Monday, September 14, 2020

PSA: Avoid Sugar When Fighting Illness

My son started coughing last weekend. That’s OK. He is 4 years old and his immune system is still very much developing. That said, my daughter’s friend brought a special treat (cookie cake) to a play date at our house and, even though it upset my son, I wouldn’t let him partake. On Labor Day, we gathered with friends for a float (down the river) trip and special treats (cookies) were offered. I managed to keep my son away from those too. By Tuesday morning, the cough was on its way out.

The refined sugar found in candy, cookies, cake, etc. suppresses the immune system and generally decreases the normal functioning of the very well oiled machine that is the human body. So, when already exhibiting signs – like coughing – that your immune system is fighting a stronger opponent, then one of the best supports you can provide your body is to avoid the various things that slow down immune response, like special treats.

Unfortunately, when I picked up my son from pre-school on Wednesday, I learned that he had consumed two chocolate doughnuts in honor of a classmate’s birthday. His teacher told me that his nose had been running. It was a safe assumption that the elimination of his cough – or, more importantly, the underlying agent causing it – was no longer imminent. Sure enough, the cough continued and got worse. Two days later, he had a brownie and some cheese puffs (not so sugary, but loaded with its own destructive materials) at pre-school for another birthday party. Unsurprisingly, his cough is actually peaking one week after it started instead of going away.

I certainly don’t blame anyone for this, but this is a prime example of the battle for health that we face, ladies and gentlemen. Kids are sicker today that at any point in the last 50 years. Let that sink in and then ask the obvious question, “Why?”

Many things shape our terrible American health system, but one of the least talked about dynamics is the simple lack of education on how to stay healthy. “Sugar feeds infection” is not common knowledge; it should be. Nutritional education is virtually non-existent.

Ideally, it would be written into the by-laws of every school that if a child was showing overt signs of fighting illness, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have sugary snacks, regardless of the occasion; the few minutes of being upset is well worth a healthier kid first of all, but there is also the domino effect to consider – if the immune system of one child is suppressed, then the infection gets stronger and more likely to effect other kids who are simultaneously suppressing their immune systems with the special treats (this is one of the primary ways that infection spreads, by the way). Frankly, as a parent, I’d like to be informed of the junk food my child is set to consume so that I can give my consent for it and help them prepare for it by counteracting it with constructive, nutritional foods before and after. Until health education improves, those things won’t happen.

On the bright side, just as sugar fuels infection, watching my kids stay sicker for longer fuels my fire to ramp up the educational process and further stimulate long overdue change in healthcare. So, here’s a call to action to parents, teachers, grandparents, etc.: let’s reverse the trend of today’s kids being the first in modern history to be sicker than the generation before theirs, and let’s start by recognizing simple things like “sugar feeds infection.”

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