Children and Back-to-School Health

Nutritional Strategies to Bolster Kids' Immune Systems
Kimberly Pryor

When children return to school, they are exposed to a constant parade of bacteria and viruses. Huddled together in one room, it?s nearly impossible for youngsters to avoid exposure.

In addition, whether a child is attending a friend?s birthday party or is munching on pizza in the school cafeteria, he or she may encounter a wide array and constant stream of insulin-raising foods that replace the healthier meals prepared at home. This under-consumption of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, and overconsumption of sugary, refined foods impairs their immune systems and leaves them even more susceptible to colds and flus.

The following nutritional strategies may help parents support their children?s health during this vulnerable time of year.

Propolis, Echinacea and Vitamin C
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, an herbal formula containing echinacea, propolis and vitamin C prevented respiratory tract infections in children.1 (Children allergic to bee stings should not use propolis.)

Researchers studied 430 children ages 1 to 5 years. The herbal preparation, which included 50 mg/mL of echinacea, 50 mg/mL of propolis and 10 mg/mL of vitamin C, was given to 215 children. An equal number of children received a placebo for 12 weeks. One- to three-year-old children in both groups were given 5.0 mL twice per day, while four- and five-year-old children received 7.5 mL twice daily. Children who had acute illness received age appropriate doses four times daily.

Of the initial group of subjects, 328 children completed the study. In the group treated with echinacea, propolis and vitamin C, 160 children remained while 168 children remained in the placebo group.

The group treated with the herbal formula experienced a significant 55 percent reduction in the number of illness episodes compared with the placebo group. In treated children, the mean number of episodes per child was decreased by half. In addition, the mean number of days each child suffered from a fever was reduced by 62 percent. Furthermore, the total number of illness days was significantly lower in the group taking the herbal formula compared with the placebo group and the mean duration of individual illness episodes also was decreased in the treated subjects.
 

Few subjects experienced side- effects; adverse reactions that did occur were mild, transient and similar between the treated and placebo groups.

Researchers called for studies that compare demographic characteristics between treatment groups and that include a larger number of subjects.

Zinc
Treating young children with zinc in addition to standard antibiotics significantly reduced the duration of severe pneumonia, according to a study in the Lancet.2 In the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers studied 270 children being treated for severe pneumonia at a hospital in Bangladesh. The subjects, 2 months to 23 months old, were randomly divided into two groups: one group receiving 20 mg of zinc daily the other receiving a placebo. Children in both groups also were given standard antibiotics used to treat pneumonia.

In zinc-treated children, the duration of severe pneumonia symptoms and signs was shorter than in placebo-treated children. Zinc appeared to reduce such symptoms as indrawing of the chest when breathing, severely raised respiration rates and low oxygen concentration in the blood. Zinc reduced the duration of severe pneumonia and overall hospital stay by an average of one day. All of zinc?s positive effects were greater when the study?s authors omitted children with wheezing from the analysis. In the zinc group, only two children failed to respond to treatment with the initial standard antibiotics compared to 11 children in the placebo group. Children using zinc also were less likely to need to change the antibiotic they were using.

According to the researchers, the study results indicate that zinc therapy could help reduce bacterial resistance to antibiotics by decreasing exposure to multiple antibiotics.

Healthy Lunches
A low-glycemic sugar substitute known as Xylitol can satisfy sweet-tooths without raising insulin levels. Baked into lunch-box items, Xylitol serves as a satisfying replacement to goodies served in school cafeterias or vending machines.

Xylitol not only keeps kids away from insulin-raising sweets?it also may help maintain children?s oral health by inhibiting the sugar-thriving, cavity-causing oral bacteria Streptococcus mutans. In the low pH conditions of the mouth, S. mutans easily adheres to teeth and produces plaque. Xylitol raises the pH of the mouth, inhibiting the growth of S. mutans. Xylitol?s anti-cavity effect is long lasting and possibly permanent. Years after trials are completed, low decay rates persist.3
 

 


Furthermore, Xylitol helps children avoid sinus and ear infections. Research-ers asked 306 Finnish children to chew gum sweetened with either sucrose or Xylitol. The average age of the subjects was five years, and most had been selected because they had a history of recurrent, acute otitis www.(middle ear infections). At the end of two months, the group chewing xylitol-sweetened gum had a 40 percent reduction in the incidence of otitis www.when compared to those who used the sucrose-sweetened gum.4

Using coconut oil in baked goods made with low-glycemic flours (such as almond meal, quinoa or brown rice flour) or drizzling it on other lunch-box items is another healthy alternative.

Coconut oil contains the fatty acids lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, which kill a range of bacteria, viruses and fungi/yeasts.5-6

Conclusion
When children enter the school environment, they are particularly vulnerable to germs. Yet, parents may be able to help their children?s immune systems stay strong by implementing the above nutritional strategies.
 

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References
1.Sangvai S., Chianese J., Morone N., Bogen D.L., Voigt L., Shaikh N. Can an herbal preparation of echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C reduce respiratory illnesses in children? Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2004 Mar;158(3):222-4.

2. Brooks W.A., Yunus M., Santosham M., Wahed M.A., Nahar K., Yeasmin S., Black R.E. Zinc for severe pneumonia in very young children: double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Lancet 2004 May 22;363(9422):1683-8.

3. Isokangas P., Alanen P., Tiekso J., Makinen K.K. 1989, Long-term effect of xylitol chewing gum on dental caries. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol (1989) 17:200-03.

4. Uhari M., Kontiokari T., Koskela M., Niemela M. Xylitol chewing gum in prevention of acute otitis www. double blind randomized trial. Br Med J (1996) 313:1180-1184.

5. Fife, B. The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil. Colorado Springs: Health Wise Pub; 2003:58

6. Kabara, J. Health oils from the tree of life (Nutritional and health aspects of coconut oil). www.coconut oil.com/research.htm.
 

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