An increasing exposure to toxins from foods, skin products and the environment is making it harder to protect our kids from growing up healthy and leaves many parents with a sense of helpnessness on what to do. But you can do a lot yourself – Dr. Shirley Mirpuri gives you some basic tips that you can use for your kids and family to help live a healthier, less-toxic life.
Over the last 30-40 years, the rise of illnesses that one would usually see in an adult are now surprisingly presenting in children. Before this, it wasn’t common to hear of children having food intolerances, irritable bowel diseases, diabetes, high cholesterol and so on. Food sensitivities, for example, weren’t even a concept back then! So what happened?
As we know, we are in constant exposure to thousands of toxins around us via our environment, personal care products, foods, electronics, accessories, etc. In addition, the nutritious content of food is not the same as it was years ago, especially with the rise of GMO/processed foods and poor quality meats that contain antibiotics and hormones. Our body has an amazing ability to take in and process a lot of things. However, when we overburden it by exposing ourselves to unnecessary toxins and don’t give it the right nutrients needed to eliminate these toxins, that’s when things go wrong and illnesses develop.
How then can we raise our children in today’s world so they have optimal health and well-being? What can we do to our best ability for our kids to live a healthier life? Here are some basic tips that you can do for your kids and family to help live a healthier, less-toxic life:
1. Strengthen that GUT!
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once said ‘All diseases begins in the gut’. You can have the perfect diet and all the right foods, but if your digestion is not functioning optimally, the absorption of nutrients from your foods is poor. Some factors that lead to poor gut function is overuse of certain medications, poor diet, heavy metals, food sensitivities and over-cleanliness.
Almost 80% of our immune system is resides in the gut and children from 0-7 years are at the prime age where their immune system is learning by being introduced to the microbes, good and bad, around them. Frequent use of hand sanitizers or over sanitizing the environment around your child can, for example, do more harm than good for their developing immune system. This is because over sanitizing eradicates not just the bad, but also the good microbes in your body that support a healthy immune system response.
Signs of an unhealthy gut might not be as straightforward as having obvious digestive concerns such as diarrhea, constipation, or stomach aches. Symptoms such as poor concentration, skin rashes, allergies, poor immune function, headaches, hyperactivity or autoimmune diseases can be due to poor gut function. So pay attention to your child’s health concerns as well as their digestion to have an overall assessment of how their gut is functioning.
The best way to have a healthy gut is to provide it with the right foods and to also feed the good bacteria in your gut. A balance between fruits, vegetables, proteins and fats are key to supporting healthy digestion. It is also important to rotate foods so they are not eating the same foods more than 3 times a week. This ensures variety in their diet. If your child has suspected food intolerances, doing an elimination of these foods for a few weeks can significantly help heal the gut.
2. Environmental toxins
These are everywhere! The best way to reduce the toxic burden on our kids is to try and use as many chemical/fragrance free products as you can. Make a list of all the products you use on your child and look for alternatives that are chemical/fragrance free. I am always surprised to see how many products are being used on kids, especially newborn babies. So go through your list and eliminate some of the products that your child may not need. Many health foods and online stores carry more natural solutions for you and your family. Rule of thumb: if you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients, don’t buy it! You can even make it fun by doing some DIY sunscreens, soaps, shampoos, moisturizers and so on! You have all the resources right at your fingertips, (i.e. the internet) so take advantage of that!
3. Limit usage of electronics
My two-year-old niece has a cell phone! I look around at people in the local trains and see about 90% of them looking down at their electronic devices, completely oblivious to the world. I see people at restaurants refraining from conversation because everyone is on their phones. The negative impact of gadgets and devices on our children deserves an article on it’s own. Digital screens and electronic devices certainly have their benefits and there is a wealth of information available for children through them. On the downside, extensive use of electronics can lead to poor cognitive development, vision impairment, poor posture, and impaired social interaction, among other things.
For proper growth and development, children need reciprocal social interaction by engaging with their parents and people around them. The worst thing you can do is playing something on a device to get your child to eat. This distracts them from paying attention to their body on whether they are hungry, and also impairs development of conscious healthy eating habits. It is therefore important to limit electronic usage with your family to your best ability. When you do need to use a device, make sure you change the screen lighting option to night mode. This removes the blue light from screens, which can lead to visual defects and insomnia in a lot of children and adults.
4. Nutritional supplements
In the last 10 years we have seen an exponential growth in the number of natural supplements that are available in the market. While there is no set age from when to start supplementation, it is important to understand the following:
Every body is different. Some supplements may be necessary for one person but may not be the same for another!
Don’t self prescribe! I have so many patients that come in with over 10 supplements that they are already taking because of a recommendation from a friend, the Internet, or some other sources. It is always recommended to go to a qualified health care practitioner who knows how to administer them.
Know the quality! With so many supplements out in the market, be sure you take good quality supplements that have been third party tested to make sure there are no impurities/heavy metals. For example, a recent study found that over 40% of Ayurvedic herbal supplements manufactured in various parts of Asia contained lead and mercury! Yikes!
It is certainly overwhelming when you think about all the harmful things we are doing and exposed to, but every step in the right direction can go a long way for you and your children. Any positive change is better than no change at all!