“Parenting is one of the most severe environmental challenges anyone willingly puts themselves through,” says Dr Adrian Liston. “It makes sense that it radically rewires the immune system.”
Dr Liston, a researcher at the Belgian research institute VIB and KU Leuven, has found that having kids takes a greater impact on your immune system than suffering from gastroenteritis.
“Parenting does more to our body than just gives us grey hairs,” Dr Liston says. “I think that any parents of a nursery- or school-age child can appreciate the effect a child has on your immune system!’
This diagnosis will come as zero surprise to any beleaguered dad who’s discovered he’s decidedly less physically chipper since having kids. Suddenly you find yourself getting more sniffles and less sleep while the demands on your time keep ratcheting up.
“Not only do you probably get more colds and flus because the kids are picking them up and bringing them home, but your stress levels are probably higher than they once were,” says nutritionist Rick Hay.
“You’ve got to take care of the kids, you’ve got more work/ life juggling to do and your nervous system cops a bit of a beating.”
What you need is the opportunity to recharge. A relaxing chunk of downtime to rest up and give your mind and body a well-deserved breather. But obviously that’s not going to happen. You’re a dad remember? You’ve no choice but to grimly soldier on.
That’s why you might want to consider taking a few key supplements to bolster your immune system and support your general health. Hay, an anti-ageing and fitness nutritionist who lectures at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London, offers these suggestions to help you stay healthy and feel marginally less frazzled throughout the winter months.
If you’re stressed out or having trouble sleeping
“You need to take care of your own nervous system. Supplements like magnesium give your nervous system a nice bit of support to help you sleep,” Hay says.
Magnesium is a natural sedative that reduces the levels of stress hormone cortisol in your body and will enable you to drift off quicker and stay asleep longer. “It helps muscles relax, it helps with tight muscles, it helps with stress, it helps with sleep,” says Hay
There are plenty of magnesium supplements out there, but go for one that ends in –ate like magnesium citrate, lactate and gluconate as those forms are easier for your body to absorb.
Aim for 200mg per day, Hay suggests, “you could go up to 400 milligrams if you’re feeling particularly stressed.”
If you’re always catching your kids’ colds
“During winter, Vitamin D and Vitamin C would be a great thing to take,” says Hay.
Vitamin D is renowned for helping to bolster your immune system thereby warding off sickness. “What’s brilliant about Vitamin C is that it’ll help to shorten the length and severity of your cold or flu, but it will also provide support your adrenal glands, which is important when, let’s face it, the world is a bit stressed at the moment.”
An added bonus of Vitamin C is that it might even help you look a touch perkier, too. Hay explains that it’s proven to support the production of collagen that adds strength and elasticity to your skin. “When you’re feeling a bit run down, you’re going to get more wrinkles around your eyes.”
If you’re just feeling plain zapped
“If your immune system is really run down, then I always throw in some medicinal mushrooms,” says Hay. “There’s lots of research around their benefits.”
Specific types of mushroom are particularly good for you. Hay recommends Reishi, Shiitake and Cordyceps for their immune system benefits.
Before you start planning your next mushroom omelette, bear in mind that most of these won’t be found in your local grocer, but are available as supplements that have concentrated amounts of their active compounds.
“I really rate the medicinal mushroom world,” Hay adds. “They’ll give your overall health a bit of support.”