Food for Thought
Strengthen Your Immune System
Hidden Things That May Be Hindering Your Family’s Immune System
If there is one thing we can agree on, it’s that we all care deeply about our family’s health. This winter, with a pandemic to consider on top of the normal seasonal spike in cold and flu viruses, it seems particularly important to keep immunity top of mind. It can be overwhelming, however, to consider all of the things that can impact you and your family’s health.
As a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who specializes in women and children, I often work with my clients to prioritize the things that can make the biggest impact first. Here are 3 of the top things that may be hindering your family’s immune system - and easy ways to remedy them!
Nearly everybody knows that added sugar is not the healthiest, but few are aware of just how negatively it impacts the immune system. To put it simply: refined sugars essentially suppress the immune system. These refined sugars, when consumed in excess, reduce how cells perform. Specifically white blood cells - which play a key role in fighting infection - are impacted by sugar consumption. One study showed a decrease in white blood cell effectiveness of up to 50% after consuming sugar - and the resulting impact lasted up to 5 hours! (1)
Fortunately, this can be an easy fix once you know what to look for! At home, swap refined sugars for natural sweeteners like pure maple syrup, raw local honey, dates, and coconut sugar. Of course, these are still treats and should be consumed in moderation!
When it comes to packaged food, it can get a bit trickier. Sugar can go by hundreds of different names, so being equipped with the knowledge of what to look for is key. Marinara sauces, salad dressings, BBQ dressings and marinades tend to be a mecca of hidden sugars. Unfortunately, children’s foods often contain high amounts of added sugars as well - so it’s worth getting familiar with your ingredient labels to sniff out the added sugars. Fortunately, today there are more and more companies coming on the market that make healthy, nutrient-dense packaged food without added sugars. You can check out a list of my favorites in my free Guide to Reading Labels for Kids here.
Where’s the Germs?
In a world seemingly yelling, ‘more sanitizer!’ I’m here to offer the opposite opinion: children need exposure to a variety of germs to cultivate a healthy immune system. Research has shown that children raised in environments with the most microbial exposure, such as farms, have increased protection from asthma and atopy (the likelihood of developing an allergic response) compared to children who are exposed to fewer microorganisms! (2) Additionally, overuse of harsh sanitizers can strip the skin of healthy oils that serve as an external barrier against germs and bacteria. Studies have shown that overuse of certain cleaning products is also linked to increased rates of asthma and respiratory effects. (3) An easy way to do this is to encourage your little ones to gain exposure to a variety of microorganisms is to have them head outside! Simply playing in the dirt or building a backyard fairy garden with rocks, sticks and leaves are easy (and fun!) ways to boost immune systems - and imaginations!
Less Than Stellar Sleep Habits
As a parent of young kids, I know what a touchy subject sleep can be. We are all trying our very best, here! That said, quality sleep is truly one of the most important aspects of immunity and overall health. While quantity of sleep is important (here is a great breakdown of sleep needed by age group), the quality of sleep is just as vital. “Research during the past years has accumulated evidence that sleep affects a wide variety of immune functions, including the numbers of specific leukocyte subsets in circulating blood, the cell-specific production of cytokines and further immune cell function,” says a 2012 Meta-analysis of Sleep and Immune Function. (4).
Often, quality of sleep can be impacted by things that are somewhat surprising! One of the most common offenders I see is exposure to blue light, especially on screens (think: phones, tablets, and television) after sunset - which impacts hormone levels and can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. By simply avoiding screens and blue light exposure after dark (or wearing blue light blocking glasses when that isn’t possible), we can help support the body’s natural sleep patterns and encourage deep, restorative sleep.
As always, know that even the smallest of changes you make for your family’s health can have a dramatic impact. Raising children can be incredibly challenging to navigate (especially this past year - whew!), but I’m confident if you’re reading this that you are one dedicated and loving parent - and this mama nutritionist is cheering you on every step of the way!
Morgan Simon is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (FNTP) and Nontoxic Living Expert. She works with women and children to help adopt a nutrient-dense, real food lifestyle and eliminate environmental toxins in order to live their best life possible. She lives in sunny Austin, TX with her husband, two young kids and wild sheepadoodle puppy. You can find her on Instagram @wellthymed or at WellThymed.com.