How your child's immune system works and four ways prebiotics can give it a boost

How your child's immune system works and four ways prebiotics can give it a boost

How your child's immune system works and four ways prebiotics can give it a boost

Here is a fun yet not so fun fact – toddlers and pre-schoolers get anywhere close to eight to 10 colds a year. No wonder it is called ‘common’ cold.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, even an innocent sneeze or fever can raise stress level for parents.

But what manifests as a simple cold or fever and eventually clear up is actually the result of a full-fledged war in your child’s body.

The war between their immune system and the invading bacteria or virus.

Components of the immune system

Our immune system is as complex as it can get but let's look at a simplified story.

There are two main parts of our immune system
• The innate immune system – the immunity all of us are born with and
• The adaptive immune system – which as the name says is an adaptive response when we come across different virus, bacteria, yeast, and all the infectious agent out there.

The innate immune system is the first line of action. It is super quick to respond to emergency and works quickly to block the entry and neutralize the invader. The skin, the eye's cornea, and the slimy membrane that lines our respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts.

Special cells called phagocytes present here literally gobble up the bacteria/virus killing them. Children inherit this immunity right from the time they are born.

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The adaptive immune system, with the help from innate immunity, make special cells called antibodies to remember and fight a particular bacteria or virus. When your child goes for vaccination.

Gut – the largest immune organ in the body

Did you know that our gut is one of the largest immune organs in the body? It hosts about two-thirds of the overall immune tissues and produces more than three quarters of immunity boosting immunoglobulins.

Dynamic interactions in the gut – with food and gut bacteria – helps shape our overall immunity.

Prebiotics – what are they and how do they help with immunity?

Talking of gut and immunity, it is important to mention prebiotics. Prebiotics are actually food ingredients which resist digestion and pass as it in to the large intestine. It is here that they are fermented by the good gut bugs. Prebiotics naturally occur in breast milk and in foods such as banana, barley, wheat, onion etc in low amounts.

In supplements, prebiotics are added as Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS).

Here is how prebiotics help with immunity

Training the immune system: Prebiotics in the intestine are fermented to release some metabolites. These metabolites ‘train’ the gut-based immune system to tolerate some bacteria and to fight off the disease causing ones
Reducing infections: Studies have found prebiotics to reduce the number of gut and respiratory infections in children
Reducing inflammation: Inflammation has been named as one of the principal reasons for developing a host of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, even cancer. Long-term inflammation is known to negatively affect immunity. Prebiotics and their fermentation by-products have shown to reduce inflammation
Better absorption of nutrients: Prebiotics have shown to improve absorption of nutrients such as calcium and iron among others. Better nutrition means better health to fight off infections

Taking care of your child’s gut and overall health is the starting point to have robust immunity. Eating fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, consuming whole grains and choosing the right kind of fat can go a long way in nourishing your child’s health and building their immunity.

Dr Suresh Kumar Panuganti is lead consultant, Pediatrics and Pediatric Critical Care, Yashoda Hospital