Children’s health: Preparing for a new school year

It’s that time of year when we say goodbye to the summer and the new school term gets underway. It is also the time of year when due to season changes and numbers of children grouped together inside that there is an increase in common infections such as coughs, colds and flu.

According to the National Centre for Health Statistics; 20 million school days are missed annually due to the common cold. Children who are starting at a new school are most affected as they are exposed to new pathogens to which other children may have developed immunity. Therefore it’s a good idea to prepare them for the school year with a little extra nutritional support.

Immune support

Avoiding extreme exposure to germs is important in protecting health. Hand washing and using tissues is good practice for preventing and avoiding 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, this also helps to prevent atopic conditions such as asthma and eczema.

Allowing children to play outside and mix with other children and avoiding excessive spraying of antibacterial agents are ways in which you can expose them to these microbes. You can also help to boost immunity by ensuring that they get a good source of immune supporting nutrients such as:

Vitamin C, which has multiple benefits for supporting immunity as it stimulates neutrophils and increases lymphocyte production, increases interferon production and has antioxidant and antihistamine properties. Vitamin C is found in most fruits, particularly berries and vegetables particularly dark leafy greens.

Zinc improves cell mediated immunity by increasing production of T-Lymphocytes and regulates the function of white blood cells. Zinc can be found in eggs, wholegrains 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. Vitamin D can be manufactured in sunlight by the skin. To obtain adequate vitamin D, 30% of the body should be exposed daily for 10-15 minutes in peak sunlight 10am-2pm April-October. 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 for vitamin D to be supplemented particularly over the winter.

Beta Glucans are carbohydrate chains found in the cell wall of fungi, yeasts and seaweeds they have multiple effects on the immune system and have been shown to prime the immune system to help the body defend against viral and bacterial invaders. Current research suggests that they activate the immune cells macrophages.

Digestive Support

The majority of infections are transmitted through our gut. The health of the gut is vital to immune function as 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 or sIgA which lines the digestive tract and acts as an anti-septic paint in order to neutralise pathogens before they can enter the blood stream.

The flora or bacteria present in the gut also play a pivotal role in supporting the immune system and different strains of healthy bacteria stimulate different aspect of our immune system. 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 risk of atopic conditions such as eczema and asthma.

You can support the health of the gut by:

  • Obtaining adequate fibre from vegetables, fruits and moderate intake of wholegrains (if tolerated)
  • Consuming prebiotic foods such as apples, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions and asparagus
  • Consuming probiotic foods sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and miso
  • Taking a live bacteria supplement

Cognitive function

The ability to concentrate and learn new things is important for most people but particularly when you are at school. Also childhood is the time in which a child’s brain is still developing. Diet plays a pivotal role in maintaining concentration and energy throughout the day.

Balancing blood sugar – we have all been told that we should eat a good breakfast before going to school. However, if breakfast is high in sugar or refined carbohydrates this creates a peak in blood sugar levels, which in turn leads to a crash 1-2 hours later. This has a detrimental effect on concentration, energy and mood. Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels can help improve all of these things; you can do this by eating wholegrain carbohydrates (such as oats, brown rice or quinoa) with good quality protein (nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, legumes and organic meat). 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 – 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 so contributes to normal energy production within the brain. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish as well as flax and chia seeds (flax and chia seeds do not contain DHA but precursors which need to be converted to DHA by the body).

Zinc has many benefits for cognitive function. It is essential in DNA synthesis therefore supporting the development of brain cells and also acting as an antioxidant, thereby reducing oxidative stress within brain tissue. Zinc is a cofactor for thousands of enzymatic processes that occur in the body all of the time.

Growth and bone development

Always important in children’s health is their ability to grow and develop strong bones. Bone growth is high throughout childhood but peaks during puberty, reaching a peak mass by around the age of 18. Inadequate levels of growth and bone supporting nutrients during childhood can lead to conditions such as rickets (deficiency of vitamin D) and can increase the risk of osteoporosis in later life.

Iron is important for a healthy immune system and normal cognitive development in children, but is also essential for growth. Iron is rich in foods such as red meat and dark leafy green vegetables which can be lacking in some children’s diets. Some formula milks and breakfast cereal are fortified with iron, but this is often not in the most absorbable form.

Vitamin C is important for collagen formation, the foundation for bone and connective tissue and therefore helps to support bone growth and maintenance.

Vitamin D aids the delivery of calcium into bone, therefore essential for optimising bone density, as mentioned above it can often be lacking in diet or reduced by lack of sun exposure.

Protein is the building block to all of our body’s tissue, without adequate protein it is impossible for the body to grow sufficiently. Healthy sources of protein are; eggs, fish, organic grass fed meat and chicken, nuts, seeds and legumes.

All of these things collectively can optimise a child’s health, prevent common infections and therefore days off school as well as improve concentration in the classroom.

Relevant Cytoplan Products

Little People – multi vitamin containing vitamin D3, iron, zinc, vitamin K as well and B vitamins and vitamin C.

Nutri Bears – Children”s chewable multivitamin & mineral-enriched wholefood jelly bears. No artificial ingredients whatsoever: All natural colours & flavours. Free from gelatin.

Kids ImmunoviteContains zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin C and beta glucans.

Cytobiotic Active– Live bacteria supplement

Lem-O-3 – Omega 3 supplement

Low dose vitamin D3 – vegan D3 supplement

If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.

[email protected], 01684 310099

Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team: Joseph Forsyth, Emma Williams, Simon Holdcroft, Clare Daley and Helen Drake


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