A healthy immune system is the key to preventing infectious diseases. We are all exposed to millions of germs every day, and vaccines only cover a tiny fraction of one percent of these germs. So we must rely on our own immune system to fight off most potential infections. Children and adults with healthy immune systems are also less likely to suffer a serious vaccine reaction. Most vaccine side effects involve the immune system reacting poorly to the vaccine, so insuring a healthy immune system is one way parents can decrease their child’s risk of a vaccine reaction. Here’s what you can do:
- Breastfeed. If you are breastfeeding, plan to continue for a minimum of one year. Two years is better. Not only will your baby catch fewer illnesses, but her immune system may be better equipped to handle vaccines. No one has actually studied whether or not breastfed babies show fewer reactions, but theoretically it makes sense.
- Minimize sugar and junk food. We do know that sugar weakens the immune system; one of the busiest times in our office is the week after Halloween. Of course, this doesn’t apply to babies, but for older kids, minimize treats and sugary foods for several weeks prior to checkups and vaccines at the doctor’s office.
- Minimize other chemical exposures. The small amounts of chemicals in vaccines are unavoidable. But there are other areas of life where we can control this exposure, and that is in the foods we feed our kids. Serve organic foods as much as possible, beginning with baby foods. A little baby’s growing brain and developing immune system are very susceptible to chemical influences. Eating organic fruits, veggies, grains, and meats is a good way to help insure a healthier brain and body.
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- Use omega-3 oil supplements. Most children are deficient in the healthy omega-3 fats, since the main dietary source is fish and eggs, foods that most kids don’t eat enough of. Breast milk is also full of omega-3’s. Fish oils (liquids for toddlers over age one and chewables or capsules for older kids) that are tested and found to be mercury free are a healthy addition to any diet and can improve many aspects of a child’s health, including the immune system.
- Probiotics. These are the healthy bacteria that live in our intestines. They play a critical role in regulating both our intestinal immune system and our internal immune system. Antibiotic use, which is a typical part of every infant and child’s early life, destroys all these healthy bacteria, leaving a child more susceptible to a host of illnesses and intestinal problems. Taking probiotics on a continuous basis, but especially for a week before and several weeks after vaccinations, can really do wonders for the immune system, and may help protect from the side effects of vaccines. Also called acidophilus, probiotics can either be mixed into food or liquid as a powder for infants 6 months and older, or swallowed as small capsules or pearls for older kids.
- Fruits and vegetables. Everyone knows these are good for you, but unfortunately very few children get enough. Fruit, veggie, and berry supplements are available as chewables for children and as capsules for adults. Infants age one and older can also use adult capsules opened up into their food. The immune-boosting content of fruit, veggie, and berry supplements can really help prevent infectious diseases and may limit vaccine reactions.
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- Vitamin A. This specific vitamin helps with neurologic health. It also helps regulate the immune system’s response to infections. Some researchers believe it can play a role in protecting the brain from vaccine side effects. Give vitamin A once a day for 3 days prior to vaccines and continue each day for 10 days after. Infants should get 1500 IUs daily, toddlers and preschoolers 2500 IUs and older kids and teens 5000 IUs. A commonly available form of vitamin drops for babies and young kids is a mix of Vitamins A, C and D available at any drug store. Another choice would be a total multivitamin liquid or chewable. A better source of Vitamin A is cod liver oil, available at health food stores. The label will say how much Vitamin A is in each teaspoon. You should be aware that overdosing Vitamin A can be toxic, so do not exceed the suggested amounts. I would suggest not using cod liver oil for any baby younger than 9 months.
- Vitamin C. This anti-oxidant vitamin can help boost the immune system and may decrease vaccine side effects. Give this once a day for 5 days starting on the day of the shots. Infants should get 150 mg daily, toddlers and preschoolers 250 mg, and older kids and teens 500 mg. Vitamin C drops, chewables, and capsules are available at any health food or drug store. The amount of Vitamin C in the multivitamins discussed above (with vitamin A) usually isn’t enough.