Beyond Echinacea and Vitamin C:
If you’ve had your fill of taking your child to the doctor’s office for upper respiratory tract infections or ear infections, you might want to see if it’s a lack of exercise, poor diet or too much body fat.
Echinacea, Vitamin C and a course of antibiotics are the ‘cure’. Albeit, these compounds have their place, but to really employ preventative measures, get your children exercising.

What research has shown
In 2003, Brock University researchers (Cieslak et al) in St. Catherines published an interesting study titled “Effects of physical activity, body fat, and salivary cortisol on mucosal immunity in children”.
In the past, moderate exercise in children has been shown to enhance cell mediated immunity and increase secretory IgA (SIgA), leading to improved ability to fight against infections and these researchers wanted to find out for themselves if this was true.
They undertook to examining the effects of physical activity, body fat, and salivary cortisol on mucosal immunity in fifth grade students (29 boys and 32 girls). (Mucosa refers to the inner lining of your digestive tract, esophagus and part of the inner ear.)
The study looked at the role of exercise and immunity. They analyzed the amount of exercise the children did by measuring how many steps the children took per day, using a Digi-Walker pedometer. The researchers not only measured the level of fitness of each child, they also measured salivary cortisol levels, Secretory IgA and body fat percentages.

The results:
“Children who spent more time in sport activities and had higher aerobic fitness reported fewer sick days, whereas children with relative body fat exceeding 25% reported significantly more sick days than the rest of the cohort.”

Other research findings
Other studies have shown increase in oxidative stress and a depressed immune function in certain children. This negative impact of exercise on immunity is explained by Malm et al, (2004) who looked at the effects of acute exercise on neutrophils and plasma oxidative stress.
Some of the children had increases in overall immune response, but others had a depressed immune response over various time periods. The researchers concluded that the children who had the lowest oxygen capacity displayed negative outcomes.
This implies that children with high aerobic capacity had a “boost” in immune function while the children in the lower oxygen capacity groups had “depressed” immune function, when involved in the same type of exercise. Kids that are out of shape may not respond well to vigorous physical activity.
Finally, other researchers have demonstrated that moderate physical activity reduces the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) by as much as 30% (Klentrou 2002, Matthews 2002).

A message to take home
If your kids are overweight and out of shape, start slowly. Increase the exercises over time to get them physically fit before doing any rigorous sports. Maybe buy a bike and go around the block a few times. Then try to get them to join a team sport.
Take a look at your grocery cart. If there is an abundance of processed and packaged foods in your cart, start changing your diet slowly by adding in fresh fruit and vegetables as snack alternatives.

George Tardik B.Sc.(hon), RHN, RNCP, (ND cand.) has been practicing nutrition for 10 years. He is a fourth year intern at the Canadian College of Naturopathic medicine’s RSNC clinic. He’s been featured on CBC’s Newsworld, Marketplace and Sports Journal. George specializes in metabolism, weight-loss, diabetes and sports nutrition. He practices out of Nature’s Source. For booking appointments, please call 416.242.8500.