Back to school immunity

Back to school immunity

When we are born we have an ‘innate’ immune system, provided by our mothers and our genetic material, but this is soon supplemented by a ‘learned’ immune system. This is because after we are born our bodies learn gradually to defeat the many thousands of pathogenic (‘bad’) bacteria and viruses that we encounter daily. This is one reason why children get ill so much. By the time children are in their pre school years, much of this learned immune system is up and running, but there are plenty of ways in which we can support our children’s immunity, reducing the duration and severity of many of the illnesses they are battling with. Most parents know that one critical time when kids tend to get ill is at the beginning of a new school term. During the holidays, most of us travel, visit relatives, or go on holiday with our families. At these times our children will encounter various cold viruses and other pathogens, some of which may be completely unknown to their budding immune systems. While the immune system of each individual child may be able to handle a number of these new attacks and defeat them without showing symptoms or getting ill themselves, when they enter a classroom full of children and teachers who have all picked up new viruses, their immune systems may be finally overrun, the battle is lost, and they ‘get’ that stinker of a cold! This is why it really is a good idea to keep your child at home if they are ill, and to isolate them from other children. You can help your child to fight off many of the bugs they encounter, and reduce their duration of illness by making sure they eat well, drink plenty of fluids, sleep well, and by giving them a number of immune boosting supplements too…

Children’s Multivitamin Supplements

A good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can be one good way of ensuring that your child is getting basic levels of all the main nutrients they need for a healthy immune system. They can be especially useful if your child is a fussy eater, or if their appetite is affected by illness. For children aged two and above, Nature’s Plus Source of Life Animal Parade chewable multi’s are great. They come in a variety of flavours (Natural Cherry, Orange or Assorted Fruit) and they are in fun animal shapes too. Each chewable tablet supplies vitamins and minerals, as well as whole foods, including apple, pineapple, carrot, broccoli, whole brown rice and spinach. Combining the natural goodness of whole foods with a balanced profile of nutrients makes Animal Parade a well-rounded food supplement. They are gluten free, suitable for vegetarians and made with real colours and flavours. As well as being free from artificial colours and preservatives, they are free from just about every allergen you can think of (milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, peanuts, soyabeans, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin, mollusc, sulphur dioxide and sulphites!). They are sweetened with a little sucrose and fructose. There is a sugar free ‘Gold’ version too, which contains a small amount of added probiotic bacteria, digestive enzymes and essential fats and is sweetened with Xylitol. If you think that a powder might be more suitable for your child than chewable tablets, you can’t do much better than Biocare Children’s Complete Multinutrient. Suitable for children from 6 months old, this banana and vanilla flavour powder can be easily mixed with cool drinks or sprinkled onto food. It’s sweetened with Xylitol too and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Alternatively, Viridian Viridikid is ideal for slightly older children, and is available in tiny vegetable capsules that are easy to swallow.


Black Elderberry is native to Europe and North America where the fruit has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Only ripe fruit are used medicinally as unripe fruit and other parts of the plant are poisonous. In Western herbal medicine elderberry syrup is used for respiratory problems and for fighting infections. Like many remedies remembered in folklore, the use of elderberry for the treatment of colds and flu appears to be entirely justified by modern research (1,2). In one study, both adults and children using elderberry extract recovered faster from influenza than those receiving a placebo. Elderberries are rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins and are also a source of the immune boosting bioflavonoid quercetin. Biocare Children’s Elderberry Complex may be used for children from one year old. This delicious fruity liquid also contains immune boosting nutrients zinc and vitamin C and can be easily added to drinks or mixed into food. It’s free from artificial flavours, colours and sweeteners, but is sweetened with fructose so it’s quite palatable to most children. Sambucol For Kids + Vitamin C is also free from artificial colours or flavours and is even sweeter as it’s sweetened with glucose syrup.

Children’s Probiotic

All babies are born with a sterile gut. After birth, babies naturally introduce bacteria to their gut through the breastmilk or formula they drink and later, through the food they eat. These bacteria are an important part of the way that humans digest food, but they also play an important role in your child’s developing immune system (3,4). There haven’t to date been any full-scale clinical trials proving the benefits of giving children probiotic bacteria in supplement form, but a small double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled pilot study with children aged 3–6 years conducted in 2014 achieved very promising results (5). In the pilot study, a group of 57 children of pre- school age were given a probiotic / vitamin C combination or a placebo. The researchers concluded that there were ‘Significant reductions in the incidence rate of upper respiratory tract infection’ in the control group and that ‘Supplementation with a probiotic/vitamin C combination may be beneficial in the prevention and management of upper respiratory tract infections.’ In fact, the incidence rate of absence from preschool in the active group was 30% lower than in the placebo group. The study, known as the ProChild study took place over a six-month period throughout autumn and winter. The probiotic and vitamin C combination used in the study is commercially available as ProVen Probiotics Fit for School in chewable tablets that have been specially formulated for children aged 4-16 years old. Each tablet contains 12.5 billion of the unique Lab4 acidophilus and bifidus friendly bacteria combined with 50mg vitamin C. Each natural strawberry flavoured tablet also contains 200mg of Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – a prebiotic which provides a food source to support the reproduction of the friendly bacteria in your child’s gut. They are suitable for children aged 4 – 16, and don’t require refrigeration. They contain no added artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. There are many other good probiotics for children on the market, and so it should be easy to find one that your child will like. Quest Kidz Biotix is another good chewable with a blackcurrant flavour, and there are powders available too – such as Viridian Synerbio Children’s Powder (suitable from aged 1).

Vitamin C

Most of us know that vitamin C is important for the immune system and may be good for fighting off colds and flu. Despite the confusing messages that appear in the media regarding the potential benefits of vitamin C supplements, the weight of scientific evidence still supports the use of supplements when you are ill. A review of 21 controlled trials in 1994 found that in all of them the results were positive, and that vitamin C reduced the duration of episodes and the severity of the symptoms of the common cold by an average of 23% (6). The amount of vitamin C to take for the effective treatment of colds remains in debate and may be as high as 1-3 grams per day for adults, which is significantly higher than the 120 to 200 mg per day that has been suggested as an optimal intake for healthy adults. Interestingly it appears that vitamin C supplementation produces a greater benefit for children than for adults (7), so in my opinion it is certainly worth giving your children vitamin C rich foods and supplements when they are ill. Try Nature’s Plus Animal Parade chewable vitamin C tablets, which are sugar free, or Nature’s Aid Mini Drops Vitamin C, which provides 100mg vitamin C per 1ml. Nature’s Aid also provide an excellent combination of immune boosting zinc and vitamin C together in a blackcurrant flavour liquid called Mini Drops Immune Plus.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium and is important for healthy bones and teeth, but it is now also known to be essential for the immune system. This is because it triggers and arms the body’s T cells, the cells in the body that seek out and destroy any invading bacteria and viruses (8). Without it, these crucial defenders of the body simply cease to activate. Vitamin D deficiency is now thought to affect a quarter of children across the UK. Possible explanations for this are the extensive use of sunscreen by parents anxious about skin cancer, children spending more time playing computer games and watching TV indoors, and poor levels in the diet. Professor Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), has stated that a ‘Lack of vitamin D is related to a plethora of serious illnesses in children and adults that could be prevented through relatively simple steps such as taking supplements.’ Some research seems to support this view – in a 2010 double-blind study of children with an average age of ten years, supplementation with 1,200 IU per day of vitamin D for 15 to 17 weeks during the winter significantly reduced the incidence of flu by 42%, compared with a placebo (9). Better You Dlux Junior Vitamin D Daily Oral Spray is suitable for children aged 3 and over and is quick and easy to use (your child just has to spray it in their mouth, one spray per day). The spray has a natural peppermint flavour that most children like, and it is suitable for vegetarians. Another good alternative is Viridian Viridikid Vitamin D Drops, which contains a vegan source of D3 and is flavoured with natural orange oil (It can be added to food or drink or taken under the tongue).


1. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Alt Compl Med 1995;1:361–9.
2. Zakay-Rones, Z; Thom, E; Wollan, T; Wadstein, J Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.The Journal of International Medical Research (2004). 32 (2): 132–40.
3. Galdeano CM, Cazorla SI , et al Beneficial Effects of Probiotic Consumption on the Immune System. Ann Nutr Metab 2019;74(2):115-124. doi: 10.1159/000496426. Epub 2019 Jan 23.
4. Yousefi B, Eslami M, et al. Probiotics importance and their immunomodulatory properties. J Cell Physiol 2019 Jun;234(6):8008-8018. doi: 10.1002/jcp.27559. Epub 2018 Oct 14.
5. Garaiova I, Muchová J, Nagyová Z, et al. Probiotics and vitamin C for the prevention of respiratory tract infections in children attending preschool: a randomized controlled pilot study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014), 1–7. 2014.
6. Hemilä H. Does vitamin C alleviate the symptoms of the common cold?—a review of current evidence. Scand J Infect Dis 1994;26:1–6.
7. Hemilä H. Vitamin C supplementation and common cold symptoms: factors affecting the magnitude of the benefit. Med Hypotheses 1999;52:171–8.
8. Redf: Arash Hossein-nezhad, Avrum Spira, Michael F. Holick. Influence of Vitamin D Status and Vitamin D3 Supplementation on Genome Wide Expression of White Blood Cells: A Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trial. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (3): e58725 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058725
9. Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:1255-60.
Scroll to Top