Category Archives: morning energy

Back to School: Immune-boosting tips for kids

The start of the new school year is upon us, and this can cause worry for some parents whose children seem particularly vulnerable to illness. Coughs, colds, ear and chest infections are commonplace in schools, with the average child catching between 8 and 12 colds or flu viruses each year. This is not surprising when we consider that the school environment is the perfect breeding ground for infection – up to 90% of children with a cold are carrying the virus on their hands, and germs can survive up to three days on surfaces.

Fortunately there are some simple measures that can help support your child’s immune system, helping to lessen the duration of an infection or even avoid illness altogether.

A good night’s sleep
Children need more sleep than adults, with primary school children needing at least 9 hours each night. Any less than this can compromise the immune system. Sleep deprived children have lower levels of germ-fighting T-cells, leaving them vulnerable to infection (1). Tips to improve sleep include keeping a regular bedtime routine, ensuring that televisions are kept out of the bedroom and reducing sources of caffeine such as chocolate and sodas.

Immune-boosting antioxidants
Another way to help support your child’s health is to ensure that his or her diet provides plenty of immune-boosting antioxidants. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C boost production of interferon, helping to prevent infection from taking hold (2). Vitamin E and carotenoids help to increase production of natural killer cells, B cells and T cells, increasing antibodies against specific germs (3).

Fruit-Bowl
Kiwi fruit and strawberries can provide a welcome vitamin C boost.

Finally, nutrients called bioflavonoids actually work to block cell receptors so that germs cannot get access to cells. Present in whole foods such as fruit, vegetables and grains, flavonoids have been shown to exert both anti-inflammatory and anti-viral activity (4). Flavonoids are not easily absorbed from foods we eat. For the best sources of well-absorbed flavonoids, make sure your child eats plenty of blue and purple fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries and red grapes.

If infection has already taken hold, then steps to reduce the length of an infection can be helpful. During an active infection, the body’s requirement for Vitamin C is increased dramatically. A fruit salad made with oranges, kiwi fruit and strawberries can provide a welcome vitamin C boost. During an active infection, taking a vitamin C supplement 3-4 times daily can also be a helpful measure to speed up recovery.

Protective probiotics
Probiotic supplementation offers a further protective measure for children who suffer with repeated infections. Probiotics reduce the risk of allergies, tummy upsets and diarrhoea, and have recently been found to prevent the common cold (5). They give the immune system a boost by increasing natural killer cell activity and phagocytosis, both important mechanisms for protecting against infection. In children in particular, probiotics work to ramp up levels of mucosal immunoglobulin A, the first line of defence against harmful pathogens that enter the body (6).

Probiotic supplements designed especially for children offer a safe way to support your child’s immune system. Adding some probiotic yoghurt to fruit salad or breakfast muesli can help keep your child’s levels of immune-boosting bacteria topped up.

While children can’t be shielded from every bug in the classroom, these simple measures can help ensure that your child building blocks of a strong immune system and feels fit for the new school year.

References

1. Diwakar Balachandran, MD,  director, Sleep Center, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

2. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold (Review) Hemilä H, Chalker E, Douglas B. Cochrane Review. 2010. Issue 3.

3. Hughes DA: Antioxidant vitamins and immune function; in Calder PC, Field CJ, Gill HS (eds): Nutrition and Immune Function. Wallingford, CAB International, 2002, pp 171–191.

4. Middleton E (1998) Effect of Plant Flavonoids on Immune and Inflammatory Cell Function. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Volume 439, pp 175-182.

5. En-Jin Kang et al (2013) The Effect of Probiotics on Prevention of Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trial Studies. Korean J Fam Med. 2013 January; 34(1): 2–10.

6. Lomax & Calder (2009) Probiotics, immune function, infection and inflammation: a review of the evidence from studies conducted in humans. Curr Pharm Des. 15(13):1428-518.

7. Image courtesy of vanillaechoes.

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Natural Energy from Oxygen in a Can

Canned oxygen has actually been around for many years. booost Oxygen have focused on the sporting benefits derived from inhaling almost pure oxygen. Their mantra is that they help sports people “get through the wall.”

The science isn’t that complicated – having a higher concentration of oxygen in your blood gives you more energy, and as Dr John Brewer from the Lilleshall Human Performance Centre says: “Extra oxygen enables you to recover more quickly from exertion. It allows someone to train and then exercise again.”

Here are some quick facts that might surprise you:

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Booost Oxygen tanks contain 99.5% oxygen with a natural peppermint flavouring
  1. Roger Bannister, the famous 4 minute miler used medical oxygen
  2. Oxygen gives us 80% of our energy, and food just 20%
  3. The brain, which is only 2% of your body by weight, uses 20% of the oxygen you inhale
  4. Before the industrial revolution oxygen levels on earth were as high as 38%. In some places now, they are down to 10%
  5. Oxygen is used as the first stage of treatment for victims suffering from any trauma

The product is being used by people in all areas of sport. Squash champions Amr Shabana and Daryl Selby are regular users, as is the UK’s strongest man, Eddie Hall. Professional rugby league teams are customers, as are triathletes, boxers and Muay Thai fighters. Team GB triathlete Mark Buckingham, who recently won his first world title, uses booost as an important part of his swim training program.

booost Oxygen is available in a “super tank” size, which provides up to 100 shots and now also comes in a “travel tank” size which provides over 20 shots – this was originally developed for cyclists to fit into their jerseys, but is also convenient for runners and will easily fit into the smallest handbag. The tanks contain 99.5% oxygen, with a natural peppermint flavouring which leaves the mouth feeling fresh.

In many ways, oxygen is a great sports supplement – it has no calories, no sugar and no caffeine, and it provides an energy burst which can enable athletes to lift more, go faster or just keep going.

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As autumn and winter draw in can we do anything to boost our morning energy levels?

Days are getting shorter and there is just over a month before British Summertime ends on 31st October.  Some people in the UK suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, and find the darker months incredibly difficult (please read my previous posts for more information about SAD).  Many more individuals exhibit symptoms, in autumn/winter, such as tiredness, lethargy and sleep problems without the depression and anxiety felt by SAD sufferers.  There is evidence that some kind of seasonal changes in mood impact much of the general population (1,2) 

SADA Seasonal Affective Disorder Association is the UKs only support organisation that is dedicated to SAD.  SADA say that(1) “ SAD is a type of winter depression that affects an estimated 7% of the UK population every winter between September and April, in particular during December, January and February.  It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus [part of the brain] due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter.  For many people SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment.  For others, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing discomfort but not severe suffering. We call this subsyndromal SAD or ‘winter blues.’ It is estimated that a further 17% of the UK population have this milder form of condition”.

Even those of us who do not suffer with SAD will often find getting up when it is still dark challenging.  Energy levels may be low and springing out of bed with motivation can be hard.  In the spring and summer the light increases from early morning and stimulates a gradual wake up call, this is absent in the autumn and winter.  The lack of dawn awakening seems to have an impact on our natural, internal body clock – also known as the circadian rhythm.  The circadian rhythm is associated with many biological responses in the body including hormonal release.  Disruption to our body clock may play a part in our feelings of morning lethargy in the autumn and winter months.

Previously when writing about SAD I mentioned the sunrise alarm clocks, or bodyclocks, that are available.  These sunrise alarm clocks usually consist of a unit with a light that gradually increases in intensity over a 30 minute period until it is at its brightest when an alarm usually sounds.  If you find yourself struggling to feel energised in the mornings you might want to think about purchasing one of these bodyclocks.  The thinking behind the system is that if we wake up gradually our circadian rhythm, internal body clock, is less disrupted.   Use of these dawn simulator in individuals with SAD has been positive and studies are beginning to find that they may also be helpful for individuals who don’t suffer from the condition (3,4). 

In addition to light there are many things that can impact how we feel during the darker months.  Please read my previous posts on SAD for more information.  One important factor is breakfast.  Eating a nutrient dense breakfast may well help to prevent feelings of fatigue.  It is tempting to reach for caffeine in order to wake up but this may impact blood sugar levels and lead to further feelings of fatigue and irritability.  In order to keep blood sugar levels balanced a breakfast that is low in sugar and low in processed food is preferable.  Choosing food with a low glycaemic index may be helpful and including a source of protein (e.g. eggs, beans, nuts/seeds) is important e.g.  berries with yoghurt, sprinkled with nuts/seeds or poached eggs on wholegrain toast are two breakfast ideas.  Eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed wholegrain carbohydrates, unprocessed meats/fish (especially oily fish), beans, eggs, nuts/seeds and other unrefined foods will help to fuel the body through the day and prevent feelings of lethargy and fatigue.  Specific vitamins, minerals and essential fats may also be helpful, especially to those individuals suffering with SAD, please read my previous posts for more information.

1.Rosen LN & Rosenthal NE.  1991.  Seasonal variations in mood and behavior in the general population: a factor-analytic approach. Psychiatry Res.  38(3):271-83.

2.Kasper S et al.  1989.  Epidemiological findings of seasonal changes in mood and behavior. A telephone survey of Montgomery County, Maryland. Arch Gen Psychiatry.   46(9):823-33

3.Leppamaki S et al.  2003.  Effect of simulated dawn on quality of sleep, a community based trial.  BMC Psychiatry.  3:14

4.Thorn L et al.  2004.  The effect of dawn simulation on the cortisol response to awakening in healthy participants.  Psychoneuroendocrinology.  29:925-930

Written by Ani Kowal

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