Our immune system is a complicated and amazing system that protects our bodies from environmental stressors. Now more than ever it is important to know how to take care of our immune system and stay healthy and strong in the challenging months ahead. In this article, I hope to inspire you to make some positive lifestyle changes to help as well as give you some top tips on the types of food and supplements which may help you along your way.
There are estimates that suggest 50% to 80% of children with ASD have sleep issues.
With the recent change in routine, many children have had their sleep pattern disrupted even further. Studies have shown that sleep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions. Other studies have shown that losing just 2 hours of sleep a night can make significantly increase anger and distress. There are some simple steps you can take to help your child’s quality of sleep. Studies from Harvard Medical School have shown that the blue light emitted from computers and mobile devices are very disruptive at night and significantly affect the production of melatonin. It is their recommendation that all devices are switched off at least 2 hours before bed. Ensure that your child’s sleeping space has adequate darkness as even the slightest ray of light can disrupt the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Having a 20 to 30-minute soak in a bath with Epsom salts can help relax the body and the mind and the magnesium in the Epsom salts has been shown to reduce irritability and restlessness. Consider foods like Montmorency cherry juice, which helps promote melatonin and has been shown to enhance sleep quality. Supplements that contain l-theanine, 5-HTP, B6, magnetism, zinc and vitamin C have all been shown to help make melatonin as well. Finally, make sure your child’s iron levels are normal. Many children with ASD have low iron levels which can contribute significantly to poor sleep. When checking the iron level with your GP make sure you ask for the level of ferritin which is the storage tank of iron and a more accurate marker of iron status.
Children are like sponges and absorb our stress and stress in their environment. Children with ASD are particularly vulnerable as they have to struggle with many sensory triggers throughout the day creating repeated “fight or flight” response. This is where stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are mobilised to cope with the perceived threat. This response can be very useful for us when we are in real danger but when it becomes chronic, as is the case with many of the children we work with, it can have a significant impact on the immune system. Be mindful of negative news and the impact it might be having on your child and minimise exposure as much as possible. Make time for playing and getting outdoors as much as possible – time in nature has been shown to reduce the level of stress hormones significantly.
For many families spending so much time at home has resulted in frequent visits to the fridge and kitchen cupboards throughout the day looking for comfort food and snacks. More than ever before it’s important to fill our cupboards with natural foods and move away from refined sugar which has been shown in many studies to suppress the immune system for several hours after consumption and cause inflammation. Choose from dried fruit, home-made smoothies, oatcakes with dips like hummus and guacamole, nuts and seeds, fruit leathers and home-made biscuits loaded with flaxseeds and healthy fats and natural sugars like dates and honey. On our www.brainstormhealth.co.uk website, you will find close to 100 recipes to entice you. Eat a rainbow and as many varieties of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables as you can get hold of. Include lots of anti-inflammatory foods such as oily fish like sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring and salmon. Fresh, frozen or even tinned berries are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants to help reduce inflammation and fight off nasty bugs. Include other anti-inflammatory foods such as broccoli, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, avocados, garlic, ginger, turmeric and extra virgin olive oil regularly in your meal plan.
Close to 80% of our immune system is in our gut. A healthy gut is fundamental in achieving a healthy immune system. Make sure you avoid foods that might be triggering inflammation in the gut – common culprits are gluten, dairy, processed corn, and soya. Make sure you include some form of probiotic food or supplement in your plan. Choose from yoghurt (dairy-based if you can tolerate it or non-dairy such as coconut and almond yoghurt if you can’t), kefir, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, beet kvass, and miso. Include pulses and beans as recent studies have shown their significant beneficial impact on increasing the diversity of the gut ecosystem also known as the Microbiome. Commercial probiotics can also be used and there are lots of varieties out there. One of our favourites is the more cutting edge spore-based probiotic like Megaspore by Microbiome Labs which seems to have very few side effects.
Vitamins D is crucial for fighting viruses and tends to be low in the general population. This is especially the case in those with darker skin who tend to need regular supplementation. It’s really important to test vitamin D levels regularly as the level can vary enormously from person to person even with the same amount of supplementation. Testing is simple and can be done using a finger prick test. Getting vitamin D from the sun is best but supplementing is necessary in many cases. Always choose vitamin D3 with an addition of vitamin K2 for better balance and absorption.
Zinc is one of the most important minerals for supporting the immune system and gets depleted easily in growing children or those following a vegan or vegetarian diet. Zinc can be found in meat, shellfish, lentils, seeds and nuts as well as dairy and eggs.
Vitamin C has been a hot topic since the COVID-19 hit the scene, as it is known to be a key nutrient for fighting viruses. It is being used in trials as part of the treatment strategy for patients affected by the virus. However, all of those trials are based on intravenous dosing and are hard to replicate into everyday dosing strategies. As long as we eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, we are likely getting enough vitamin C. Foods with super high vitamin levels include; papaya (this has also been shown to protect lung cells so a double winner!), bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, and kiwifruit. Supplementing can also be helpful and we generally like the liposomal form of vitamin C since you don’t have to dose as frequently, and absorption is superior.
Vitamin A plays a key role in supporting the immune system, especially in the gut immune system. Vitamin A helps neutralise nasty bugs and prevents immune cells from overreacting which means it plays a key role in controlling inflammation. There is a high amount of vitamin A in some foods like liver and shrimp as well as oily fish and eggs. Vegetarian sources are found in abundance in sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, spinach, and kale.
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant for immune system protection and has been depleted from our soil due to intensive farming techniques. Good levels of selenium can be found in Brazil nuts and organic, grass-fed beef, turkey and chicken.
Other important nutrients for the immune system, specifically against viruses like COVID-19 include B vitamins (especially folate), glutathione, milk thistle, chondroitin sulphate, and Andrographis.
Please make sure that you always work with your medical doctor or a Registered Nutritional Therapist when using supplements.
For readers of the Autism Eye Magazine, you can get a 10% discount on all supplements ordered from www.naturaldispensary.co.uk by using the SMC010 in the promo code at the check-out.
0–12 months 600 mcg
1–3 years 600 mcg
4–8 years 900 mcg
9–13 years 1,700 mcg
14–18 years 2,800
19+ years 3,000 mcg
1–3 years 400 mg 400 mg
4–8 years 650 mg 650 mg
9–13 years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg
14–18 years 1,800 mg 1,800 mg 1,800 mg 1,800 mg
19+ years 2,000 mg 2,000 mg 2,000 mg 2,000 mg
Source: National Institutes of Health
0–6 months 1,000 IU
7–12 months 1,500 IU
1–3 years 2,500 IU
4–8 years 3,000 IU
9–100+ years 4,000 IU
4-8 years 12mg
9-13 years 23mg
Teens 14-18 years 34mg
Birth to 6 months 15mcg
7-12 months 20mcg
1-3 years 20mcg
4-8 years 30mcg
9-13 years 40mcg
14 years + 55mcg