Young children suffer between 10 and 12 infections in the first year of kindergarten , so it is not uncommon for parents to come to our office wishing we would prescribe the remedy to “boost their defenses.” And now, in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic , many wonder if they could not, in some way, improve the defenses of their children to be prevented.
But what are defenses really? Is there an effective treatment that can increase them? Would that help us in the case of being infected by a specific virus?
What are defenses
Our immune system is in charge of defending ourselves against infections. It is a very broad system, which includes cells, tissues and organs. 11 names of heroines from Greek mythology for your baby.
Within the wide variety of cells we have first-line “basic” cells that act against any type of infection. And there are other more “elaborated” cells, called lymphocytes, that act specifically against a specific organism by making antibodies. These anti-overlaps remain in our system, so if it encounters the same organism again, it will be eliminated more quickly.
How do I know if my child has a problem with his defenses?
Fortunately, most children have normally functioning defenses . It is common that during the first year (or first years) of nursery school they have several episodes of fever and mucus that does not seem to heal.
On the one hand, they are in constant contact with different viruses and bacteria since children share everything at those ages. On the other, they are “bugs” that your immune system has not seen before and is building defenses.
Most of these infections are viral, mild and resolve in a few days (colds, gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis …). The children continue to grow normally and are in good general condition. 15 beautiful and practical organizers for bath toys.
If a child presents, on the other hand, serious infections that require admission, frequent treatment with antibiotics and other symptoms (weight loss, decay …) we may find ourselves facing a (rare) disease in which the defenses do not function normally.
Is there a way to increase the defenses?
Yes! There are two ways that have been scientifically shown to decrease infections
- Breastfeeding Antibodies and other defensive cells pass through breast milk that help the baby defend itself against infection. Breastfed children have been shown to have fewer gastrointestinal infections , otitis media, and lower respiratory tract infections (among many other benefits)
- Vaccines. The vaccines prevent infections against which it has been designed. Vaccines contain very small amounts of viruses or bacteria (killed or stunned) or parts of them. Our body recognizes them as an intruder and generates antibodies against them. In this way, if the virus or bacteria wanted to infect us on another occasion, we will have the antibodies ready to attack it quickly. In other words, vaccines “teach” our immune system to defend itself against certain infections.
There are numerous products on the market that claim to improve defenses, do they work?
From a scientific point of view, no; there is no evidence that the remedies below work. However, some parents report that their children get sick less since they take it and it may be due to the placebo effect : we know they are taking something for that purpose and it seems to us (subjectively) that they become less bad. It also happens sometimes that they start taking it after a few months and even in the second year of nursery school; and of course, children become less bad because they have already been creating defenses against many microorganisms.
- Preparations of the Echinacea plant . They are widely used to prevent and treat colds. However, an extensive 2014 Cochrane review concludes that they have not been shown to provide benefits for treating colds, and that although a slight positive effect in terms of prevention may be seen in some studies, it is not very relevant. In addition, its administration could have adverse effects .
- Vitamin C The quintessential home remedy to prevent colds has not been shown to do so. Nor does it seem to improve symptoms if we start taking it when we already have colds.
- Syrups to “raise the defenses” . Immunoglukan, listed as a food supplement, claims to help the normal functioning of the immune system. The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) did not find enough evidence to show that Immunoglukna increases immunity. There is only a single study with 175 children, carried out by the laboratory that markets it, which concludes that it works.
- Propolis and royal jelly have also not been shown to be effective in preventing and / or treating common colds, and so this recent study concludes .
- Homeopathy . There is no doubt: homeopathy does not work . And not only is it not working, but it can also have serious adverse effects .
And what about probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in the right amounts, confer a health benefit. Through different mechanisms (activating local macrophages, modulating cytokine profiles …) they can offer immunological benefits .
In the field of pediatrics they have been studied in relation to multiple pathologies, although there is only scientific evidence for a few. Probiotics decrease the duration and severity of viral gastroenteritis (without ever being a substitute for rehydration), and there is also evidence for preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea .
Regarding respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in children attending daycare centers, although there are some studies that point to a possible benefit of its long-term administration, but more studies are necessary to be able to recommend them.
They could also play a role in atopic dermatitis. The World Allergy Organization suggests the use of probiotics in high-risk populations to decrease the risk of eczema. We must bear in mind that not all probiotics are the same and it is necessary to know which strain is useful in each disease.
Is the hygiene hypothesis true?
In western countries there are an increasing number of children suffering from asthma, allergies and atopic dermatitis. Among the possible explanations for why this happens is the hygiene hypothesis : greater cleaning results in less exposure to viruses, bacteria and parasites, necessary to help the function of the human immune system and to play a protective role against allergies.
Strachan was the first to talk about it in 1989 and multiple posts have appeared since. It has been seen, for example, that children who grow up in rural areas, around animals and in larger families, develop asthma less frequently, and this could be explained by the hygiene hypothesis . However, it is not all about ” cleaning a lot or not”. There are other mechanisms involved and more studies are needed.
So what can we do to prevent our children from getting so sick?
- We mentioned two things that do work: breastfeeding and vaccines ; the breastfeeding decreases essentially lower respiratory infections, gastroenteritis and otitis media; vaccines protect them against various serious diseases.
- There is also evidence (especially in adults) that moderate physical exercise reduces the risk of infection compared to those who lead sedentary lives.
- Although it may seem surprising, sleep also plays its role in the immune system . There are already numerous studies that find a relationship between good sleep and the body’s ability to fight infections. It seems that it is due to the production and release during sleep of certain proteins that stimulate the immune system.
- In addition, it is recommended that they eat a varied diet , rich in fruit and vegetables .
- And I take this opportunity to remember, finally, the importance of hygiene measures that help us prevent infections: washing hands , covering ourselves when coughing and / or sneezing, use disposable tissues and avoid, as far as possible, sharing pacifiers , cutlery … Another good practice is to prevent children from going to school or daycare when they are sick.