6 ways to boost a child’s immune system


Mother Nature Network (

The immune system is our body’s first line of defense when it comes to fighting off diseases and infections.

Given how regularly our little ones seem to come home with a runny nose (or worse), it would be nice if we could give their immune systems a helping hand.

And maybe we can. Below are six suggestions that may help boost a child’s natural defenses.


Studies have shown that breastfeeding provides crucial support for a child’s immune system. In addition to providing immediate protection against GI and respiratory diseases, a review of research by Kelly M Jackson and Andrea M. Nazar in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association suggests that because breastfeeding also promotes immune system development, it may provide significant health benefits well into adulthood too.


Dirt has become an, ahem, dirty word. Yet children need to be exposed to dirt in order for their immune systems to fully develop as they should. Children who grow up on farms, for example, or who are raised around pets, tend to exhibit lower rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Gardening can also help give your immune system a lift. Sharyn Clough of the University of Oregon has even suggested that the socialization of girls to be neat and tidy may be a factor in higher rates of allergies among women than men.

Exactly why exposure to dirt is beneficial remains a topic of much debate, but researchers suggest that a combination of factors may be at play. On the one hand, exposure to trace amounts of pathogens can give the immune system a workout, on the other, exposure to the outdoors may mean children come into contact with more potentially beneficial microorganisms that can support their bodies’ own cells in fighting infection.

Those who are already immunocompromised should seek medical advice before exposing themselves to dirt or other potential sources of infection.


As if we needed more reasons to encourage our children to sleep…

Research published in Nature by Penelope A. Bryant, John Trinder and Nigel Curtis suggests that there is a “reciprocal relationship between sleep and immunity.” And because sleep is a learned behavior that we carry on into adulthood, it makes sense that teaching your child the importance of getting enough sleep will benefit them later in life.


The immune system used to be thought of like a defensive army – fighting off any invaders that dared to cross its borders. As our understanding of our bodies has improved, however, we’ve learned that we are literally teaming with foreign microbes, many of which work in symbiosis with our bodies’ own cells to perform vital functions such as digestion of food or transfer of nutrients.

This paradigm shift has led some to speculate that “live” foods, which are already cherished in many traditions as health-giving, may help boost our inner biodiversity. Fermented milk products like kefir and yogurt, for example, have been shown to offer health benefits including improving lactose digestion and preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Research into sauerkraut has revealed enzymes and microbes, which may aid digestion, and even isothiocyanates, which may prevent the growth of cancer cells.



Antibiotics are a remarkable gift and have doubtless saved many lives. The routine use of antibiotics, however, may be leading us into trouble.

The problem of drug-resistant bacteria is already one good reason for exercising moderation in the use of these medicines, with a strong case being made that it is our collective responsibility to reduce the routine use of antibiotics both in health care and farming in a collective effort to reduce the risk of superbugs.

But this isn’t just a question of the common good. Studies also have linked childhood use of antibiotics by individuals with a significantly increased risk of allergic asthma later in life.



Of all the ways we can boost our body’s immune system, eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables remains among the most important. Whether it’s the vitamin C in your oranges or leafy green vegetables, or the antiseptic properties in garlic, if your child eats a broad range of plant-based foods, you likely will be giving their immune system a healthy jump start. As detailed in a recent article by Michael Pollan in The New York Times, it’s been shown that a diet rich in a variety of whole grains, raw vegetables and less cooked foods (al dente pasta, for example) promotes fermentation in the lower intestine, which in turn is a key function for encouraging healthy gut microbes.


Ultimately, there is no one answer to an improved immune system. And the ideas presented here should not be considered an alternative to medical treatment. But pursuing a well-rounded lifestyle rich in exercise, sleep, good food and an enjoyment of the great outdoors seems as good a place as any to start. It also sounds like a whole lot of fun.

Read more Health stories from the Miami Herald

  • Skin Deep

    FDA warns about not using Expression as a filler

    It never ceases to amaze me how some people can take injections so lightly. Yes, they are cosmetic and non-invasive, but these treatments require the training and skill only an experienced dermatologist, plastic surgeon, facial plastic surgeon or oculoplastic surgeon possess. Every week I have at least one patient that comes to me to correct filler injected by an inexperienced or inartistic doctor.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Staying safe: </span>Research indicates sunscreen is hurting the oceans.


    Study: Sunscreen may harm the sea life

    It’s a crowded Sunday at the 14th street section of South Beach.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">AFTER AN ACCIDENT:</span> A former paddleboard competitor and bodybuilder, Melina Cherry, who runs SUP the Workout in Coconut Grove, first tried stand-up paddleboarding after a car accident left her with a serious neck injury. She teaches students, from novice to experienced, different paddling techniques and conditioning exercises to help get them in shape.


    Indoor stand-up paddleboard class in Coconut Grove is a first

    Indoor stand-up paddleboard class teaches the proper strokes and gives you quite the workout

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category