates that young children are less susceptible to developing severe symptoms from the disease, there is still currently no definitive study that can confirm this. 

What we do know is that new research (on the impact the coronavirus has on children) indicates that as many as 83% of children admitted to paediatric intensive care units have underlying health issues like congenital heart disease, cancer, cerebral palsy and other illnesses that have compromised their immune systems’ responses. (Trusted Source 1)

For parents of children with pre-existing health conditions, please speak to your doctor before sending your child back to school.

If your child is healthy and you are preparing your child to return to school, you need to get their immune systems working optimally to fight off stray bugs and germs.

There are a number of natural and effective ways you can do this:


1. Probiotics and Prebiotics

It’s essential to maintain a healthy balance of friendly bacteria in the gut. A stable microbiota plays a key role in the development of healthy immune cells that protect your child from invading pathogens.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, like lactobacillus acidophilus, that are found in fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso. These are good bacteria that help balance the microbiome in the gut. Sometimes this balance can be upset, for example, when taking antibiotics. 

Antibiotics effectively wipeout pathogens but they also very effectively wipe out all our good bacteria too. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary. So, if putting your child on a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, make sure that they take a good probiotic supplement as well. 

Taking a probiotic supplement on a regular basis can really help support your child’s immune system and keep their gut and digestive tract microbiomes healthy and balanced.

A prebiotic is the fibre of non-digestible parts of foods like bananas, onions, apple skins, artichokes and beans. The fibre ferments in the large colon and feeds the colonies of good bacteria in the gut. 

A banana is a great bedtime snack as it’s not only a good source of prebiotic fibre but it’s also packed with magnesium and potassium which helps lower brain temperature, regulate hormones and triggers the body’s muscles to relax.

sleep for immune system support

2. Relax and get a good night's sleep

We are currently going through a time of great uncertainty and this can be very stressful. Stress leads to elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline levels which, over time, results in a compromised immune system. 

Children's bodies have the same stress responses as adult’s do. In fact, studies have shown that chronic stress in childhood can lead to long term immune dysregulation.

Your home needs to be a place of safety and peace for everyone right now. Give your children lots of time to play, rest and relax. This is more important at the moment than keeping up with their school work especially if they are little and cannot self-study. Get through what you can and don’t feel guilty about what you can’t. 

Make sure that they are getting between 10 and 14 hours of good quality sleep at night. There is a direct correlation between sleep and immunity. A lack of sleep limits the body’s ability to produce cytokines. These are proteins that help fight off viral and bacterial infections and reduce inflammation.

When we sleep, the pineal gland, in response to darkness, also secretes melatonin which is the hormone responsible for our sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin also reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. 

If your child is having issues with their sleep, now is the time to fix it. Get into the habit of a good sleep routine. Switch off devices at least an hour before bedtime, let your child calm down with a warm bath and a bedtime story. Get your child used to sleeping in the dark without a night light. Melatonin is only triggered to release in darkness.

Remember, these are unprecedented times - everyone in the world is going through this crisis with you. So be kind to yourself and to your children.

Sunshine Vitamin D for immunity

3. Sunshine and Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a key role in modulating immune system reactions. Studies have shown that maintaining optimum levels of vitamin D may be an effective defence against viral diseases and upper respiratory infections. (Trusted Source 2)  

Encourage your children to play outside in the sunshine for between 10 - 30 minutes every other day. Expose as much of their bodies as you can to direct sunlight without sunscreen. Between 11 am and 2 pm is the optimal time to get the most beneficial UVB rays for the right amount of vitamin D production. If this is not possible like in the winter months, get a good vitamin D3 supplement. 

Darker skins need up to 6 times more sunlight than fairer skins to get the right amount of vitamin D. For darker-skinned children a vitamin D3 supplement is absolutely vital for a healthy immune system.

4. Immune supporting foods

It’s time to put down the carb-laden comfort foods and switch up to a nutrient-rich balanced diet packed with vitamins. Vitamin C and E are especially important to maintain your child’s immune system. 

Vitamin C helps to reinforce the fatty membranes in the skin and connective tissue, effectively protecting the lungs and other organs from pathogens. Vitamin C also helps direct immune cells called neutrophils to the site of infections and protects them against damage by mopping up free radicals. 

Our bodies do not produce Vitamin C, so it’s important to get enough vitamin C from the food in our diet. Foods with the highest levels of vitamin C include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, tomatoes, lychees, strawberries and citrus fruits.

Vitamin E is an extremely powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infections and heal. Vitamin E can be found in foods such as vegetable oils, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, broccoli, spinach and squash. 

A study performed in China concluded that children with low levels of Vitamin A, D and E were more susceptible to recurrent respiratory tract infections. (Trusted Source 3)

4 superhero immune-supporting snacks 

  • Almonds. Naturally-occurring chemicals found in almonds skins offer anti-viral protection. These chemicals improve the ability of leukocytes (immune cells) to detect pathogens. They also help to prevent pathogens from replicating. So make sure you buy almonds with the skin still on the nut for a healthy, virus-fighting snack. (Trusted Source 4)
  • Blueberries contain a flavonoid called anthocyanin, this antioxidant gives the immune system a fantastic boost. Flavonoids play a vital role in protecting the immune defence system of the respiratory tract.
  • Yoghurt. Yoghurt keeps the gut and immune system healthy. Probiotics in yoghurt help the body fight off bacterial and viral infections. Make sure you buy yoghurt that contains live bacteria. Usually, yoghurts that have a little liquid on the top when you open it is a good sign that the yoghurt contains live cultures.
  • Walnuts. Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3s. Studies have found that omega-3s help the body fight illness. In fact, in one study, researchers found that omega-3s reduced the number of respiratory infections in infants and children. (Trusted Source 5)

Zinc for immune system support

5. Zinc

Zinc supports numerous functions of the immune system. This trace mineral is essential for growth, development and maintenance of healthy immune cells. It packs a powerful punch when it comes to fighting off pathogens like corona viruses. Zinc works by regulating the immune system’s response to an infection. This means it manages and contains inflammation that would otherwise spread rapidly and become severe and even deadly.

A laboratory study done in 2010 showed that zinc inhibited the activity and replication of the corona virus SARS-CoV during its outbreak in 2002. (Trusted Source 6)

We have no ability to store zinc in our bodies so we must get it from our diets on a daily basis. Foods that contain the highest amount of zinc are oysters that contain around 61mg per 100gms and beef with 11mg per 100gms. 

Other foods that are a good source of zinc are chicken, pork, tofu, baked beans, fortified breakfast cereals, nuts, pumpkin seeds and cheese. Zinc from plant-based sources is not as well absorbed as zinc from meat and seafood.

Zinc supplementation is NOT recommended for children. They should get their daily requirements from their diet. The likelihood of zinc deficiency in children is low and there is a risk of zinc toxicity if they take a supplement. There is no possibility of overdosing on zinc from food sources. 

Zinc supplements should be given to children under medical advice only.

Get your child ready for their first day back in the classroom with Your Wellbeing’s ‘Back-to-school’ combo for children from 6 years old and up. 


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