It’s that time of year – we say goodbye to the summer, the new school terms get underway and, due to season changes and numbers of children grouped together inside, there is an increase in common infections such as coughs, colds and flu. According to the National Centre for Health Statistics, twenty million school days are missed annually due to the common cold.
Another factor to consider is the ability to concentrate and learn new things, which is important for most people, but particularly when at school. Childhood is the time when a child’s brain is still developing. Therefore it is a good idea to prepare them for the school year with a little extra nutritional support.
Avoiding extreme exposure to germs is important to protect health. Hand washing and using tissues is good practice for preventing and avoiding the spread of infections. However, it is also important that children are exposed to moderate levels of bacteria and viruses in order to develop their immune system.
The Hygiene Hypothesis and Spending More Time Indoors
The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ suggests that our insistence on cleanliness and lack of exposure to a wide range of microbes in the developed world, deprives our bodies of immune stimulation, disrupting normal immune development and thus increasing the risk for allergic disease. In addition, children spend more time than ever inside clean, very hygienic homes and this can actually reduce their ability to effectively build a strong immune system. Furthermore, being inside increases exposure to certain allergens or irritants that can accumulate indoors, including dust mites, mould spores, other microbes, pet hair and cleaning products (especially sprays).
Allowing children to play outside and mix with other children and avoiding excessive spraying of antibacterial agents are ways in which they can be exposed to microbes. Immunity can also be boosted by ensuring adequate sources of immune supporting nutrients such as:
Children who do not get a varied diet may not be achieving optimal levels of vitamin C, a nutrient that is so important for the healthy maintenance of the immune system. Vitamin C has multiple benefits for supporting immunity as it stimulates neutrophils and increases lymphocyte production. It also increases interferon production and has antioxidant and antihistamine properties.
There is increasing evidence that deficiency of vitamin C and zinc adversely affects the physical and mental growth of children and can impair their immune defences.1
Vitamin C is also a major antioxidant and therefore is essential for protecting cells and mitochondria against damage caused by free radicals during energy production. Therefore, if activity levels are high, it is really important to ensure there is adequate intake of antioxidants including vitamin C. It also regenerates both vitamin E and glutathione and therefore has antioxidant properties above that of its own capabilities.
To maintain adequate vitamin C levels, ensure children get at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Include vitamin C rich foods such as red pepper, kale, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi. Or make a vitamin C rich smoothie with avocado, frozen mixed summer berries, kale and blend with coconut water.
Zinc improves cell mediated immunity by increasing production of T-Lymphocytes and regulates the function of white blood cells. It also has many benefits related to cognitive function, it is essential in DNA synthesis therefore supporting the development of brain cells, and also acts as an antioxidant, thereby reducing oxidative stress within brain tissue.2 Zinc is a cofactor for thousands of enzymatic processes that occur in the body. Zinc can be found in eggs, beef, lamb, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Vitamin D is known to support healthy immune function and has been shown to be deficient in the majority of the population particularly over the winter months. Advice from Public Health England (PHE) states that adults and children over the age of one should have 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D every day.
The advice is based on recommendations from the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) following its review of the evidence on vitamin D and health.3
Vitamin D can be manufactured by the skin when exposed to sunlight. To obtain adequate vitamin D, 30% of the body should be exposed daily for 10-15 minutes in peak sunlight 10am-2pm April-October (do not allow the skin to redden). However many children are not achieving this and it can be difficult to get enough from the diet; vitamin D is found in oily fish, butter and eggs. Therefore it is recommended that vitamin D is supplemented all year round.
1-3, 1-6 Beta Glucan
Beta glucan is a type of carbohydrate chain found in the cell wall of fungi, yeasts and seaweeds. It has multiple effects on the immune system and acts as an immunomodulator which helps adjust an efficient immune response. Beta glucan primes the immune system to help the body defend against viral and bacterial invaders. The effects of beta glucan on immune cells is well established. Initially, macrophages and dendritic cells were considered the main target cells of beta glucan, although neutrophils, B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells are also now known to be activated by beta glucan.4,5
Iron is an essential nutrient for immunity and iron deficiency is associated with low immune function due to iron contributing to lymphocyte proliferation as well as the ability of other white blood cells to destroy micro-organisms.
Iron is involved in the formation of collagen and elastin as well as being essential for red blood cell production and therefore is essential for growth and development.
Iron has a twofold effect on energy production as firstly it is required for haemoglobin and therefore the transport of oxygen around the body. It is also a component of complex III in the electron transport chain and assists in the conversion of FADH and NADH into ATP, so therefore plays an essential role in energy production.
Food sources of iron include dark leafy greens, almonds, avocado, red meat and poultry.
The human gastrointestinal tract is a very complex ecosystem, in which there is a continuous interaction between nutrients, host cells, and microorganisms. Commensal microbes contribute to gut homeostasis, whereas the necessary responses are triggered against enteropathogens. Some of the most important roles of these microbes are to help maintain the integrity of the mucosal barrier, to provide nutrients such as vitamins, or to protect against pathogens.6 The health of the gut is vital to immune function as approximately 70% of our immune tissue is found in the digestive system. It is one of our first lines of defence against infection and contains secretory IgA (sIgA) which lines the digestive tract and acts as an antiseptic paint in order to neutralise pathogens before they can enter the blood stream.
Consequently, ensuring a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut supports overall immunity. It is paramount that the digestive system is functioning optimally in order to prevent infection initially and stimulate the immune system enabling the body to fight off infections. Optimising gut health is of importance again in reducing the risk of atopic conditions such as eczema and asthma.
The health of the gut can be supported by:
- Obtaining adequate fibre from vegetables, fruits and moderate intake of wholegrains
- Consuming prebiotic foods such as apples, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions and asparagus
- Consuming probiotic foods sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and miso
- Taking a live bacteria supplement
Diet plays a pivotal role in maintaining concentration, cognitive ability and energy throughout the day in children and adolescents.
Balancing blood sugar
In spite of potent biological mechanisms that protect brain activity from disruption, some cognitive functions appear sensitive to short-term variations of fuel (glucose) availability in certain brain areas. A glucose load, for example, acutely facilitates mental performance, particularly on demanding, long-duration tasks.7
Breakfast is widely promoted to improve cognitive function and academic performance, leading to the provision of breakfast initiatives by public health bodies.8 However, if breakfast is high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, which are so often found in breakfast cereals, this creates a peak in blood sugar levels, which in turn leads to a crash one to two hours later and can have a detrimental effect on concentration, energy and mood. Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels helps improve focus, energy and mood.
Aim to eat wholegrain carbohydrates (such as oats, brown rice or quinoa) with a source of good quality protein (for example; nuts, seeds, eggs). This slows down the release of sugar into the blood, stabilising blood sugar and maintaining concentration and energy levels for longer.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids provide well-recognised anti-inflammatory properties.9–11 In addition, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is gaining appreciation for supporting cognitive processes in humans.12,13
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to be important in brain development and cognitive function. It also supports the health of mitochondrial membranes and therefore energy production including within the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish (wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and anchovies), chia and flax seeds, dark leafy greens and sea vegetables as well as omega-3 rich eggs.
- Hand washing and using tissues are good practice for preventing the spread of infections. However, it is important that children are exposed to moderate levels of bacteria and viruses in order to develop their immune system.
- Allowing children to play outside and mix with other children and avoiding excessive spraying of antibacterial agents are ways in which they can be exposed to microbes.
- Immunity can also be boosted by ensuring adequate sources of immune supporting nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, iron and 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan.
- The health of the gut is vital to immune function as approximately 70% of our immune tissue is found in the digestive system.
- The health of the gut can be supported by obtaining adequate fibre from vegetables, fruits and moderate intake of wholegrains, consuming prebiotic foods such as apples, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic and onions, consuming probiotic foods sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and miso and taking a live bacteria supplement.
- Diet plays a pivotal role in maintaining concentration, cognitive ability and energy throughout the day in children and adolescents.
- Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels helps improve focus, mood, cognitive ability and energy throughout the day.
- A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is gaining appreciation for supporting cognitive processes in humans. Choose smaller fish – wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring, which will have accumulated lower levels of heavy metals and pollutants.
- DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to be important in brain development and cognitive function.
If you have questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact me (Jackie) by phone or email at any time.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 01684 310099
Jackie Tarling and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
Relevant Cytoplan Products
Little People – Multivitamin and mineral containing vitamin D3, iron, zinc, vitamin K as well and B vitamins and vitamin C.
Nutri Bears – Children’s chewable multivitamin and mineral-enriched wholefood jelly bears. No artificial ingredients whatsoever: All natural colours & flavours.
Kids Immunovite – Immune supplement containing zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin C and beta glucan.
Cytobiotic Active– Live bacteria supplement
Lem-O-3 – Omega-3 liquid supplement
Vitamin D3 Drops – Ideal for vegetarians and vegans, this vitamin D3 supplement comes in the form of drops and is suitable for all ages including children.
Women’s Wholefood Multi – A comprehensive Wholefood multivitamin and mineral supplement. Ideal for teenagers, menstruating women or those with low iron levels.
- Maggini S, Wenzlaff S, Hornig D. Essential Role of Vitamin C and Zinc in Child Immunity and Health. J Int Med Res. 2010;38(2):386-414. doi:10.1177/147323001003800203
- Black MM. Zinc deficiency and child development. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(2 Suppl):464S. doi:10.1093/AJCN/68.2.464S
- SACN. Vitamin D and Health 2016 Ii.; 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/scientific-advisory-committee-on-nutrition. Accessed August 30, 2019.
- Kim HS, Hong JT, Kim Y, Han S-B. Stimulatory Effect of β-glucans on Immune Cells. Immune Netw. 2011;11(4):191-195. doi:10.4110/in.2011.11.4.191
- Dalonso N, Goldman GH, Gern RMM. β-(1→3),(1→6)-Glucans: medicinal activities, characterization, biosynthesis and new horizons. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2015;99(19):7893-7906. doi:10.1007/s00253-015-6849-x
- Hevia A, Delgado S, Sánchez B, Margolles A. Molecular Players Involved in the Interaction Between Beneficial Bacteria and the Immune System. Front Microbiol. 2015;6:1285. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2015.01285
- Bellisle F. Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children. Br J Nutr. 2004;92 Suppl 2:S227-32. doi:10.1079/bjn20041171
- Hoyland A, Dye L, Lawton CL. A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutr Res Rev. 2009;22(2):220-243. doi:10.1017/S0954422409990175
- Ausman JI. Why omega-3 fatty acids are important to neurosurgeons. Surg Neurol. 2006;65(4):325. doi:10.1016/j.surneu.2006.01.016
- Maroon JC, Bost JW, Maroon A. Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief. Surg Neurol Int. 2010;1:80. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.73804
- Maroon JC, Bost JW. ω-3 Fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 2006;65(4):326-331. doi:10.1016/j.surneu.2005.10.023
- Gurzell EA, Teague H, Harris M, Clinthorne J, Shaikh SR, Fenton JI. DHA-enriched fish oil targets B cell lipid microdomains and enhances ex vivo and in vivo B cell function. J Leukoc Biol. 2013;93(4):463-470. doi:10.1189/jlb.0812394
- McCann JC, Ames BN. Is docosahexaenoic acid, an n−3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, required for development of normal brain function? An overview of evidence from cognitive and behavioral tests in humans and animals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(2):281-295. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.2.281