How to Improve your Child’s immune system

immune system

By Dr Maretha Combrink

With the COVID-19 pandemic it is especially important to understand that no supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification other than physical distancing and proper hygiene practices can protect you from COVID-19.  Currently, no research supports the use of any supplement to protect against COVID-19 specifically.

Most products that claim to boost or support the immune system unfortunately are not offering any real benefit.  Vitamins can help immunity as they help ward off disease and other health problems, but only under specific circumstances. Supplemental vitamins are only recommended for certain groups of children, e.g., those with chronic diseases, eating disorders, malabsorption, liver disease and obese children in weight loss programs. So, vitamin formulations will do little to help you stay healthy if you are healthy already.

The reasons for vitamin and mineral supplementation appear to be multifactorial and supplements are largely deemed unnecessary if one has a varied diet.  In South Africa, almost half of the population (46%) take some form of daily nutritional supplement. Supplement markets in South Africa are expanding rapidly where the industry generated R48 million in a year just for immunity-boosting supplements. The overall supplement market in South Africa has increased from R2.9 billion in 2014 to R3.8 billion in 2016, which is a growth rate of 13.5% per year.

Multivitamin preparations for older children and adolescents are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may result in adverse effects ranging from nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, increased cerebrospinal pressure, liver abnormalities, and neuropathy. The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) does not recommend supplemental vitamin use for healthy children older than 1 year who consume a varied diet.  

If your child is a picky eater or for some reason is not willing or able to follow a healthy diet, consult your general practitioner or paediatrician for advice on meal replacement options that would be able to meet the calorie and nutrient requirements of a 4-year-old. Vitamins and minerals that are known to play a role in the immune system include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin D, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc.

Young children between the ages of 2 and 8 require approximately 1,000–1,400 calories each day. Those aged 9–13 need 1,400–2,600 calories daily — depending on certain factors, such as activity levels etc.  It is important to note that in South Africa all maize meal and wheat flour is fortified with vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, iron, and zinc.  In addition to eating enough calories, a child’s diet should meet the following Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI):

NutrientDRI 1-3 yearsDRI 4-8 years
Vitamin A300mcg400mcg
Vitamin B120.9mcg1.2mcg
Vitamin C15mg25mg
Vitamin D600IU (15mg)600IU (15mg)