Tag Archives: carotenoids

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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Carotenoids: Protect Your Skin From The Inside

Hopefully you have all been having a great time in the beautiful sunshine these last few days – it’s a great opportunity to spend more time outdoors. Whether that be pottering in the garden or going for long walks, having picnics in the park or barbeques with friends or sunbathing and enjoying everything else these warmer climes have to offer.

It is also a time when people start to think about their body shape and appearance as they dig out their summer clothes and dare to bare more skin. This is generally a very positive time for most people as our “winter blues” are improved and we begin to get more vitamin D from the sun and feel more energised. However, it is also a time when individuals can suffer from the negative effects from the sun such as prickly heat, sun stroke and sun burn. Damage to the skin from excessive sun exposure may not be a priority for those in their youth, however skin damage at any age is extremely detrimental and over time the harmful and ageing effects of the sun can become more apparent.

The skin is our largest organ and it provides us with a barrier against damaging pathogens entering our bodies such as bacteria and free radicals from our environment. In order to prevent these factors from entering our bodies, we need a high level of protection as they not only impact on our immune systems but they can also significantly contribute to ageing.

Tomatoes contain lycopene
Tomatoes contain high level of the antioxidant lycopene which can help towards anti-ageing

A recent review (1.) published by the journal Molecules analysed research findings available in the area of skin health and the effects of powerful antioxidant carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. These free-radical scavengers are found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables  such as carrots, tomatoes and sweet potato.

The authors reported that these antioxidants enhance the skins ability to protect itself from oxidative stress as they act to mop up and destroy the free radicals that attempt to attack our skin and cause signs of ageing. However, the levels of these carotenoids are significantly affected by detrimental lifestyle factors. These include smoking or stress, poor diet, illness and exposure to the sun (especially  sunburn) and were reported to significantly reduce the levels of concentrations of antioxidant carotenoids in human skin.

These factors can result in skin damage as they reduce our level of protection and speed up the ageing process which can result in sun spots, pigmentation, lines and wrinkles and sagging of the skin. The authors reported that increasing levels of carotenoids in dietary and supplemental forms was reportedly one of the best defensive approaches against ageing.

Therefore to help keep looking and feeling young, youthful and radiant, make sure you top up your levels of carotenoids and limit your exposure to the sun to keep your levels of these antioxidants high. Raw carrots dipped in hummus, tomato salads or roasted butternut squash are some ways of incorporating higher levels of these antioxidants into your diet. If you can’t stand vegetables or want to supplement your diet with an extra boost, then a high quality carotenoid supplement could be considered.

As well as protecting your skin from the inside, it is also important to protect your skin on the outside with good quality, high factor natural sun protection cream. You can find more blog posts about natural sunscreens here.

Written by Lauren Foster

Refererences
1. Darvin, M.E., Sterry, W., Lademann, J. and Vergou, T. (2011) The Role of Carotenoids in Human Skin. Molecules 16, 10491-10506.

2. Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

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