Doing it for the kids: How to boost your immune system and help protect your family

Sometimes family life can feel like a merry-go-round of sickness.

Little Alex comes home from school with a cold and passes it to little Jenny. She passes it to Mum who generously shares it with Dad. Finally, Dad recovers. But wait! Little Jenny has come home from day care with a cold. And so, the cycle continues…

Parents, we know that looking after sick children is hard work. And we know you want to take some control, to protect and improve your family health.

Let’s look at some easy tips and tricks that can help boost the immune health of your whole family every day.

What daily habits can you make to support your immune health?

The pillars of immune health are:

  • a healthy diet
  • regular exercise
  • adequate sleep
  • normal stress levels

Optimising diet, exercise, sleep and stress can strengthen your immune system, helping you ward off infections and heal faster.

On the other hand, suboptimal diet, irregular exercise, inadequate sleep and high stress levels may leave you vulnerable to bugs and germs. Let’s look at each of these pillars in turn.

How sleep changes your immune system

Recent research shows that quality sleep improves immune cell (white blood cell) activity. Quality sleep helps certain white blood cells to attach strongly to virus-infected cells like the flu virus (influenza). Then, these cells kill the rogue cells and clear your body of infection.1

On the other hand, when you’re not getting enough sleep, your immune cells may not function as well. So, a lack of sleep can make you more vulnerable to certain infections.

How diet affects your immune system

You need adequate levels of micronutrients in your diet to bolster your immune system. Lower levels of micronutrients (such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E), particularly for long periods, can alter your immune system responses.2

How exercise boosts your immune health

Regular exercise boosts your immune system by helping your immune cells function well. Exercise increases blood flow, reduces stress and inflammation, and can strengthen antibodies. All this can help your immune system defend themselves against a wide range of pathogens.

How stress hampers your immune response

Strenuous activity can reduce levels of immune-boosting micronutrients—like B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium—in your body. This may leave you more vulnerable to infections.3

Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’).4 Cortisol can dampen or disrupt a healthy immune response.5

How do zinc, and vitamins C and D support your immune system?

Three key micronutrients supporting immune health each day are zinc, and vitamins C and D. Let’s see how they work.

Vitamin C’s immune health role has been established for centuries.6 It helps keep skin, bones and connective tissue healthy and helps prevent infections. A deficiency of vitamin C increases the frequency and severity of the common cold and flu.6

Vitamin D—a.k.a. the ‘sunshine vitamin’— is most well-known for supporting bone health and immune function. It acts on the body’s immune cells—white blood cells—so that the immune response is optimal.6 Zinc is a mineral we need to support the immune system, aid wound healing, and even our senses of taste and smell.

Zinc deficiencies are linked with more bacterial, viral infections.6

References

  1. Sleep and Immune System. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-sleep-bolsters-your-immune-system. Accessed February 24, 2021.
  2. Maggini S, Pierre A, Calder PC. Immune function and micronutrient requirements change over the life course. Nutrients. 2018;10(10).
  3. Wishart K. Increased Micronutrient Requirements during Physiologically Demanding Situations: Review of the Current Evidence.; 2017.
  4. Bae Y-S, Shin E-C, Bae Y-S, Van Eden W. Editorial: stress and immunity. Front Immunol. 2019;10:245.
  5. Seiler A, Fagundes CP, Christian LM. The impact of everyday stressors on the immune system and health. In: Choukèr A, ed. Stress challenges and immunity in space: from mechanisms to monitoring and preventive strategies. Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2020. p.71-92.
  6. Gombart AF, Pierre A, Maggini S. A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System–Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):236. doi:10.3390/nu12010236