Children’s Immunity: How to Foster & Boost Your Child’s Immune System from Birth

Did you know that the foundation for our immune system and overall health is determined in our first days of life? More than a thousand genes are involved in human immunity response, including both innate (already present in the body) and adaptive (created in response to a foreign substance) immunity.  A newborn's immune system begins a lifetime of evolution while being exposed to numerous challenges from everything outside the womb, starting at birth.

The innate immune system—physical barriers such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and immune system cells— provide the first line of defense against invaders. Neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages and dendritic cells (the bad guys) interact with the adaptive immune system to become a staunch warrior against attack. Exposure to microbes in early childhood is associated with protection from immune-mediated diseases that include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and asthma. Recruited in this safeguard are the trillions of microbes that occupy the human body and participate in multiple physiological and pathophysiological processes that influence human health throughout a lifetime.  This is why vaginal birth is preferred over C-Section if at all possible, the newer recommendation to avoid bathing babies right at birth.. Both concepts hold that exposure to bacteria from passage through the birth canal, in conjunction with microbes from the birthing room, and that contact with dirt help to bolster what will ideally become a mature immune system.

Breaking Down Cell and Immune Response

Immunity relies on an intricate system aimed at maintaining a delicate balance between health and sickness. The physiological systems involved are supposed to be guided by the singular principle of distinguishing self from non-self. Anything that triggers a response is called an antigen. It can be a whole molecule or part of one. Even tissue from another person can act as a foreign antigen. In abnormal situations, the immune system can interpret itself as non-self and launch an attack against the body’s own tissues or cells. 

Immune cells start as immature stem cells in bone marrow. They respond to different cytokines and other chemical signals to become specific immune cell types: T cells, B cells, or phagocytes. The lymphocytes known as T lymphocytes—T cells—mature in the thymus and then migrate elsewhere. B lymphocytes—B cells—mature into plasma cells that manufacture and release immunoglobulins (G, M, A, E, D). 

Some T cells direct immune response, others directly attack the enemy. Helper T cells coordinate responses by communicating with other cells, promoting activation of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and B cells. The cytotoxic T’s are also known askiller cells. 

Natural killer (NK) cells are lethal white cells filled with granules that carry potent chemicals able to attack different kinds of invaders. Phagocytes (macrophages) are large white cells that can swallow and digest microbes and other foreign particles.  Monocytes are phagocytes that patrol the blood. Dendritic cells lie in parts of lymphoid organs where T cells also live. These reveal antigens to T cells and help stimulate the T’s during an immune response. 

Cytokine + Inflammation Connection

Cytokines are chemical messengers designed to coordinate a proper immune reaction.  Sometimes they get out of hand and cause what is called a cytokine storm, where they keep calling for more and more cytokines to fight a battle that is already under control.  This causes substantial inflammation. A prolonged cytokine storm can even shut down breathing when the airways get clogged and cells can no longer absorb oxygen. Flu, bronchitis, pneumonia and sepsis can set off such a storm, and result in permanent damage to the lungs. Even rheumatoid arthritis conjures enough interleukins and tumor necrosis factor alpha to incite a huge storm. 

So many parents are turning to elderberry for immune support not realizing that it excites the pro-inflammatory interleukins 1, 6 and 8, and TNF-a (Barak, 2001). This makes elderberry a two-edged sword. Many deaths from the recent viral attack (COVID 19) may be attributed to cytokine storm (Zumla, 2020).    

To counter cytokine storm and to suppress cytokine release, we do have at least one tested resource in our toolbelt: curcumin, the active compound found in turmeric. This herb was enlisted during the Ebola outbreak several years ago, where it was seen to attenuate IL-1, IL-6 and TNF-a (Sordillo, 2015). As an alternative to steroids, curcumin demonstrated therapeutic effectiveness, especially in the company of berberine and the green tea component EGCG (Allijn, 2016). 

Tips for Children (and Adults!):

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so here are a few recommendations for building immune strength through nutrition:

  1. Serve more fruits and vegetables. The more colorful, the better.  Phytonutrients have been seen to protect against chronic diseases.  Aim for children to get five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  About two tablespoons is a serving for a toddler, and one cup for older children. TIP FOR TODDLERS: For picky eaters out there, dust a little Dr. Cowan’s Garden on their food ;). 
  2. Get ample vitamins C and D, zinc, and the bioflavonoid quercetin to strengthen immunity. TIPS FOR TODDLERS: Use liquid vitamins instead of pills. All of BodyBio’s Liquid Minerals are homeopathic doses and can be adjusted for smaller intake. Our Vitamin C Crystals are an easy way to get extra Vitamin C when added to juice or a smoothie. Even our liquid PC and Balance Oil can be added to smoothies for a boost in their cellular health! 
  3. Increase sleep time (per day, including naps), aim for:
    1. 16 hours for infants 
    2. 11-14 hours for toddlers; 
    3. 10-13 hours for pre-school kids
  4. Breastfeed if possible to tap into immunity-enhancing antibodies. Aim for six months or longer if you’re able to. But we always feel FED is best. 
  5. Keep kids moving and practice earthing/grounding - Outdoor play is best for an added Vitamin D boost or find indoor activity if the weather isn’t great. 
  6. Wash hands often and replace your child's toothbrush if they get sick.
  7. Avoid secondhand smoke
  8. Be cautious of antibiotics which don’t kill viruses and are known to be over prescribed, especially in children.

Omega-6 Friend or Foe?

Finally, don’t believe the rumors that omega-6 fatty acids are bad for your child, but do look for the right sources from whole foods like walnuts, hemp seeds, and eggs. If you’re concerned about omega-6’s, consider this: Arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 is present in human breast milk for a reason. It’s a precursor to the eicosanoids that support immunity and immune response, plus, it’s added to prepared formula as well to enhance infant growth and development, especially brain maturation. Two great options for adding in essential fatty acids that are never heat-treated and safe for little one’s consumption are BodyBio Balance Oil and Safflower Oil. 

The immune system does a lot more than just fight microbes and parasites. It aids in tissue repair, wound healing, elimination of dead or cancer cells, and the formation of a healthy gut microbiome. Giving it the best start possible starting at birth, and nurturing it throughout life, will help your children thrive well into old age. 

References

Allijn IE, Vaessen SF, Quarles van Ufford LC, Beukelman KJ, de Winther MP, Storm G, Schiffelers RM.  Head-to-Head Comparison of Anti-Inflammatory Performance of Known Natural Products In Vitro.  PLoS One. 2016 May 10;11(5):e0155325. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0155325. eCollection 2016.

 

Barak V, Halperin T, Kalickman.  The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.  Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6.

 

Hadley KB, Ryan AS, Forsyth S, Gautier S, Salem N Jr.  The Essentiality of Arachidonic Acid in Infant Development.  Nutrients. 2016 Apr 12;8(4):216.

 

T. Olszak, D. An, S. Zeissig, M. P. Vera, J. Richter, A. Franke, J. N. Glickman, R. Siebert, R. M. Baron, D. L. Kasper, R. S. Blumberg. Microbial Exposure During Early Life Has Persistent Effects on Natural Killer T Cell Function. Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1126/science.1219328

 

Sordillo PP, Helson L.  Curcumin suppression of cytokine release and cytokine storm. A potential therapy for patients with Ebola and other severe viral infections.  In Vivo. 2015 Jan-Feb;29(1):1-4.

 

Zhuang L, Chen H, Zhang S, Zhuang J, Li Q, Feng Z.  Intestinal Microbiota in Early Life and Its Implications on Childhood Health.  Genomics Proteomics Bioinformatics. 2019 Feb;17(1):13-25.

 

Alimuddin Zumla, David S Hui, Esam I Azhar, Ziad A Memish, Markus Maeurer.  Reducing mortality from 2019-nCoV: host-directed therapies should be an option.  The Lancet.  22 Feb, 2020; 395(10244): PE35-E36