Role of cod liver oil for optimal immune function in children


The immune system is the body’s defence against invading microbes. It identifies the microorganisms as hostile particles and destroys them. The immune system is a system constituting a series of cells, tissues, and organs that protects from different invading microorganisms and identifies and supports the human body’s ability to resist many repeated infections from infancy to adulthood. Children are particularly susceptible to various illnesses and infections. During birth, immunity is passed from mother to infant. Protective antibodies are passed from mother to baby through the placenta during pregnancy. This gives the baby some protection during the early days of birth.

Various methods boost a child’s immunity. Breastfeeding is probably one of the best ways to help support a baby’s immune system when it’s growing. Breastfeeding provides protective antibodies to the infant. The type and amount of antibodies passed to the baby are dependent on the mother’s level of immunity. This kind of immunity for the baby is called “passive immunity”. Research has shown that breastfed babies have a lower incidence of infections and recover more quickly than babies fed on infant formula. The passive immunity is passed on from the mother at birth. Therefore, it doesn’t last long and diminishes within a few weeks or months after birth. The child starts developing its immune response during growth.

Enrolling the child in the vaccination program as per the standard guidelines is an effective and safe method to protect them against serious diseases. The child’s vaccination schedule needs to be properly followed to protect the child from various kinds of infections. Keeping the body clean and maintaining a hygienic routine are important to reduce bacterial and viral infections. Adequate sleep can help in boosting immunity. Inadequate sleep limits the body’s ability to produce proteins called cytokines that help fight infection and reduce inflammation.

Sleep requirements for each night vary by age:

Preschoolers (ages 3-5) should get between 10 and 13 hours. Children ages 6 to 13 should get between 9 and 11 hours. Children’s diets have a pivotal role to play in developing immunity in children. The eating habits will help them by enhancing natural defences and enabling them to fight infections in response to external triggers. Various nutraceuticals are employed to boost immunity in children. Vitamin C Known as ascorbic acid, it is found in citrus fruits, berries, potatoes, and peppers. It is also found in plant sources, including tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli. Vitamin C supports the immune system by stimulating the formation of antibodies.

Vitamin E works as an antioxidant and may support immune function. Adding vitamin E to the diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts, and peanut butter will help to boost immunity. Zinc helps the immune system function effectively and may help in the healing of the wound.  Dietary proteins are very important in healing and recovery. The addition of protein-rich foods like seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds will help boost immunity. Probiotics are living microorganisms that are found naturally in foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir. These microorganisms are known as “good” or “friendly” bacteria as they keep away the harmful bacteria and prevent them from settling in the gut. Other nutrients, including vitamin A, D, B6, B12, copper, folate, selenium, and iron, also support immune response and help boost the immune system.

Over the years, cod liver oil has been used to boost immunity in children and also in adults. Cod liver oil is derived from the liver of codfish, mostly from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Many years ago, people in Northern Europe used this oil to protect themselves during the chilly winters and to treat ailments like stiff joints and muscles. At the beginning of the 20th century, medical researchers discovered that cod liver oil also helps in the prevention and cure of rickets in young children. That was when it became a common practise to use cod liver oil for kids too. Cod liver oil is rich in vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The quantities of all these constituents depend on the species of codfish used for producing cod liver oil. Vitamin A in cod liver oil plays a big role in building immunity and promoting bone growth. Vitamin D helps prevent not only rickets but also type I diabetes and some types of cancer. It helps in strengthening muscle function and regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood, thereby ensuring healthy bones. Omega-3 fatty acids improve immunity, absorption of vitamins and minerals, and promote skin health. Because of all these benefits, cod liver oil helps prevent many problems in children, in addition to rickets.

Cod liver oil helps- prevent Rickets, reduce risk of Type 1 Diabetes, prevent Upper Respiratory Tract infections, maintain good eyesight, improving brain function because cod liver oil contains both vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, it’s a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer. It not only displays anti-inflammatory properties, which help prevent cancer cell development, but it could also be used to treat cancer. Cod liver oil is generally safe in children when taken in the right doses and only when therapeutically required. Cod liver oil has a fishy smell and taste, which makes children reluctant to take it. There are many supplements available on the market which has a masked taste. Cod liver oil can also be administered along with honey or sugar syrup. To conclude, nutraceuticals play a very important role in strengthening the immune system. The pandemic of Covid -19 has emphasised the importance of immunity all the more. The right kinds and quantities of nutraceuticals in children can ensure a robust immune system for the child to fight both bacterial and viral infections.

The author is MD. Clinical Pharmacologist and Nutraceutical Physician, Founder and CEO IntelliMed Healthcare Solutions.

Vitamin E works as an antioxidant and may support immune function. Adding Vitamin E to the diet with fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts, and peanut butter will help to boost immunity. Zinc helps the immune system function effectively and may help in the healing of the wound.