Norovirus seems to be circling like a vulture this winter, and parents in droves are calling in to the school nurse and keeping their kids at home.
One of my children asked me why people are more likely to get sick in the winter than the summer. In general, it is because people spend more time indoors in close quarters, where they breathe recycled air, touch the same surfaces and therefore more easily spread germs. The parched air also dries our sinuses, causing irritation and prompting our bodies to make more mucus to soothe the irritation. This extra mucus is a breeding ground for the bacteria in the air and a landing pad for norovirus to swoop in for the kill.
If a body, specifically its immune system, is strong, it should be able to stare down any cold virus without blinking. But if the immune system is stressed, overtired or weakened, that cold virus will stalk its prey and win every time.
So here are some tips on how to keep kids and their immune systems healthy during winter. Adults can follow the advice, too.
Sugar has been shown to suppress our immune system by lowering our white blood cells’ ability to engulf bacteria, which can lead to more instances of colds, flu and other illnesses. This effect can start as soon as 30 minutes after sugar consumption and last up to five hours.
Many children unconsciously slow their water intake during the winter, perhaps because they rarely sweat in the colder temperatures. Yet water washes bacteria and viruses from our throats and through our digestive tracts before they have time to set up shop and do damage. So make sure your children drink lots of water.
BEFRIEND BONE BROTH
Often called the miracle food, bone broth is nutrition in its most absorbable, operational form. It boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation — such as a sore throat or a norovirus-damaged stomach — washes away germs in the mouth and digestive tract, builds the gut lining, contributes to restorative sleep and fights infection. Make soup with it, boil rice or pasta in it and drink it warmed with a sprinkle of pepper.
FEED ON PRE- AND PROBIOTICS
Prebiotic foods such as garlic, onions, artichokes, avocado and cider vinegar act as nourishment for the good bacteria in our digestive tract. We need the good bacteria to be strong enough to do their job of fighting off the viruses and harmful bacteria. At the same time, probiotic foods such as miso, sauerkraut, pickles and kombucha are fermented and deliver the good bacteria directly into the digestive tract, boosting our immune function and enabling us to ward off illness.
DEVOUR VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Vitamins such as A, C and D are supreme immune boosters that empower our bodies to fight off colds, while zinc helps create and activate our immune system’s white blood cells. So gobble up citrus, leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables such as carrots and squash, and nuts and seeds.
The long nights and short days of winter are nature’s way of insisting we get more rest. The body’s metabolic rate naturally slows, encouraging slower, less-active behavior. Try to put your kids in their nests a little earlier than normal and see how greedily their bodies lap up the extra sleep.
Casey Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a Washington-based nutrition education company.