As parents and children head into a new school year in which in-person learning will once again be the norm, we as health care practitioners need to prepare ourselves for advising parents on how to protect themselves and their children.
The Delta variant and other variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are grabbing headlines these days, but we also need to consider the fact that older pathogens like Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are still out there. And flu season has begun early this year.
We need to do all we can to help families support their immune systems prior to returning to the classroom.
The Mucosal Immune System
The mucosal immune system is the body’s first line of defense, providing resistance to bacterial and viral infections. It’s vital that kids keep their mucosal immune system strong, especially as they head back to school. Since approximately 70% of the immune system resides in the gut, microbial-host interactions are important factors in the development and maintenance of host immunity. One of the best ways we can help kids strengthen their immunity is to investigate, assess, and optimize gut health and strengthen epithelial barriers.
There’s a plethora of research, as well as clinical experience, showing the importance of gut barrier integrity. This is especially important for those with chronic disease, who are already more vulnerable to infections. Good gut health will also boost the immune system. We need to look at these interactions when working with patients to bolster their immunity and use the tools that we have for assessing gut barrier function.
Diet & Lifestyle Factors
Summer is a time for fun and freedom, but with that can come eating and behavioral habits that are not best-suited for boosting the mucosal immune system. Before kids head back to school, it is important for families to encourage healthful living patterns that include:
- Getting enough sleep: For school-aged children this could mean eight to 13 hours per night.
- Reducing stress through support and building positive coping strategies.
- Making sure they are fully hydrated: Water is key! Reduce the summer splurge of sugary sodas and juices. With school-aged kids, aim for five to eight cups of water per day.
- Making healthy food choices: Get the right balance of protein, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t forget the fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut, while limiting added sugar, processed grains, and inflammatory “vegetable” oils, like soybean oil.
- The right amount and appropriate type of exercise.
- Practicing nasal breathing as opposed to mouth breathing.
Proper nutrition is essential for building and supporting the mucosal immune system. A well-balanced diet will be a huge part of this equation, but a multi-vitamin that supports digestive and immune health is also helpful. Ensure that children have sufficient levels of vitamin D, vitamin A, omega-3s, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, cysteine (n-acetylcysteine) and magnesium. All are vital to supporting the mucosal immune system.
Because mucosal immunity is centered largely in the GI tract, it is reasonable to focus on measuring the integrity and functional status of the gut. Cyrex Laboratories, a high-complexity clinical lab specializes in innovative tests to detect and monitor functional immunology. Cyrex has developed a test panel that can give practitioners insights into the mucosal immunity status of their patients.
The Array 14 Mucosal Immune Reactivity Screen™ evaluates gastrointestinal reactivity to various foods, chemicals and other potentially damaging substances. This test may also reveal compromised immune tolerances suggestive of leaky gut, food sensitivities, and poor mucosal immune system function. The Array 14 test is a simple painless salivary collection that covers:
|Total Secretory IgA||Wheat Germ Agglutinin|
|Native & deaminated Alpha-Gliadin-33-mer||Aflatoxin|
|Myelin basic protein||Mixed Heavy Metals|
|Blood-Brain Barrier protein||Immune Complex|
Advanced tests like the Array 14 can help us identify stressors to the mucosal immune system and provide guidance on lifestyle and diet practices to improve immune balance, ensuring that both children and parents are better prepared for the increased exposure to a variety of germs that is likely to occur once in-person schooling starts up again.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has specific interest in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally-induced chronic disease. Dr. Larson serves as an advisor and consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories
Mark Engelman, MD, is the Director of Clinical Consulting for Cyrex Laboratories. He is also the Founder and President of the Engelman Health Institute. For 23 years, he has served as the director of St. Joseph’s Medical Center emergency department; He is a past president of the Maricopa County American Heart Association. He is also the Founder and CEO of AmeriMed American Hospitals in Mexico.