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Your immune system is your first line of defence against illness and disease. A strong immune system fights the bacteria that we come in contact with on a daily basis. The 'ingredients' of a healthy immune system are exercise, clean air, clean water, happiness and an immune-boosting diet. Stress, pollution and poor diet are the immune system's biggest enemies.

The most vulnerable time of the year is from September through to March and so to supplement yours and your children's diet with immune-boosting vitamins, minerals and herbs during this time is a very good idea.

Indications of a weakened immune system are frequent colds and infections, slow wound healing and exhaustion after exercise, dry skin or eczema, asthma, loss of appetite, white marks on nails, poor nail growth, pale skin, nausea, fatigue, mouth ulcers, pimples on the back of arms, dull hair, and hyperactivity.

IMMUNITY FOR BABIES & CHILDREN:

Pregnancy and breastfeeding - if you can, breastfeed your baby exclusively for as long as possible, ideally for the first 6 months at least. During these times eat a nutrient-rich organic diet and take a multi-vitamin and omega 3 (see Supplements below).

When you wean your baby make sure the diet is rich in immune-boosting nutrients (vitamins A, C and E, selenium, zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and omega 3). You can add to this by giving a good multi-vitamin and an omega 3 supplement specifically for babies and children (see below).

Use supplements such as echinacea, garlic, elderberry, vitamin C and zinc to boost the immune system and ward off infections.

Avoid giving processed and refined foods or those containing preservatives, flavours and artificial colourings which all suppress the immune system. Whole grains are much better than refined or processed foods.

Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Remember they do not work against viral infections (colds and flu) only bacterial infections. If antibiotics are used it would be wise to give a probiotic supplement afterwards to replace friendly bacteria in the gut (see Supplements below).

• Take your baby to a homeopath from 2 months for constitutional treatment (see Therapies below).

• Ensure your child drinks pure, clean filtered or bottled water and gets lots of fresh air and exercise.

Don't be obsessed with cleanliness - a little bit of dirt helps to build the immune system.

• Although it is very difficult for working mothers, if you can, try to keep your children at home when they are babies, avoiding day care, which is a breeding ground for infections. The belief that exposing babies to everyday illnesses from a young age boosts their immune systems is untrue and often leads to an increased use of medication.

DIETARY ADVICE - follow a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Below are foods that can strengthen the immune system:

• Fresh organic vegetables, raw, steamed, stir-fried or juiced

• Fresh organic fruit, raw, baked or juiced

• Whole grains (wholemeal bread, pasta, oats, brown rice, millet and quinoa) in the form of cereals, an accompaniment, or in soups and stews

• Nuts and seeds

• Organic poultry and game

• Organic eggs

• Organic cheese and yogurt

• Fresh fish, especially oily fish (organic salmon, herrings, mackerel, tuna, pilchards, anchovies)

• Pulses and beans

• Organic soya products (soya milk, yogurt, tofu and tempeh)

• Non-hydrogenated spreads, or a little butter

• Extra-virgin olive oil for cooking and dressings

• Flaxseed oil added to food, in dressings or in shakes

Below are foods that can weaken the immune system:

• White bread and pasta

• White flour, cakes and biscuits

• Tinned fruit in syrup

• Jelly (except homemade with fresh juice) and packet puddings

• Jams and marmalades (except 100% fruit jams)

• Packet and tinned soup

• Chips (except homemade, baked)

• Crisps

• Fizzy drinks which contain sugar, colour and sweeteners

• Cream and ice cream (except homemade)

• Margarine and processed golden cooking oils

• Caffeine (also found in chocolate)

• Salt

• Alcohol

Ensure your diet is rich in immune-boosting nutrients:

Vitamin A - liver, eggs, full fat dairy products, oily fish.

Beta-carotene (converts into vitamin A in the body) - carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, watercress, apricots, butternut squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe melon, water melon.

Vitamin C - broccoli, parsley, kiwi fruit, citrus fruit, berries, peppers, blackcurrants, Brussels sprouts, papaya, mango.

Vitamin E - avocado, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils, wheat germ, oatmeal.

Selenium - nuts (especially brazil), seeds (especially sesame and Tahini sesame paste), whole grains, seafood.

Zinc - shellfish, poultry (especially dark meat), game, lean red meat, pulses, seeds (especially pumpkin), nuts and nut butters, whole grains, ginger root.

Iron - liver, red meat, eggs, whole grains, green leafy vegetable, beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters, seeds, blackstrap molasses

Calcium - dairy products, fortified soya products, nuts and nut butters (especially almonds), seeds (including Tahini sesame paste), parsley and tinned fish with bones i.e. sardines. Also dark green vegetables like kale and broccoli but these contain only relatively small amounts.

Magnesium - nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, egg yolks, whole grains, dried fruit, garlic

Potassium - watercress, cabbage, celery, courgettes, radishes, cauliflower, mushrooms, pumpkin, molasses, bananas, meat.

Omega 3 - fatty fish, flaxseed, hempseed, walnuts

COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES:

Homeopathy - to support the body naturally, strengthen the immune system and avoid the need for medication consider taking yourself or your child to see a professional homeopath for a constitutional diagnosis. This is where a person's physical and emotional characteristics are taken into account to indicate the appropriate remedies. Your homeopath will then there for you, as and when you need them, for any condition no matter how small. For babies and children seeing a homeopath is an ideal way to avoid using medicines.

Radionics - if you seem unable to obtain a diagnosis for your symptoms through conventional methods, or attempts to improve your health are not working, consider see a practitioner of radionics. Radionics is a method of sending precisely defined healing energy to people, animals or plants. It is entirely compatible with modern physics.

Fundamental to radionics is the view that a living body has a subtle energy field which sustains and vitalises it. If the field is weakened, for example by stress or pollution, then eventually the physical body also becomes weak, leaving it susceptible to illness. The aim of radionics is to identify the weaknesses in this field and to correct them, and thereby alleviate or prevent physical or emotional disease.

SUPPLEMENTS FOR IMMUNE SUPPORT:

NB. Children's dosages: unless otherwise stated children can take an age-appropriate dose of recommended supplements; for children over 17 give the recommended adult dose below; children from 12 to 17 give three-quarters of the adult dose; children from 6 to 12 years give half the adult dose; children from four to six years give one-quarter of the adult dose; children under 4 years use only products specifically for children as stated, or see a registered naturopath or nutritionist.

Probiotics - to replenish levels of friendly bacteria in the gut that support the immune system, take a good probiotic supplement throughout the cold and flu season - see Probiotics. For children's formulas see Probiotics for Babies & Children.

N.B All the probiotics available are formulated in a base of fructo-oligosaccharides (F.O.S) - the substrate on which healthy bacteria feed.

Herbs - take a daily low dose of the immune-boosting herb Echinacea throughout autumn and winter either in tablet, capsule or liquid form. For additional support the liquid formula 'Immunotone' is a combination of herbs designed to support the body particularly through the cold and flu season and can also be taken all year round - see Herbs.

Black Elderberry (sambucus canadenis) is clinically proven contain powerful antioxidants that stimulate the immune system. It can be taken as a low dose all year round or four times a day during illness. 'Sambucol' and 'Elder Berry' are available for adults and children - see Immune System - and 'Sambucol for Kids' for children over the age of one - see Immune System for Babies & Children.

For children from the age of 2 there is 'E-Kid-Nacea' or 'Immuno Kid' which is designed for long-term use as an overall immune tonic and to keep children's sensitive systems in healthy balance. 'Echinacea Complex for Children' and chewable 'Echinacea Junior' tablets are also suitable from 2 years. The 'Organic Echinacea & Cherry Syrup' is suitable for use from 6 months - see Herbs for Babies & Children.

Multi-vitamin - if you don't already take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement every day i.e. one which is natural and not synthetic, and which contains optimum levels of nutrients, then taking one from September through to March would be a very good idea - see Multi-Vitamins and Multi-Vitamins for Babies & Children. Alternatively 'Immunace' is a specially formulated immune-boosting multi-vitamin with specific levels of vitamins A, C & E, minerals and herbs - echinacea, Pau D'Arco, chlorophyll, thyme, juniper berry, Korean ginseng, Irish moss and rosemary - see Immune System.

If you are pregnant see For Pregnancy for prenatal formulas.

Omega 3 - this essential fatty acid is without doubt one of the most important supplements you can take and give to your children, because dietary sources are so limited, and the benefits so many - healthy skin, circulation, joints, immune system and brain function. Ideally take omega 3 all year round, and for the rest of your life - see Essential Fatty Acids and Essential Fatty Acids for Babies & Children.

NB. All recommended fish oil supplements have much higher and therefore more beneficial levels of EPA and DHA than most high street brands, are guaranteed to be free from contaminants such as heavy metals and PCBs or dioxins, and are exceptionally stable guaranteeing freshness and no fishy smell or aftertaste.

Zinc - a daily low dose helps to keep the immune system in good condition and lozenges are ideal. Adults take the 'ImmunActin Zinc Lozenges' - see Minerals. Children take the 'KidZinc Lozenges' with echinacea, olive leaf and slippery elm and 'Nutrisorb® Zinc' is a liquid option suitable for babies and children - see Minerals for Babies & Children.

NB. Do not exceed 100mg of zinc a day. Avoid taking zinc at the same time as consuming citrus fruits or juices - they reduce its effectiveness.

Vitamin C - to boost the immune system adults can take 1000-2000mg of vitamin each day in addition to a multi-vitamin, and children an age-appropriate dose - see Vitamins and Vitamins for Babies & Children.

Herbal Tea - super concentrated 'Cats Claw Tea' contains orange peel, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger  - drink three times a day - see Herbal Tea.

EXTRA SUPPORT:

Goldenseal & Echinacea - the combination of these two herbs creates a very powerful natural immune-booster.  You can use this formula for a maximum of ten days to support the immune system during illness but also afterwards as a tonic. 'E-Kid Nacea Plus' is the childrens formula and is ideal for children over the age of four - see Herbs and Herbs for Babies & Children.  Children below the age of four will need to use just Echinacea products or Citricidal below.

NB. Goldenseal should not be taken if pregnant, breastfeeding, or diabetic, and not for longer than ten days on a daily basis.

Grapefruit Seed Extract (Citricidal) - this should only be taken in these doses when you are unwell.  Adults take 15 drops in water 2-3 times a day. It can be given in an age-appropriate dose to children, but for younger children between the ages of two and four give just 1 drop 1-3 times a day - see Immune System and  Immune System for Babies & Children.

Colostrum - if you or your child are unwell, or you are in the process of recovering from an illness consider taking Colostrum. It is the fluid produced by all female mammals when they give birth, before breast milk is produced and gives powerful immune protection to newborns. When taken as a supplement it can benefit individuals of all ages. Colostrum supplements are produced only from healthy cows, without the risk of contamination through pesticides, hormones or antibiotic residues. The liquid formula is casein free and hypoallergenic and is available from the Nutri Centre on 020 7436 5122. Adults can use the capsules - see Specific Formulations.

Maitake mushroom - this is a  powerful immune-boosting substance. Our demanding lives can take their toll on our immune health. Beta-(1,3/1,6)-D-Glucan from the Oyster mushroom supports healthy immunity and is an ideal support during illness, over-work, after antibiotics and when sensitive to allergens - see ImunoGlukan and Maitake Bio Beta Glucan

NB. This information is in no way intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are unsure as to the suitability of any of the products or recommendations with regard to your condition please consult your doctor. If your doctor does not approve of complementary medicine it may be helpful to find one who does.

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