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Optimum nutrition is vital for our children’s health and wellbeing, ensuring that they have the necessary building blocks for a lifetime of good health. We cannot protect our children from everything the outside world will throw at them, but we can give them the correct nutritional and lifestyle foundations to carry them through to a healthy happy life.
The most obvious area to support nutritionally is general healthy development. As children grow, it is important that their nutritional needs are met to help support healthy bones, brain and immune development in particular. Useful nutrients needed to support children’s general development are:
The Department of Health recommends supplementation of vitamins A, C and D every day for breast fed babies. Babies can also use a live bacteria product suitable for infants (bifidobacteria are the main live bacteria in a baby’s gut), especially if they are bottle fed, as this will help the development of the gut bacteria. For older children, if there is a shortfall in their diet, a broader multivitamin and mineral supplement, a fish oil product for essential fats and a live bacteria supplement could be useful.
School age challenges
As each new manic school year approaches, we can make sure we provide our children with all the tools they need. At this stage we might want to support their learning and immunity. After all they will only learn if they are in school, not at home with coughs and colds. Nurseries and schools will certainly challenge our children’s immunity with all the bugs around. So we need to provide optimum baseline nutrition, as discussed above, to strengthen their immune defences and gear up their brains ready for the challenges ahead.
Immunity – some bugs are good bugs
Immunity is the way we defend our bodies against other organisms like bacteria and viruses. Did you know the single most important thing you can do to support your child’s immunity is to top up their gut bacteria? Children are very prone to Upper Respiratory Tract (URT) Infections, including otitis media (glue ear), tonsillitis, bronchitis and the common cold. Certain factors can make them more vulnerable, including stress, lack of sleep, low nutritional status through multiple deficiencies, and low levels of gut bacteria.
Remember - a certain level of exposure to germs is good for a child’s developing immune system. So let your kids remain inquisitive, playful and experimental. In fact, as babies our exposure to bugs is a vital part of developing a healthy immune system, one that results in an immune system that knows when to pick a fight with a nasty bug, but also sometimes to ignore stuff in the environment like allergens such as animal fur or pollen. When our immune system is badly programmed, it can react to these things causing allergies like hay fever, asthma and eczema. Our first encounter with bacteria is from our mother as we are born, when we make contact with her skin and through breastfeeding. All of this helps our immune system learn about the environment. So being born by c-section or formula feeding can affect our levels of good bugs and our immune system.
However, we can take action to equip our little people against an onslaught of germs. Firstly, start with a daily dose of gut bacteria. These keep the harmful bacteria at bay and stimulate the immune system. Supplements of live bacteria including lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacterium bifidum and lactobacillus rhamnosus gg have been shown to prevent and help fight infections in children in recent research.
Other nutrients that can help with the prevention of infection are the ones that strengthen barriers (especially vitamin A) and boost the activity of the immune cells. Vitamin D enhances the response against a range of different invaders and inhibits potential development of autoimmunity by regulating immune activation and antigen presentation. Vitamin D also has anti-inflammatory and immune-regulatory effects, further supporting the immune system. In fact, children with low vitamin D levels experience longer duration of infection and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to tonsillitis in children. A study showed that at a dose of 300iu a day of vitamin D by supplementation, the risk of children developing acute respiratory tract infections during winter was halved.    Another key nutrient is zinc as it also boosts the action of the immune cells.
When suffering from an infection, vitamin C can help to improve immune function whilst elderberry contains plant chemicals that ‘blunt’ the spikes on viruses and stop them from entering the cells and increases immune system activity against flu. 
Life gets tough when you get older!
As children develop into little adults, life can get a bit tough. There are higher expectations socially and academically and lots of demands on their time. In the modern world there’s a tendency to switch off by using devices or gaming consoles which perhaps affects the amount of time spent outdoors engaging in physical activity and may affect sleep. New experiences and extra demands can create exhaustion or even stress and anxiety.
We can help to support some of this by using the properties of ‘essential’ fats, especially the omega-3 ones that are so important for brain function and mood. The body is unable to make these fats and they have to be obtained from the diet. Fish oils in particular provide high levels of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are particularly important for eye health, being linked to poor reading ability. Supplementation can improve memory, mood and behaviour.  Their anti-inflammatory effects potentially support a range of conditions from obesity to asthma.
Did you know that imbalanced gut bacteria or leaky gut may also affect children’s attention, behaviour and mood? This is because the beneficial bacteria in our gut can interact with production of neurotransmitters.  Neurotransmitters are essential for mood and behaviour. In fact, certain research has shown that low gut bacteria has a direct influence on a child’s ability to sit still, listen to instructions and focus on tasks they are given.
In terms of lifestyle support, encouraging a good balance of activity and stimulation is vital, such as being out in the fresh air and joining after school clubs to ensure development of social skills. Studies show children living in a loving environment have better stress response which carries them through into adult life.
Optimum nutrition is vital for our children’s health and wellbeing, ensuring that they have the necessary building blocks for a lifetime of good health. Making dietary and lifestyle changes, even just one step at a time can make a difference, as nutrition has the power to improve not only their general health but also reduce infections, improve memory and behaviour. We cannot protect our children from the outside world but we can give them the correct foundations, for them to protect themselves and have a happy and fulfilling future.
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