Supplement Ingredients That May Help Support Children’s Immune Health

There is no doubt that 2020 was a year of change and uncertainty, and many businesses were unable to thrive in societies disrupted in a myriad of ways. But a few industries flourished, including the Dietary Supplement market. Though the marketplace for supplements from 2014-2019 was strong, with a growth rate of around 3% worldwide, 2020 brought a surge, leading to a projected CAGR of 8.3% between 2020-2027. (https://apnews.com/press-release/business-wire/business-coronavirus-pandemic-asia-economy-europe-558c7a289b6b43729352705bf1094f2a) Much of this growth can be attributed to an increased interest in products that support immune health.  

The consumer’s increased interest in immune health encompasses the entire family, including very young and school-aged children, especially as communities transition back into in-person classroom learning and parents return to their office environments, necessitating the need for daycare facilities.  Just like adults, the immune systems of children benefit from a healthy diet, plenty of rest, exercise and basic good hygiene.  But many parents and caregivers are looking for additional support through supplementation.  As a result, there have been large increases in the purchase of multivitamins along with products containing exclusively vitamin C, vitamin D or zinc. Some of the growth in these ingredients can be attributed to their familiarity with the consumer. Though these ingredients do play a role in keeping the immune system in tip-top shape, there may be other ingredients that can add an extra level of immune support.  

For example, there are several botanical ingredients that have risen to the forefront because of their safety in children and benefits in providing additional support to the immune system.  One of the most popular is elderberry.  Elderberry is an immune booster, so it is best used after a child has contracted an infection to give the natural healing process an additional boost. 

Children are especially vulnerable to upper respiratory infections, so diligence in taking measures to reduce this susceptibility can help decrease the incidence of many common health issues. Most pathogens that enter the body do so through the nose and mouth, and this fact alone makes children vulnerable to almost continuous immune system challenges, as they are less likely to be attentive to handwashing and keeping their hands away from their face (and the faces of others around them).  Therefore, it is critical that attention be paid to the health of the oral cavity.   

The oral cavity of healthy individuals is home to around 700 species of bacteria, most of which reside only in this location.  They help protect the teeth and gums, and some species also help guard the body against pathogenic species that cause common throat and middle ear infections.  Unfortunately, not everyone has a healthy oral cavity microbiome.  Even in children, genetics and the use of medications, particularly antibiotics, can negatively impact the colonies of these protective bacteria. Probiotics derived from human-sourced species that are known to have a beneficial effect on upper respiratory health and have been proven to be safe for young children, can be particularly helpful as an adjunct to other hygienic measures.   

One such probiotic, derived from the human strain, Streptococcus salivarius K12, is BLIS K12™.  This probiotic is supported by multiple clinical trials, most conducted in young children.  Many of these studies focus on the benefits of BLIS K12 in drastically decreasing the incidence of throat and middle ear complaints that are common in childhood. A meta-analysis published in 2019 included seven of the published studies. (Nutrafoods (2019) 2:80-88). 

Young children can also be vulnerable to gastrointestinal problems, especially very young children whose gut microbiomes are just developing and being populated with protective intestinal bacteria. Therefore, support for the GI tract is also extremely beneficial, especially those who have taken repeated doses of antibiotics. Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii have been shown to be both safe and effective in treating antibiotic associated diarrhea. (Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (2017) 20(3):139-146) Fiber, particularly prebiotic fiber can also be very helpful in supporting the gut and encouraging a healthy gut immune response in children.  Fortunately, tastier options are becoming more available.  

Gastrointestinal health can also be supported with a postbiotic.  Postbiotics are the byproducts of fermentation produced by probiotic bacteria. They can include the cell-free nutrient media alone that contains beneficial enzymes, proteins and peptides, short chain fatty acids and vitamins, etc.; or they could also include the inactivated microbial cells of the source probiotic.  These beneficial powerhouses exhibit all the benefits of their probiotic source, but with the advantage of shelf and gastric stability. One postbiotic that has been extensively studied in children is Lactobacillus LB (tradename LBiome™).  This postbiotic has been around for over a century and has been the focus of numerous studies for its pediatric digestive benefits, including benefits in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea. (Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology (2020) 13:1756284820971201; Singapore Family Physician (2010) 36(4):46-49). 

Supporting the immune system of our families should be an important consideration when making lifestyle and dietary choices. And immune system support has taken on additional significance within the last year as the world struggled, and continues to struggle, through a global health crisis.  Fortunately, there are lifestyle practices we can adopt, dietary changes we can make and supplements we can take that can give us and our families the best hope for remaining healthy now and in the years ahead.