If you are like most parents you want your kids to be healthy. And if your kids are like most kids, that is not always the case. Runny noses. Constant colds, Recurrent flues. Gastrointestinal bugs. These conditions are just par for the course with children in daycare or school. Because illnesses like the common cold are so common there is no shortage of people looking for ways to prevent them or of internet sites offering ways to boost your immune system. Please ignore those advertising gimmicks.
How About Immune Boosting Supplements?
Over the years , there have been a variety of “immune boosting” supplements that have been marketed as nothing short of miraculous. But when we look for evidence to support these claims, they break down quickly. Vitamin C shows no benefit, Vitamin D doesn’t seem to do much, Echinacea doesn’t help, Garlic didn’t provide enough data to say for sure, Oscillococcinum (or Oscillo) a homeopathic preparation doesn’t do anything, Zinc might help to shorten the duration of cold symptoms by a day or so but it does not prevent the infections.
How about Super-foods?
There is a wide array of “superfoods” that some people claim will improve the immune system . But the term “superfoods” is nothing more than a marketing strategy. Sure, some foods are more nutritious but no single food will improve your immune system.
Understanding Your Immune System
The immune system is a network of cells, tissues*, and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by “foreign” invaders. These are primarily microbes (germs)—tiny, infection-causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Because the human body provides an ideal environment for many microbes, they try to break in. It is the immune system’s job to keep them out or, failing that, to seek out and destroy them. When the immune system hits the wrong target or is crippled, however, it can unleash a torrent of diseases, including allergy, arthritis, or AIDS. The immune system is amazingly complex. It can recognize and remember millions of different enemies, and it can produce secretions and cells to match up with and wipe out each one of them. The secret to its success is an elaborate and dynamic communications network. Millions and millions of cells, organized into sets and subsets, gather like clouds of bees swarming around a hive and pass information back and forth..
People With a Immunodeficiency
Some people whose immune systems don’t function as they should-because of genetic problems, chemotherapy treatment or disorder acquired later in life actually do need an immune system “boost”. Methods like infusing antibodies produced by other people giving growth factors to stimulate white blood cell production or performing bone marrow transplants may be necessary. For those with a true immunodeficiency, it would be dangerous and potentially fatal to rely on supplement or “super foods” instead of addressing the root cause.
When the Immune System Gets Overwhelmed
Any disease producing agent, especially a virus, bacterium or other microorganism are called Pathogens. People with normal immune systems have the capacity to respond to a wide variety of pathogens. For the vast majority of childhood illnesses, a minimalist approach works well, colds, stomach viruses and other mild infection tend to resolve on their own after a few days. Many bacterial infections like ear infections or strep throat sometimes need a little “unnatural” assistance to the immune system and can be quite helpful. For many bacterial infections, treatment with antibiotics can be beneficial or even lifesaving.
Another option is to give the childhood immunization shots. It is a great way to boost the immune system-not in a vague- buy my supplement kind of way, but in a very specific and effective way. Vaccines work by exposing the body to either a portion of the pathogen or a weakened version of it, promoting a specific immune response that is also active against the actual virus or bacteria. Immunizations are some of the safest and most effective tools we have to reduce a child’s risk for certain infection, many of which can be life threatening.
Chances are your child’s immune system is working just fine-reacting as it should to infection and taking well deserved breaks when there is no work to be done. The most common cause for frequent illnesses in childhood is frequent exposures (in school or daycare). It you are concerned that your child has a true problem with his immune system, talk to your pediatrician. Otherwise, focus on the simple things like hand-washing, good nutrition, and quality sleep. For infants, breastfeeding can help to reduce the risk for a variety of illnesses. Be sure to stay up to date with immunizations, these can prevent a lot of serious infections. It is just better to stop worrying about it and just accept the fact that no matter how hard we try… kids are just going to get sick.
Contact Us (859-525-8181) if you have any questions!
About Pediatrics of Florence
We believe that children are more than just “little adults.” They have unique personalities, challenges, and life circumstances and we have made every effort to make our offices and care as “kid friendly” as possible. We have an aquatic theme in the waiting rooms (separated for sick and well children) as well as themed examination rooms. All of our physicians are Board Certified Pediatricians and members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and our nurse practitioners are all licensed Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and are available to see both well and sick children.
>> More About Pediatrics of Florence