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Back to School

As we enter the final week of August, the days are getting noticeably shorter and the evenings are getting cooler, as the children get ready to go back at school. For many children, especially those starting school for the first time, the changing weather, mixing with lots of other children, and the sheer stress of it all, adds up to all kinds of troublesome infections. But as the old saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”, and fortunately there are many ways to help increase the body’s resistance to infection.
Essential nutrients for a healthy immune system include selenium and zinc (both of which are found in Brazil nuts). Vitamin C is also important for resistance against infection and is found in combination with immune-boosting flavonoids in fruit and vegetables, particularly coloured foods such as blueberries, oranges and broccoli.

It is often difficult to maintain adequate doses of these nutrients from food alone. Children who buy their own lunches often make poor choices, preferring chips and sweets over healthy dinners; and those who bring packed lunches often return home having eaten very little. Therefore a good quality supplement may be an easier way to ensure a high enough level to benefit the immune system. Choose a supplement which includes a broad range of nutrients in an easily absorbable form, such as Sona Multiplus Junior, or Kangavites.

Probiotics, which are found in live yoghurt and good quality supplements (such as Udo’s Choice Children’s Blend Probiotic), also play an important role in immunity. They are particularly important for children who have taken antibiotics within the past two years

The most damaging factors for the immune system are poor diet, stress, and lack of sleep. Saturated fats, sugar, chemical food additives and caffeine all stress the immune system. These are present in many foods marketed for children, such as processed savoury food, crisps, chocolates, sweets, fizzy drinks and cordials.

It is important for children to stay active and avoid long periods of watching TV or playing computer games, but it is also important that they get enough rest and sleep. Lots of homework coupled with too many after school clubs can leave children exhausted. However, children are often unable to recognise the need to rest and can run on adrenalin which exhausts them further.

One of the most well-known herbs for enhancing immune function and preventing infection is Echinacea, which is available over the counter from pharmacies and health food stores. However, another remedy which is becoming increasingly recognized for its antiviral and immune-stimulating properties, is the common elderberry, which begins to ripen in the hedgerows at this time of year.

Elderberries, which are rich in vitamins A and C and bioflavonoids, are a wonderful tonic for the immune system and they have a specific antiviral action which helps to prevent colds, flu and other viral illnesses. They are very safe and well tolerated, and are ideal for both adults and children.

A number of scientific studies have shown that elderberries stimulate the immune system and are active against a number of different strains of the flu virus. In controlled clinical trials which compared elderberry extract with placebo in the treatment of influenza, patients taking the elderberry extract had significant improvements in their symptoms within two-three days. On average, the flu symptoms lasted about half as long in those taking elderberry extract compared with those taking the placebo

Elderberry extracts are widely available from pharmacies and health food stores. However, home-made elderberry syrup is an excellent alternative, which is very cost effective and easy to make. Simply cover 500g fresh elderberries with water and boil with a stick of cinnamon for about 5 minutes. Squash the berries to extract the juice, and strain to remove the skins. Add 500g honey or brown sugar to the strained juice and heat until it thickens. Bottle in clean, sterilized containers, and take one or two dessertspoonfuls of the syrup in a cup of hot water three times a day during the winter months as a tonic to help prevent viral infections.

AnneMarie Reilly is a qualified medical herbalist practising in Lismore. To make an appointment for a private consultation telephone 058 53200 or 087 934 5910.

By AnneMarie Reilly
BSc(hons), MNIMH, MIIMH, DipCoun