September is upon us, which means that “back to school” planning is in high gear. This year back to school may look a little different for each family as they navigate through their choices of returning to school, at-home learning or their own unique approach. With Covid-19 protocols now in place for each school board, I think its great timing to discuss what parents and caregivers can do to support their children through these changes. One of the biggest changes will be the frequent hand sanitizing (could be upwards of 10 times a day!), hand washing and disinfecting protocols (in which the cleaners can contain some pretty harsh chemicals). Another is the plethora of new rules to follow, including mask wearing, cohorts and social distancing. While the government and school boards are doing their best to try to get everyone back to school safely, we can’t deny that our children may need extra support to navigate these changes in a way that maintains both their physical and mental health. Being a mom myself, I have thought a lot about this and wanted to share some of my insights.

Here are my top 5 wellness tips for heading into the 2020-2021 school year:

1. Consider the microbiome

Now what the heck is a microbiome you ask? The definition of a microbiome according to Merriam-Webster is “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body. Your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome”.
So why is this so important to know about and consider? Because a healthy, diverse microbiome helps protect us against germs and helps us break down food to release energy. We rely heavily on our microbiome for our immune and digestive health, and the current research continues to prove this fact (1-6). I’ve listed a few examples below:

It has been noted that a decline in our exposure to microbes (or “good bacteria”) due to sanitization, antibiotics and harsh cleaning products can be a factor in the increasing prevalence of atopic diseases like dermatitis, allergy and asthma (4,6).

A recent article published in Virus Research points to the fact that there’s a possible link between gut microbiota and Covid-19 outcomes stating that “improving gut microbiota profile by personalized nutrition and supplementation known to improve immunity can be one of the prophylactic ways by which the impact of this disease can be minimized…” (1).

We also need to consider our immune and digestive health beyond COVID-19 parameters, as another research article states that the “effects of disturbed gut microbiota on associations between home use of cleaning products and life-long health consequences have been documented…further study is required to assess the effect of massive use of cleaning products during COVID-19 pandemic on long-term host health mediated by the altered microbiota” (2).

2. Provide healthy food options with an emphasis on whole foods, colorful fruits & vegetables, prebiotic and probiotic foods

Prebiotics are coumpounds in food that induce the growth of beneficial bacteria (the probiotics) and therefore prebiotic foods are a great way to maintain the health of your microbiome. Some prebiotic foods include: garlic, ground flax, chia seeds, oats, bananas, chicory root, honey, asparagus, leeks, onions, whole grains, legumes, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, potatoes, yams, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, marine algae (spirulina, chlorella), and mushrooms.

Probiotics can be found in supplements and can be beneficial to take in that form as long as they are individualized to age, dose and strains of bacteria (its best to speak with a Naturopathic Doctor before dosing probiotics). They can also be found in lower amounts in foods such as yogurt (plain, organic is best – with added berries, maple syrup or honey for taste – many yogurts have so much added sugar that the health detriments outweigh the benefits), pickles, kimchi, kombucha, miso, kefir, sauerkraut and tempeh.

It’s also important to minimize foods that can disrupt gut microbiota such as refined sugars, overly processed or fried foods, alcohol, and foods containing antibiotics (like factory raised meat and dairy products).

3. Supplement with immune boosting probiotics, vitamins and herbs

There are many natural & effective ways to boost immunity, but it’s always recommended to speak with a Naturopathic Doctor before starting any new protocols to assure safety and efficacy. Its best to start with a healthy diet and supplement from there based on individual needs. My 3 favourite immune boosters for children include vitamin D, child-specific probiotics, and immune boosting glycerite tinctures (these contain herbs that I compound individually at my office, but there are some generic options available at health food stores as well).

4. Provide a calm and reassuring presence

Our children are constantly aware of the attitudes and emotions of their parents and caregivers. They look to us to be their safety net, and regardless of whether we vocalize our stress or anxiety, they definitely pick up on it. That said, I love the idea provided on conscious parenting expert Dr. Shefali’s website “As parents, we need to take responsibility for ourselves, our actions, our attitudes. Only when we are able to do that, can we begin to live authentically and thus model that for our children.” This is so important; if we expect our children to adapt to change in a calm and resilient manner, we need to do our best to model that behaviour for them.

“Your child will follow your example, not your advice”

This does not mean that you have to be the “perfect” parent, that you can never feel stress or show emotion; it simply means that we need to do our best to show up as calm, present and connected parents. This may bring to light that you have your own inner work to do; if that’s the case be thankful that your children are bringing this to awareness (children are our greatest teachers 🙂 ) and don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

5. Ensure adequate sleep

Aim to provide a structured and calming bedtime routine for your children, as numerous studies have proven the benefits of a good night’s sleep, including:
– Immune boosting properties
– Boosting memory and focus
– Uplifting mood and enhancing resilience to stress

If your child struggles with sleep there are natural ways to help reset a healthy sleep pattern such as turning off all screens and bright lights at least 1/2 hour before bed, creating a consistent bedtime routine, reading books and encouraging deep breathing or meditation practices. If that isn’t enough, be sure to reach out to a Naturopathic Doctor for individualized support.

In conclusion, remember that children are adaptive and resilient humans! Try not to stress about all the changes, and instead focus on supporting them by “feeding” their microbiome, providing them healthy whole foods, supplementing with immune-boosting vitamins & herbs, providing a calm & safe home life (without the use of harsh chemicals), and structuring a healthy bedtime routine.

Yours in health,
Dr. Alison Parsons, ND

References:
1. Gut Microbiota and Covid-19-possible link and implications. Virus Res. 2020 Aug: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32430279/
2. The most important challenges ahead of microbiome pattern in the post era of the COVID-19 pandemic: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7332307/
3. Effect of Postnatal Low-Dose Exposure to Environmental Chemicals on the Gut Microbiome in a Rodent Model: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303834316_Effect_of_Postnatal_Low-Dose_Exposure_to_Environmental_Chemicals_on_the_Gut_Microbiome_in_a_Rodent_Model
4. Too clean, or not too clean: the Hygiene Hypothesis and home hygiene: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448690/
5. Triclosan Exposure Is Associated with Rapid Restructuring of the Microbiome in Adult Zebrafish: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4871530/
6. Probiotics, immunity and pediatric health: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22352124/