Stories from the pharmacy
Sonia, a mother of 2, came into the pharmacy wanting to get some advice. She explained that her 2-year-old son keeps getting sick. He had a chest infection a couple of months ago and was put on antibiotics and then a few weeks later he was sick again with a similar chest infection and put on another course of antibiotics. Sonia is very frustrated, over the winter bugs and wants to go a few weeks without her son getting sick again. Sonia was looking for a tonic or multivitamin that may boost her son’s immune system and hopefully prevent him from catching everything that is going around.
I definitely sympathised with Sonia’s frustration, as I sat in the same boat a couple of years ago where my children were catching everything going around. I explained to Sonia, that there are certainly a few things you can do to boost your son’s immune system and walked her through what I give my own children.
The first supplement I recommended to improve his immune system was Probiotics. Her son has been on two courses of antibiotics in the last couple of months, which has disrupted his whole ecosystem of microorganisms that reside in his body called ‘microflora’. Our microflora plays a very important role in not only digestion by helping to synthesise certain vitamins but also training our immune system to respond to ‘pathogens’ or the bad bugs that enter our body. The microflora also forms a barrier so that if any bad bugs enter the body there’s no room for them to multiply and become harmful. When we take antibiotics, it disrupts this protection and opens up space for harmful bugs to replicate when they enter the body. Hence the importance of supplementing with probiotics to realign the ‘gut flora’ with beneficial microorganisms and help prevent any bad bacteria from growing and causing harm. I explained to Sonia there was a study that measured the effect of 2 different probiotic strains (Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis) over a 6 month period on the immunity of 326 children aged between 3 and 5 years old. The results showed a significant reduction in the frequency of cold and flu as well as the duration of cold and flu-like symptoms in the children who were taking the probiotic combination. Other observations included an overall decrease in the use of antibiotics and an increase in general attendance at both school and daycare. I have to say that I have observed the same result with my own children, they will still catch the odd cold here and there but I find they are not severe and generally recover well. For her son, I suggested a probiotic powder. There are a few different brands around but the two I generally recommend the most are called Life space Probiotic powder for baby and Babybiotics made by Bioceuticals. I give my older children who are now 4 and 6 years old a chewable tablet probiotic called Bioceuticals Ultrabiotic factors for juniors which contain 15 billion units per tablet.
Another important Vitamin to boost the immune system is Vitamin D. Vitamin D enhances the immune response to bacteria and viruses. Being deficient in vitamin D has been linked to recurrent infections. We depend on sun exposure to maintain our Vitamin D levels, and the source of 90-95% of most people’s vitamin D requirement, comes from casual exposure to sunlight. Relying on food alone will not give your children the adequate amounts of vitamin D that is required. In the winter months, in the southern parts of Australia, where UV radiation levels are below 3 all day, most of us need about two to three hours of sun exposure, spread over each week, to the face, arms and hands to help with our vitamin D levels. So It’s worth Sonia thinking about her son’s sun exposure time. If she feels her children stay indoors a lot and are not getting at least 2-3 hours per week of outdoor play then a supplement for a month or so may be considered until the weather improves or just be more mindful to get her son outdoors more regularly to get more sun exposure.
One other supplement I told Sonia I give to my girls, not all the time but for about a week at a time when someone in the family is sick with a cold or there are a lot of children away sick with a nasty cold/flu in their classroom is a liquid called Olive leaf extract. It’s an extract from olive leaves shown to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, and can be given from 2 years of age. I like to give my children one made by an Australian company called Rochway who make a children’s formulation which they also ferment their olive leaf extract in the presence of beneficial bacteria called,‘acidophilus.’
I stressed to Sonia not to forget the importance of Vitamin C and Zinc found in our everyday food. You can certainly buy these supplements in its isolated form but when they are in their natural form with the goodness of other vitamins and minerals, they perform their best. Vitamin C has shown to shorten the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Examples of food rich in vitamin C are berries, Kiwi fruit, oranges, pineapple, broccoli and red pepper.
Zinc is essential for the healthy activity of immune cells and when our kids are deficient they are more susceptible to catching illnesses. Studies also shown adequate zinc levels reduce the duration and severity of colds. Hummus is a great dip rich in zinc as well as red meat, chicken, spinach and nuts are all high in zinc. If you can’t get your children to eat these foods then there are supplements available too.