Regardless of age, going back to school season is a great time to make sure you have a few of the essential health areas covered. We need to focus on four areas: Immune Health, Stress, Sleep, and Memory/Focus. This blog will dive into what supplements can be integrated into your or a loved one’s daily life to ensure you are getting the results you seek. However, before we dive into the supplements to help in these areas, the following are some fundamental tips for supporting your back-to-school concerns.
Diet- Diet changes will play a massive role in your or your child’s health throughout the school year. Of the recommendations listed below, removing sugar and refined foods have the most significant role in supporting a healthy immune system. Examples of refined foods are bagels, most cereals, pasta, “white foods,” etc. Sugar may seem obvious, but most parents only think of candy as being the source of sugar. Sugar and refined foods (convert quickly into sugar) negatively impact your immune system. As a pharmacist, I noticed children would get sick after Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and birthday parties. It wasn’t until I got involved in natural health that I realized why this happened.
Exercise- Getting some daily exercise or activity can significantly improve immune function, decrease stress, and improve sleep and cognition.
Rest- Another key for everyone is keeping your immune system happy. I always say that we are stuck in bed when we are sick because our body is making up for lost time from the past. Getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night will remarkably improve your immune and mental health.
Supplements for Back-to-School Concerns
Immune health seems to have always been a concern, not just because of COVID-19. Keeping your immune system functioning optimally should always be a need. From our little ones who seem to bring every bug home from school to adults heading back to college again, there are several clinically studied supplements to be considered. Here is the shortlist:
Vitamin D: Vitamin D has an impact on the two main branches of our immune system: Innate and Adaptive[i]. Innate immunity is something you are born with and is considered the body’s first line of defense against disease. On the other hand, adaptive immunity develops as we age. As we get exposed to infections, allergens, and vaccines, we produce antibodies to fight off diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and allergens.
Numerous published clinical studies confirm that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of infections.[ii]. Below are a few compelling examples of how low blood levels of vitamin D put you at risk.
Influenza (viral infection)
A therapeutic dose of vitamin D showed that vitamin D administration resulted in a 42% decrease in the incidence of influenza infection.[iii].
Upper respiratory infections
Individuals with lower vitamin D levels (<30 ng/ml) were more likely to self-report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels.[iv].
For the best possible results, I suggest checking your blood levels of vitamin D. A vitamin D test can be purchased online, or you can ask your doctor. Knowing your vitamin D level will help you adjust your dose to reach a healthy range.
Beta-glucan: Before we dive into why you need to consider beta-glucan for immune health, we must understand that there are several forms of beta-glucan. One will do little to support your immune system (Beta-glucans from oats/barley). Beta-glucan from oats/barley, often referred to as beta 1,3/1,4-glucan is excellent for cholesterol but will do little for your immune system. On the other hand, beta-glucans from yeast, mushrooms, and algae in the form of beta-1,3-glucan or beta-1,3/1,6-glucan are ideal for immune support. These supplemental ingredients help modulate your immune system so it is ready to fight when exposed to a “foreign invader.” Examples of named ingredients would be Yeast Source: Wellmune®, Algal Source: BioGlena, Mushroom Source: Chaga (Sibelius™: MyceliAid), Maitake, and Reishi. The key to these ingredients is that they should be taken daily to help prime and activate your immune system to respond. They can take up to 3-days to start working.
We can all agree that going back to school is stressful. However, keeping our stress feelings in check will help you feel better and be in a better mood and help with sleep, cognition, and immune health. My favorite ingredients for stress include affron®, Zembrin®, and ashwagandha (Sensoril® or KSM-66®).
Affron® is a great fit here because it has a clinical study using it in adolescents and adults. Affron® works within the body in multiple ways to address your stress. It does not cause drowsiness and requires a low daily dose of just 28mg. Being safe and effective in children makes this an excellent choice for children 12 and up.
Zembrin®, on the other hand, has been shown to stop or slow the stress impulse where it begins. Slowing the stress impulse helps you stay calm and even improves your ability to concentrate and focus.
Ashwagandha is mother nature’s king of adaptogens. Adaptogens help your body adjust to both physical and emotional stressors. Research with ashwagandha has shown it works in low doses to help relieve feelings from stress and improve cognition, sleep, and support a healthy immune system.
These three ingredients would be excellent if combined in a daily serving.
Sleep is critical for multiple reasons when we discuss back to school. Poor sleep is linked to increased issues with stress, decreased concentration and focus, and weakened immunity. Three ingredients for getting a great night’s sleep come to mind: SibeliusTM: Chamomile, affron®, Levagen®+, and Maizinol.
I believe we all know about the fantastic effects chamomile has on sleep. SibeliusTM: Chamomile is different than most chamomile products because it is Roman chamomile and not German chamomile. SibeliusTM: Chamomile originates from a family farm and possesses significant effects for calming you down while helping you fall asleep. It does cause drowsiness so test it out to see how much you can tolerate it and how you feel in the morning. You can always take it earlier in the evening if you find it makes you groggy in the morning.
Affron® mentioned above in Stress also has studies showing its benefits for sleep. For example, a recent study showed that taking just 14mg one hour before sleeping improved sleep quality and the time it takes to fall asleep.
Levagen®+ works differently than the other two supplements mentioned here and supports the endocannabinoid receptors (it is not CBD). A clinical study showed that taking 350mg 1-hour before sleep improved the time it takes to fall asleep and the time it takes to wake up in the morning.
MaizinolTM studies have shown it improves sleep quality (deep sleep), increases total time asleep, binds to melatonin receptors in the brain (melatonin is considered the sleep hormone), and helps to regulate melatonin production. This is an up-and-coming ingredient for those with sleep issues.
As we can see from the previous sections on stress and sleep, many of those ingredients could easily be used for concentration and focus due to stress and poor sleep’s impact on mental health and cognition. Two of my favorite ingredients for memory and focus are SibeliusTM: Sage and bacopa.
This is by far my favorite (not because I consult for the company who produces it), because it is clinically studied, works fast (less than 1 hour), and you can feel it working. Just 333mg daily (I recommend taking it in the morning before school) has been shown to help improve memory, recognition, recall, focus, and attention speed.
Bacopa- I listed bacopa here in a more generic way because there are several patented extracts of bacopa on the market, all with solid science for cognitive health. Studies with bacopa show improvement in speed of visual information processing, learning rate, memory consolidation, retention of new information, and improvements in working memory.
The suggestions above are not only geared to address the critical areas in which they work but are also intended to be combined. Often, we have underlying issues that link all these areas together, i.e., stress causing sleep and immune problems, getting sick causing you to feel stressed and not sleep well, or a bad night’s sleep weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to being stressed. So, consider taking ingredients from each category above to ensure you are on your way to a healthy and enjoyable school season. In addition, if you aren’t headed back to school but off to work, the same supplements are great for your daily grind.
[i] Aranow C. Vitamin D and the immune system. J Investig Med. 2011;59(6):881–886.
[ii] Cannell JJ, Vieth R, Umhau JC, Holick MF, Grant WB, Madronich S, Garland CF, Giovannucci E, Epidemic influenza and vitamin D., Epidemiol Infect. 2006 Dec; 134(6):1129-40.
[iii] Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, Kurihara M, Wada Y, Ida H, Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren., Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 May; 91(5):1255-60.
[iv] Ginde A, Mansbach J, Camargo C, Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and upper respiratory tract infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey., Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23; 169(4):384-90.