“We do know that people (who are) immune compromised are more likely to contract Covid and to get severely ill,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. “We don’t know the degree to which improving your immunity would ward off Covid in some way. That might make common sense, but we don’t have the data to say that that’s the case. However, from a common sense perspective, we should be doing everything we can to improve health anyway.”
Because the immune system involves multiple functions that take place throughout the body, supporting it requires some basic building blocks, said Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian and nutritionist and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are seven ways you can support your child’s immune system with hygiene, food, rest and more.
1. Encourage personal hygiene
Protecting your child from illness begins with trying your best to prevent him from being exposed to infectious agents in the first place, said Dr. Maya Adam, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford University in California.
“That involves really, really keeping up on the hygiene practices,” Adam said. “Handwashing is huge. It’s the number one thing that we can teach our kids to wash their hands frequently, as much as their setting allows. And as much as is recommended in their location, follow the guidelines on masking and social distancing. Try and be sensible about not being in large groups, especially if there are potential sources of infection.”
Encourage hand washing when your kids get home from school or when they are about to eat, said Julia Zumpano, a registered and licensed dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Unless it’s shower night, have them wash their hands and faces before bed, too, she added.
2. Follow immunization schedules
Children under 12 currently can’t be vaccinated against coronavirus but following schedules for other immunizations is critical for all children’s long-term health, Adam said. Ask your child’s pediatrician what vaccines are necessary for her at this stage of her life, Zumpano recommended.
“(I’m) encouraging parents to trust in the fact that the reason we don’t have polio cases, for example, is because a vaccine was introduced for that,” Adam said. If and when your children are eligible, getting them vaccinated against coronavirus is key to both keeping them healthy and ending this pandemic.
“The minute that (Covid-19) vaccine is available and approved for under 12, my 11-year-old is going to be one of the first, I hope, to get it, because I think vaccines are part of our general health practice,” Adam added. “It’s like brushing and flossing our teeth at night. It’s like getting enough sleep and eating balanced nutrition.”
3. Feed them the rainbow
When it comes to using food to support immune function, one method all these experts advised is balanced nutrition.
Make healthier food options visible and accessible for kids by having fruits already peeled and on the counter to “catch their hunger” during snack times, Adam said. At dinner, ensure a vegetable is at least present or offered, Stefanski said.
4. Promote gut health
The microbiome in our gastrointestinal tract helps regulate how our immune system works, said Corkins, who’s also the St. Jude Chair of Excellence in pediatric gastroenterology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Foods with microbiome-supporting probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and sourdough bread, Adam said.
Stefanski recommended eating foods in their whole forms as often as possible since “gut bacteria is nourished by certain fibers in the diet.”
5. Prioritize sleep
Young children could relax by being read to or brought along on a slow, outdoor walk before bed, Adam suggested. Older kids might enjoy winding down by listening to meditation app audios or stories.
“Start that routine even an hour before they’re supposed to be sleeping so it just helps them transition into that phase better,” she added. “I don’t think our kids have ever heard the ends of those wind downs because they’re asleep by the time it’s finished.”
6. Help them reduce stress
Since research has shown chronic stress is a depressant for the immune system, keeping an eye on your kid’s mental health via quality time, discussions during activities and mental health professionals is also important for supporting immunity, Adam said.
7. Get them outside
Since exercising releases mood-boosting chemicals, the following reduction in stress can support immune strength, Zumpano said.
“Young kids should be playing mostly, but having them outdoors as much as possible, running around, playing whatever they love doing shouldn’t feel like a punishment, but something they can engage in a safe way,” Adam said.