Immune health is always a hot topic at the start of a new school year. Our kids head back to the classroom, and the next thing we know, the entire family is chained to the tissue box.
As back-to-school season commences, there are a few natural ways you can support your and your family’s health. Here are six immune-boosters I love and recommend.
Having an established, consistent sleep schedule improves immune function in both children and adults. After all, the immune system performs its repair and regeneration functions while you sleep at night! Losing sleep (or just having sub-par sleep quality) as your family adjusts to a new sleep schedule for the school year can significantly impact your body’s ability to fend off infections.
Studies show that it can take anywhere from three days to a week to sync your circadian rhythm (a.k.a. ‘inner clock’) to a new routine. Help your family shift into their school-time sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up progressively earlier throughout the week before school starts. By the end of the week, you should be mimicking your school routine and feeling prepared for the year.
To support this shift, I recommend:
- making sure your kids get at least 20 minutes of outside playtime before three o’clock
- dimming your lights after seven o’clock
- cutting off snacks or meals two to three hours before bed
On the weekends, kids can also take a 20-minute power nap in the early afternoon. This will help restore immunity without disturbing their sleep later that night.
2. Vitamin C
No surprise here! Vitamin C, a.k.a. ascorbic acid, is perhaps one of the best-known nutrients for supporting your immune system.
This antioxidant is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues—as well as for the immune system. (Two types of immune cells, called phagocytes and T-cells, in particular, require vitamin C to function.) Given that, it promotes wound healing and healthy cartilage, bones, and teeth, too.
Vitamin C deficiency leaves your immune system less at-the-ready, while a higher supply enhances several immune functions.
Oranges provide plenty of vitamin C, but broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts get the job done, too! Incorporate three or for servings of these each day.
Throughout history, people have used the elderberry plant to support respiratory health and immunity.
Though there are many different kinds of elderberry plants out there, the flowers and berries of Sambucus nigra (commonly known as European elderberry) are the most commonly used in supplements and herbal preparations today. A good source of antioxidants, Elderberry supplements seem to boost the body’s natural immune response.
To promote immunity around back-to-school time, incorporate elderberry supplements into your family’s daily routine.
4. Vitamin D
During my immunology training, we considered vitamin D the ‘immunology vitamin of the year,’ because of recent research discoveries on the vitamin’s effect on our immune system.
Studies show that patients with low vitamin D experience more infections—and that boosting D levels can improve immunity. Correcting vitamin D deficiency has also been shown to improve respiratory health.
Many people can maintain healthy D levels with adequate sun exposure (how much you need depends on where you live). However, some—like older people and those with darker skin—may need a little extra support. I recommend having your family’s vitamin D levels tested and supplementing as needed. Choose a supplement that contains vitamin D3 (this form is better-absorbed) and is free of additives, like Genexa’s Organic Vitamin D3 Liquid Drops for Children.
5. Stress Management
I know, I know, this is a tough one! But not only is stress management important for your peace of mind, but it’s essential for your immune system.
As a medical student, I always got sick right after exams. Coincidence? Nope. Stressful study weeks took a toll on my immunity—and, like clockwork, I got sick immediately after test day.
This happens to our children, as well. Build some sort of stress-reduction activity into the family’s everyday routine, whether reading, a meditation, or yoga. Now that you know how intricately connected the brain and immune system are, you have to use that connection to your advantage!
Though it’s really blown up in recent years, people have used this spice to boost the immune system for centuries. The active antioxidant in turmeric, called curcumin, has been shown to support immune function, along with gut health, too.
I like to grate about an inch of fresh turmeric root into juice or a smoothie, but you can also find it in supplements. Either way, just try to take your turmeric alongside some black pepper, which helps you better absorb curcumin.
Dr. Amy Shah, M.D., is a double board-certified physician with training from Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard Universities. With extensive training in health and nutrition, she advises on increasing energy levels, fixing gut issues, managing allergies, and boosting the immune system. Dr. Shah was recently named one of MindBodyGreen’s Top 100 Women in Wellness to Watch and is a member of Genexa‘s Medical Advisory Board.