What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s response to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment. It is also the body’s method of reacting to or preparing for a new challenge. Stress can originate from any situation or thought that makes you feel concerned, nervous, frustrated or angry. Its effects on the body are not only psychological, but physiological as well.

The physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat happens via activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This results in a typical ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Besides the nervous system, various stress hormones are also released into the body. The immediate response is activated by the hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine), whilst cortisol controls the more long-term stress response.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced the adrenal glands. Cortisol plays an important role in how the body uses food substrates such as carbohydrate, fat, or protein, in order to meet additional physiological demands. Cortisol is normally released in response to events such as waking up in the morning, during physical exercise and stressful events.

When chronically elevated, cortisol has a negative impact on many systems, including weight control and immune function. With a high stress, fast-paced lifestyle, the body ends up producing cortisol almost continuously. Whilst cortisol is essential to the body, too much cortisol can have a significantly detrimental effect on our health.

What effect does stress have on blood sugar levels and the development of diabetes?

Under stressful conditions, cortisol helps to provide the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores and helping to release the glucose that is stored in the liver. This energy is required in a typical fight or flight situation. However, elevated cortisol over the long term constantly stimulates the release of glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels. Since a principal function of cortisol is to counteract the effects of insulin, it causes bodily cells to become insulin resistant. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the increased demand for insulin. The result is that glucose levels become elevated. Chronic stress therefore increases the risk for diabetes.

What effect does stress have on weight gain and obesity?

Chronic elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain. One mechanism is to stimulate the storage of fatty acids in fatty tissue contained inside the abdominal cavity. (Visceral fat stores). Another way goes back to the blood-sugar insulin problem. Consistently high blood glucose levels, in the presence of insulin resistance, leads to cells that are starved of glucose. Since these cells are in need of energy, they send hunger signals to the brain via a biochemical signalling mechanism. This leads to increased eating and the intake of excess glucose that is eventually stored in the body as fat. Cortisol has also been linked to cravings for high-calorie foods.

What effect does stress have on the immune system?

Cortisol, being a steroid hormone, is similar to the drug cortisone, often used by doctors to suppress inflammation in virtually all tissue types. In the body, cortisol’s ability to suppress inflammation is mostly beneficial. However, this may also lead to the suppression of the immune system, causing an increased susceptibility to colds, flu and other infections, as well as an increased risk to develop certain forms of cancer. Cortisol is also associated with a tendency to develop food allergies and an increased risk of various gastrointestinal disorders, since a healthy intestine is dependent on a functional immune system. The risk of developing an autoimmune disease is also higher.

What effects does stress have on the gastrointestinal system?

The ‘autonomic nervous system’ is the part of the body’s ‘automatic’ control mechanism that regulates various involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing, digestion and circulation.  It consists of two divisions, namely the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems that, to a large degree, work in opposition to each other. When the sympathetic nervous system is ‘switched on’, the parasympathetic nervous system should ideally be ‘switched off’.

Whilst the sympathetic nervous system accelerates the heart rate, constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure under stressful conditions, the parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite and helps to slow the heart rate, increase intestinal and glandular activity, and relax sphincter muscles.

The parasympathetic nervous system becomes more active during relaxed activities, such as eating. This is important because for the body to best use food energy, enzymes and hormones controlling digestion and the absorption of nutrients must be working at peak performance. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system by cortisol, however, results in the suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system. This compromises digestion and impairs the absorption of nutrients. As a result, indigestion and heartburn may develop and the mucosal lining of the gastro-intestinal tract may become inflamed. In response, mucosal inflammation of the stomach also leads to the increased production of cortisol, causing a vicious cycle. This is a reason why stomach ulcers are more common during stressful times. Those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis also report an improvement in their symptoms when they master better stress management.

What effect does stress have on the cardiovascular system?

Through the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure in order to enhance the delivery of oxygenated blood during the fight-or-flight reaction. Over time, chronic arterial constriction also leads to high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, which may cause heart attacks and stroke. This is one of the reasons why stressed-out personality types are at a greater risk for developing cardio-vascular disease.

What effect does stress have on fertility?

Elevated cortisol levels relating to prolonged stress can cause the disruption of menstrual cycles and ovulation, resulting in female infertility. Furthermore, the androgenic sex hormones are produced in the same glands as cortisol and epinephrine, so excess cortisol production may impair the optimal production of these hormones. Elevated cortisol levels are also known to cause erectile dysfunction.

What effects does stress have on fatigue?

Long-term stress and elevated cortisol levels are linked to insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, dementia and depression.

Which lifestyle changes can help to reduce stress?

Seeing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the best way to manage stress is by using a combination of techniques. Start by eating a balanced, nutritious diet. Exercise regularly and avoid poisoning your brain and body with cigarettes, ‘recreational’ drugs and excessive alcohol intake.

Depending on your source of stress, there are various cognitive techniques that can be used to strategically plan, communicate and think better. These include techniques on how to manage conflict more effectively and how to put better boundaries in place between you and the people that cause you to become stressed.

In addition, we recommend the use a regular supplement to assist you during times of excess work load or emotional fatigue. Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea) is a perennial plant that grows at high altitudes in the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia. Extracts of the roots have been used in Scandinavian and European countries to combat fatigue, reduce the effects of stress and to aid convalescence during illness. Several psychometric tests conducted on subjects under pressure demonstrated a substantial reduction in fatigue-related symptoms and an improvement of various cognitive indicators that are medically associated with increased psychological stress. These include a recorded reduction in cortisol levels. Roseroot has a low side effect profile and is generally considered a safe and effective supplement.


  • DSM IV Diagnostic criteria for acute stress disorder
  • World Health Organisation Guidelines on conditions specifically related to stress, 2013
  • American Institute for Preventative Medicine, General Stress Management, 4th edition 2012

Cognition and immunity

What is cognition?

Cognition is defined as ‘’the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses’’. While a lot of attention and research has focused on methods to increase attention, concentration and improve learning in general not much has been done to ensure that the information learnt is adequately stored and easily retrievable when needed.

Cognitive processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving. These are higher-level functions of the brain and encompass language, imagination, perception, and planning.

  • AttentionAttention is a cognitive process that allows people to focus on a specific stimulus in the environment.
  • Language: Language and language development are cognitive processes that involve the ability to understand and express thoughts through spoken and written words. It allows us to communicate with others and plays an important role in thought.
  • LearningLearning requires cognitive processes involved in taking in new things, synthesizing information, and integrating it with prior knowledge.
  • Memory: Memory is an important cognitive process that allows people to encode, store, and retrieve information. It is a critical component in the learning process and allows people to retain knowledge about the world and their personal histories.
  • PerceptionPerception is a cognitive process that allows people to take in information through their senses (sensation) and then utilize this information to respond and interact with the world.
  • Thought: Thought is an essential part of every cognitive process. It allows people to engage in decision-making, problem-solving, and higher reasoning.

How can I help improve my family’s cognition?

Cognitive processes are influenced by a range of factors including genetics and experiences. While one cannot change their genetics, there are things one may do to protect and maximize their cognitive abilities:

  1. Stay healthy
    Lifestyle factors such as eating healthy and getting regular exercise can have an effect on your cognitive functioning.
  2. Think critically.
    Question your assumptions and ask questions about your thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions.
  3. Stay curious and keep learning.
    One great way to flex your cognitive abilities is to keep challenging yourself to learn more about the world.
  4. Skip multitasking. 
    While it might seem like doing several things at once would help you get done faster, research has shown it actually decreases both productivity and work quality.
  5. Use supplements: A few natural compounds, vitamins and minerals have been shown to improve symptoms associated with ADHD, fatigue, concentration difficulties, impaired immunity, poor cognitive function, stress, and anxiety while causing few side-effects. Of these, some of the most effective are Rhodiola rosea (Roseroot), inositol, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D3. The aforementioned ingredients are supported by science are known to have positive effects on a range of factors associated with mental function.
    • Rhodiola rosea has been used for thousands of years in northern European countries to improve mood and combat stress. Recent research has uncovered its ability, in addition to these uses, to enhance mental function, memory and attention span, in part through increasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. This is reflected in its wide use and recognition as an assistive therapy in Russia, Scandinavia, the UK, and Sweden.
    • Inositol is a naturally occurring B vitamin which is present in the body and a number of food sources, especially fruit, beans, and nuts. The molecule plays a role in a number of pathways in the brain, especially during the biosynthesis of norepinephrine. Low levels of inositol have been associated with some psychological conditions characterised by low mood, motivation and anxiety, and supplementation of inositol has been shown to alleviate these symptoms.
    • Magnesium is a biologically essential trace element which plays an essential role in the regulatory activity of over 300 enzymes involved in nerve conduction and the production of neurotransmitters. Magnesium helps to calm the nervous system down due to the mineral’s ability to block brain N-NMDA receptors (methyl D-aspartate), thereby inhibiting excitatory neurotransmission and mental overload. Inadequate magnesium levels have been linked to insomnia, anxiety, increased pain perception, and several neuropsychiatric problems. Conversely, studies on magnesium supplementation have shown significant improvement overall emotional well-being, sleep patterns, anxiety levels and mood.
    • Zinc is one of the most abundant trace minerals in the brain and supports several physiological, biochemical, and neurological functions. The bioavailability of zinc can influence central nervous system (CNS) function through a variety of mechanisms, and diets deficient in zinc have been known to result in behavioural disturbances and diminished brain function. (A meta-analysis of 17 studies with 1643 depressed and 804 control participants demonstrated that peripheral serum zinc concentrations were approximately -1.85 μmol/L lower in depressed participants). While the exact role of zinc in the pathophysiology of depression remains unclear, the inverse relationship between zinc levels and depression has been established in several studies that evaluated zinc bioavailability in depressed patients.
    • Vitamin D receptors are abundant throughout the central nervous system (CNS), especially in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays an essential role in the consolidation of information and the regulation of both short- and long-term memory. Research has also shown that vitamin D modulates several enzyme systems in the brain and the cerebrospinal fluid involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth. Moreover, recent studies have shown Vitamin D to possess a neuroprotective effect as well as reduce neuro-inflammation, thereby improving cognitive function.
    • Vitamin C, one of the best-established neurological functions of vitamin C is in the regulation of neurotransmitter biosynthesis such as dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Individuals who have vitamin C deficiency often report feeling both depressed and fatigued. Conversely, studies of hospitalised patients who often have lower than normal vitamin C levels have found a significant improvement in mood after receiving vitamin C supplementation. But vitamin C supplements might help improve mood even for people who aren’t known to have low vitamin C levels, as demonstrated by several studies. One study of high school students indicated that vitamin C supplementation lowered anxiety levels, while other studies have shown overall mood-elevating effects, including the reduction of anger.

NeuroVance Focus, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-derived ingredients, has been developed by the Medical Nutritional Institute to improve neurological and immunological functioning safely and effectively. NeuroVance Focus is a unique blend of plant derived phytochemical ingredients, vitamins and minerals that target multiple biological pathways recognised to reduce stress, improve concentration, cognition and focus and promote calmness in both children and adults. As an assistive therapy, NeuroVance Focus can therefore help to improve cognition, concentration, brain function and focus as well as assist you and your child in reaching your full potential.

What is immunity?

Immunity by definition is the capability of multicellular organisms to resist harmful microorganisms. It involves both specific and nonspecific components, the nonspecific components act as barriers or eliminators of a wide range of pathogens irrespective of their antigenic make-up. Other components of the immune system adapt themselves to each new disease encountered and can generate pathogen-specific immunity. Immunity can be summed up as a complex biological system equipped with the capacity to recognize and tolerate whatever belongs to the self, and to recognize and reject what is foreign.

We have three types of immunity: innate, adaptive, and passive:

  • Innate immunity: Everyone is born with innate (or natural) immunity, a type of general protection. For example, the skin acts as a barrier to block germs from entering the body. And the immune system recognizes when certain invaders are foreign and have the potential to be dangerous/harmful.
  • Adaptive immunity: Adaptive (or active) immunity develops throughout our lives. We develop adaptive immunity when we’re exposed to diseases or when we’re immunized against them with vaccines.
  • Passive immunity: Passive immunity is “borrowed” from another source and it lasts for a short time. For example, antibodies in a mother’s breast milk give a baby temporary immunity to diseases the mother has been exposed to.

How can I help enhance my family’s immunity?

There are several dietary and lifestyle modifications that may help enhance your body’s natural defences and help you fight harmful pathogens and/or disease-causing organisms:

  1. Get enough sleep: Sleep and immunity are closely tied in fact; inadequate or poor-quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness. In a study in 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night. Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. Also, you may sleep more when sick to allow your immune system to better fight the illness. Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle. Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or using a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly.
  2. Eat more whole plant foods: Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens. The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. Meanwhile, the fibre in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome, or the community of healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity and help keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of the common cold.
  3. Eat more healthy fats: Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and salmon, may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation. Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system. Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties may help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in salmon and chia seeds, fight inflammation as well.
  4. Limit/avoid added sugars: Emerging research suggests that added sugars and refined carbs may contribute disproportionately to overweight and obesity. Obesity may likewise increase your risk of getting sick. According to an observational study in around 1,000 people, people with obesity who were administered the flu vaccine were twice more likely to still get the flu than individuals without obesity who received the vaccine. Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and aid weight loss, thus reducing your risk of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Given that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can all weaken your immune system, limiting added sugars is an important part of an immune-boosting diet. You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. This equals about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.
  5. Regular moderate exercise: Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost. Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems. What’s more, regular, moderate exercise may reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly. Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, and jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week
  6. Use supplements: Not all supplements provide you with the necessary vitamin and mineral levels required to have a significant positive effect on your immune response, however, some studies indicate that the following supplements may strengthen your body’s general immune response:
    • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient for humans, with pleiotropic functions related to its ability to donate electrons. It is a potent antioxidant and a cofactor for a family of biosynthetic and gene regulatory enzymes. Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. It supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens and promotes the oxidant scavenging activity of the skin, thereby potentially protecting against environmental oxidative stress. Vitamin C has also been shown to accumulate in phagocytic cells, such as neutrophils, and can enhance chemotaxis, phagocytosis, generation of reactive oxygen species, and ultimately microbial killing. It is also needed for apoptosis and clearance of the spent neutrophils from sites of infection by macrophages, thereby decreasing necrosis and potential tissue damage. According to a review in over 11,000 people taking 650-2 000 mg of vitamin C per day, it reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
    • Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect. Vitamin D has the capability of acting in an autocrine manner in a local immunologic milieu. It can modulate the innate and adaptive immune responses. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. As immune cells in autoimmune diseases are responsive to the ameliorative effects of vitamin D, the beneficial effects of supplementing vitamin D deficient individuals with autoimmune disease may extend beyond the effects on bone and calcium homeostasis.
    • Zinc: In a review in 575 people with the common cold, supplementing with 12-75mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the common cold by 33%. Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. It is crucial a crucial component for normal development and function of cells mediating innate immunity, neutrophils, and natural killer cells. Macrophages also are affected by zinc deficiency. Phagocytosis, intracellular killing, and cytokine production all are affected by zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency adversely affects the growth and function of T and B cells. The ability of zinc to function as an antioxidant and stabilize membranes suggests that it also plays a role in the prevention of free radical-induced injury during inflammatory processes.

NeuroVance Focus, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-based ingredients, has been developed by The Medical Nutritional Institute to enhance immunity effectively and safely. The individual ingredients (vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc) target multiple biological pathways known to enhance the bodies’ resistance to infection in both children and adults.


How can I improve my child’s concentration?

All children are different and change according to their age and what is going on in their lives. Periods of emotional stress, discouragement and a busy lifestyle can leave them demotivated and unable to concentrate. At the same time, children naturally vary in their ability to concentrate and keep motivated. Your child’s ability to focus and do well is therefore a complex interplay of many factors. Children’s attention span naturally increases with age. According to educational psychologists, a child’s attention span increases between 2 and 5 minutes every year. This means that a 5 year old should be able to stay focussed for between 10 and 25 minutes, and a ten year old twice that. If your child sometimes cannot concentrate for this long it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, but that they may need some extra attention. If you child consistently cannot focus, no matter the task, they may be suffering from more serious concentration difficulties and should see an educational psychologist. In general, however, children can become easily distracted and ill-motivated, whether just for a specific subject, like maths, or school in general. So how can you help make sure your child is able to stay motivated and concentrate on the tasks which matter?

Set a daily routine

Children who have difficulty concentrating or starting work do better if they know when it is expected of them. Learning to live according to a schedule will also help them cope with an increasingly busy life as they grow up. How this schedule is laid out will depend on your child and the activities that they take part in. Perhaps they work better as soon as they get home or later on after some recreation or sport. Try out different study routines to see which they are best able to cope with, and make sure it remains consistent.

Give your child choices in their daily lives

Allowing your child to choose increases motivation to stick with decisions and complete tasks because they are invested in how and why they are achieving a goal. This includes setting up their schedule and routine, what they would like to eat for breakfast and what clothes they would like to wear. Children are also more aware of when they can study best or what environment or learning styles suit them, and so may come up with solutions to problems which may not have been obvious to their parents or teachers. Play an active role in steering these decisions to keep you children productive, and they will learn independence in making the right choices in life.

Find out when your child is best able to complete certain tasks

Some people can concentrate better in the morning, others at night or after a meal. Monitor your child’s activity and concentration levels and try to fit their schedule to take this into account.

Use a clock or timer during study time

This will improve your child’s awareness of how long they have worked for and how much longer they need to go until they can have a break, helping them stick to a schedule and be more conscious of their attention span.

Try to discover which style of learning best suits your child

Not everyone learns in the same way, and this can be frustrating, discouraging and boring if not taken into account. Some people do better with different learning styles depending on the subject their mood or may prefer a combination of learning styles. Try to incorporate a range of these but focus on those with which your child does best. The major learning styles are:

  1. Visual (spatial): Uses pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  2. Aural (auditory-musical): Incorporates sound and music.
  3. Verbal (linguistic): Spoken and written words are more easily understood.
  4. Physical (kinesthetic): Prefer to use body, hands and sense of touch.
  5. Logical (mathematical): Learn best with logic, reasoning and systems.
  6. Social (interpersonal): Learn in groups or with other people.
  7. Solitary (intrapersonal): Work alone and use self-study.

Identify and incorporate your child’s interests into their work

The key to motivation and focus is interest in a task. Try and align subjects that a child is not interested in to projects and goals that do. This will help them see the practical relevance of a particular subject, and keep them motivated to complete their work. For example, if your child likes cars, explain to them how maths and science help us make cars, or if they like movies, how English will help them write scripts one day. It is also important that you put at least as much effort into helping them develop their interests and hobbies as you do subjects that they may not be showing particular zest for. Their interests are the tasks and subjects that they will always perform better in, will carry through to adulthood, and that will allow them to attain a happy, productive and successful career and life.

Praise effort, not just achievement

Praising your children when they behave well and focus, rather than scolding them when they don’t, is extremely important. People are much quicker to respond to positive than negative stimuli, and children are easily discouraged if they feel they are incapable of achieving results. At the same time, praising only achievement can lead children to become discouraged when they fail to reach their goal. Instead, encouragement and praise for effort appears to be the most important factor in teaching them to work hard and be resilient. Verbal praise and reward is often more important than gifts as they will start to believe that if there is no physical incentive for them to perform it is not worth it.

Teach them that failure is a part of learning

If children see failure as only a bad thing, reflecting on them as a person, they will quickly become discouraged, lose interest and motivation, and start to believe they are not good enough. This goes hand-in-hand with encouraging effort. If they are able to see that they did well on something because they worked hard, or didn’t because they procrastinated, they are more likely to correct the problem than just believe they aren’t good enough. Teach them an optimistic mind-set, focussing on solutions rather than worrying about setbacks.

Remove distractions during study time

These include TV, radio, video games, cell-phones, tablets, speaking and loud noises. Music can help with concentration, but should not be too loud, and depending on the genre, task and person, can enhance or retard focus. Research suggests that music is best for boring or repetitive tasks (like building a model or doing a collage for school) but silence is best during tasks that need a lot of brain power, like maths. Importantly, music without lyrics is best, as our brains naturally try to listen to any words around us, dividing attention.

Introduce short breaks during study time

Don’t expect study sessions to be too long between breaks. How often and how long will depend on your child, so experiment to see what works best for them. Let them do some physical activity, have a snack or play an educational game during the break. This will help them collect their thoughts, relax and recover some mental energy for the next session. Steer away from activities that can further exhaust concentration like TV and video games.

Keep things interesting

Change regularly between subjects that interest them and ones that don’t. Relate your child’s interests back to what they are working on. Try to incorporate games into their work, and encourage concentration games and exercises during free time.

Break down larger tasks into smaller goals

This will make seemingly impossible tasks easier and quicker to finish. The resulting feeling of accomplishment is key to motivation.

Identify why they are discouraged or not able to concentrate

One of the biggest contributors to poor focus and motivation is discouragement. Positive self-esteem and a ‘can-do’ attitude naturally result in better performance, but feelings of inadequacy or low mood lead to children believing there is no point in trying. Speak to your child and their teachers about why they might dislike a particular subject or even school in general. Once you better understand what is behind their low motivation or poor concentration it will be much easier to take steps to correct it.

Promote a healthy lifestyle

Mental and physical health are often thought of as separate, but they are highly interlinked. Poor health leads to tiredness, difficulty concentrating, stress, demotivation and more serious problems like depression.

  1. Focus on diet

Breakfast is important as it provides the brain with most of the energy it will use during the day. Focus on complex carbohydrates, healthy proteins and as many plant based sources of nutrients as possible. These will keep your child’s energy levels stable until their next meal, improve their immunity, mood and mental function. Contact for healthy diet tips for you and your children

  1. Drink plenty of water

Many people are constantly dehydrated, which has an impact on their ability to concentrate.

  1. Encourage exercise and regular movement

Exercise benefits concentration, motivation and focus in many ways. It increases oxygenation in the brain, and positive neurotransmitters which improve mood and brain function. Exercise also increases energy levels and helps reduce restlessness and hyperactivity. Instead of watching TV or playing video games during study breaks, encourage children to do some physical activity.

  1. Ensure your child is getting enough sleep

Primary school children need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep, while teenagers need between 9 and 10 hours. Ensure regular bed time and wake up time are part of their routine or schedule. Minimize highly stimulating activities like TV or video games an hour before bed. Rather have them read, play with toys or board games, or do art before bed time. Getting enough exercise will also help them go to sleep easier.

  1. Use supplements

A few natural compounds have been shown to improve symptoms associated with ADHD, while causing few side-effects. Of these, two of the most effective are Rhodiola rosea (Roseroot) and inositol. Both of these ingredients are well backed by science are known to have positive effects on a range of factors associated with mental function.

Rhodiola rosea has been used for thousands of years in northen European countries to improve mood and combat stress. Recent research has uncovered its ability, in addition to these uses, to enhance mental function, memory and attention span, in part through increasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain. This is reflected in its wide use and recognition as an assistive therapy in Russia, Scandinavia, the UK and Sweden.

Inositol is a naturally occurring B vitamin which is present in the body and a number of food sources, especially fruit, beans and nuts. The molecule plays a role in a number of pathways in the brain, especially during the biosynthesis of norepinephrine. Low levels of inositol have been associated with some psychological conditions characterised by low mood, motivation and anxiety, and supplementation of inositol has been shown to alleviate these symptoms.

NeuroVance, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-based ingredients, has been developed by The Medical Nutritional Institute to safely and effectively improve mental functioning. The individual ingredients (Rhodiola rosea, inositol, magnesium and zinc) target multiple biological pathways recognised to reduce stress, improve concentration and focus and promote calmness in both children and adults. As an assistive therapy, NeuroVance can therefore help to improve concentration, brain function and focus and assist you or your child in reaching your full potential.

Healthy brain
function for children

Today children are under continued pressure to perform, all children are different and change according to their age and what is going on in their lives. Find out more about various strategies and assessments to assist you to optimise your child’s focus and concentration.

Read more on the differences between ADD and ADHD HERE.

Round Grey circle with Icon of a child's brain in white
Round Grey circle with Icon of a child's brain in white


Periods of emotional stress, discouragement and a busy lifestyle can leave children and their parents demotivated and unable to concentrate. At the same time, children naturally vary in their ability to concentrate and keep motivated. Your child’s ability to focus and do well is, therefore, a complex interplay of many factors. First of all, it is essential to seek professional advice and treatment. There are, however, a few strategies which you can begin to include in your daily life.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by a suite of symptoms which collectively result in trouble paying attention, difficulty controlling behaviour and excessive activity. First of all, it is essential to seek professional advice and treatment. There are, however, a few strategies which you can begin to include in your daily life.

Children are under continued pressure to perform. Help your child perform at their best by taking the concentration assessment for children. Complete the assessmentFocus and Concentration assessments

  • Our daily lifestyle demands affect our ability to stay focused and motivated. Assess your concentration capacity by completing our assessment. Complete the assessment


What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by a suite of symptoms which collectively result in trouble paying attention, difficulty controlling behaviour and excessive activity1-3. Although ADHD is often thought of as a childhood disorder, adults also suffer from the condition. Symptoms, however, may be different during adulthood due to the increased growth of the brain, different societal pressures and the implementation of coping mechanisms over a person’s lifetime. ADHD in children can result in poor school performance and social impairment, while in adults it can cause job and relationship related difficulties1. Despite this, many features of ADHD are associated with positive traits. This means that while someone with ADHD may struggle to function in particular environments, they can excel in others.  Persons with ADHD can, therefore, lead a somewhat normal life and exhibit good attention spans if their symptoms are effectively treated, especially for tasks they feel interested in. For more information and support, you can contact the ADHD Association of South Africa (ADHASA).

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

The symptoms of ADHD are complex and must occur in combination and be persistent to reach a diagnosis. Many of the symptoms overlap with other disorders or are particularly difficult to define as ‘unusual’ as, for example, whether someone is abnormally overactive will depend on the setting, other aspects of their personality and societal pressures. If you notice any of the symptoms in yourself, your children or those around you, it is therefore important to seek professional advice. Major symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity or restlessness, disruptive behaviour and impulsivity1-3. Girls with ADHD are more likely to have intellectual issues4. Problems with keeping motivated and goal-oriented tasks can be experienced as ADHD predisposes sufferers to focus on short-term rather than long-term rewards5. Emotional issues such as anger, anxiety and depression are also more common in ADHD sufferers6. ADHD is often associated with drifting off during conversations, as well as language issues, both verbal and non-verbal, causing social cues to be missed7. These symptoms often result in poor academic and job-related performance, as well as problems in relationships and social interaction. As children age, symptoms often change, both due to the development of coping mechanisms and the changing brain. For example, hyperactivity may transform into inner restlessness and constant mental activity8. Depending on the exact symptoms, ADHD can be divided into three subtypes: ADHD inattentive type, ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type and ADHD combined type3 ADHD inattentive type is characterised by difficulty in staying focused and completing tasks, and is best described by the following symptoms:

  • Easily distracted, misses details, forgets or loses things, frequently switches from one activity to another and struggles to follow instructions
  • Difficulty focusing attention on, organizing and completing, or becoming easily bored with tasks
  • Struggling to learn new things and difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Seems to not be listening when spoken to, daydreams or becomes easily confused

ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type is characterized by restlessness, hyperactivity and childish or destructive behaviours, including:

  • Fidgeting, having trouble sitting still and doing quiet tasks or activities
  • Talking nonstop, interrupting conversations or others’ activities, blurting out inappropriate comments and showing emotions without restraint
  • Constantly moving around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight, acting without regard for consequences
  • Being very impatient

ADHD combined type exists as a combination of symptoms of the other two types.

What causes ADHD?

The underlying causes of ADHD are, in the majority of cases, unknown. This is because ADHD is a complex disorder, caused by interactions between genetic and environmental factors1,9. ADHD is therefore not exactly the same for each person in terms of the presence and severity of symptoms and their causes. ADHD is often inherited in families, suggesting underlying genetic causes in two-thirds of cases10,11. A number of contributing genes have also been discovered, which largely play a role in neurotransmission12,13. Environmental factors may also result in the syndrome or exacerbate the underlying genetic causes. The major environmental factors which can lead directly to ADHD are alcohol intake and exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy1,2,14,15, extremely premature birth or low birth weight and exposure to certain toxic substances such as lead and polychlorinated biphenyls16. Traumatic brain injury and infection of the brain by certain viruses and bacteria during early childhood may also result in ADHD17. Underlying genetic and environmental causes lead to abnormalities in neurotransmitter systems – the chemicals and signalling systems in your brain which facilitate communication, pleasure-seeking, motivation, activity and decision-making. These are primarily the dopamine and norepinephrine systems18,19. Due to imbalances in these pathways, people with ADHD struggle with controlling their behaviours in the same way as others, and medications primarily attempt to correct these imbalances.

Is the prevalence of ADHD increasing and how common is it?

According to the diagnostic criteria used in South Africa, ADHD affects between 5 and 7% of children and 2-5% of adults8. More boys are diagnosed with ADHD, most likely due to them exhibiting more disruptive symptoms than girls4. This effect seems to decline in adulthood, possibly due to girl’s symptoms becoming more obvious as intellectual demands increase with age20. Although diagnosis has been increasing since the 1970’s, it is not believed that this shows an increase in the frequency of the disorder, but rather reflects better diagnosis strategies, awareness and acceptance, as well changing societal pressures toward busier and focussed lifestyles21.

Can environmental factors make ADHD worse?

Some environmental factors, although not supported as leading to ADHD, may worsen symptoms or make it harder for sufferers to focus on tasks at hand2,22. Stress is a large contributor, making concentrating, sleeping and staying focused more difficult. Many ADHD like symptoms can also cause stress, resulting in a cycle which only makes ADHD worse. Effective stress management is therefore essential to living with ADHD. Overstimulation can also worsen symptoms and usually occurs when a person is in a loud and busy environment, such as in crowds. In these circumstances, it becomes difficult for the brain to decide which stimuli are meaningful and which are not, resulting in worsening of ADHD symptoms, especially in terms of the ability to focus. Other contributing factors to worsening of ADHD symptoms include sleep deprivation and the presence of distractions such as TV, cell phones and loud music.

Is ADHD associated with any other psychological conditions?

The symptoms and causes of ADHD overlap with a number of other psychological conditions. Due to this, ADHD can be associated with other disorders. These include:

  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome23,24
  • Learning disabilities, including speech, language and academic skills disorders25
  • Anxiety disorders26
  • Mood disorders, including bipolar and depression1,6
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder27
  • Substance use disorders, both as an attempt to cope with symptoms and difficulty in balancing risk versus rewards28
  • Tourette syndrome29
  • Some other non-psychological issues such as obesity, asthma and migraine30

How is ADHD diagnosed?

Diagnosis of ADHD should be carried out by a qualified professional. Diagnosis can be difficult due to the complexity of the condition, ranges of severity of each separate symptom and difficulty in quantifying ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ ranges of each. In order for a diagnosis to be made, symptoms must3,31:

  • Appear between the ages of 6 and 12 and be present for more than 6 months
  • Not be appropriate for children of that age
  • Occur and cause problems in at least more than one setting (e.g. work, school, home)

Specifically, diagnosis takes place via a number of routes which assess behavioural and mental development. In children, this is based on feedback from teachers and parents, self-rating scales and other tests designed to assess goal orientation, concentration and activity levels32. Associated conditions are also taken into account. The procedure for adults is mostly the same, although it is necessary to question persons, such as parents or guardians, who knew the individual between the ages of six and 12 to confirm that symptoms were present at this stage33.

Can I or my child live a normal life and still be successful with ADHD?

ADHD can be a lifelong condition, with between 30 and 50% of children diagnosed presenting symptoms into adulthood21,34. Adolescents with ADHD are most likely to experience trouble due to increased social pressures, changing demands at school, and a rapidly developing brain35. Despite this most people learn how to deal with the condition and develop coping skills, allowing them to lead a more normal life36. Treatment strategies are essential to developing healthy coping mechanisms as well as reducing symptoms. Unhealthy coping strategies such as avoidance of work or relationships and procrastination are more likely to result in deviant behaviour, substance use and poor social functioning and self-esteem37. With proper treatment, however, those with ADHD can improve over time and develop healthy coping mechanisms, behaviour, good self-esteem and productive social relationships. This is especially true if they pursue a career which they express interest in.

How is ADHD treated?

ADHD treatment revolves around both behavioural and medicinal interventions. Depending on the severity, symptoms and age, approaches can vary, and may be either in isolation or a combination of the two. There is, however, no known cure for ADHD38.

Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapies are best for candidates with mild symptoms or who are not eligible for drug treatment (such as pre-school aged children), and those with behavioural and emotional issues39. Behavioural therapies can also improve self-esteem, compliance to treatment, lessen the likelihood of substance abuse and other deviant behaviours as well as generally improve functioning at school, work, home and in social situations through teaching sufferers to better recognise and control their own behaviour. These therapies become more effective with age, possibly due to an increased awareness of one’s self and increasing the ability to consciously adopt these strategies20. Exercise, especially aerobic, has been shown to have significant benefit for ADHD40. This includes significantly improved behavioural control, memory and self-esteem. Mood-related disorders are also benefitted. This is thought to be because exercise causes an increase in neurotransmitters in the brain. Together with this, exercise appears to improve the effectivity of stimulant medications.


In most cases, stimulant medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin/Concerta) and amphetamines are prescribed41. These generally affect the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways within the brain, increasing the availability of these signalling molecules42. Non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine (an anti-depressant) may also be administered41, but do not appear to affect academic performance and concentration to the same extent43. Methylphenidate appears to better symptoms in the majority of people44, and stimulants may reduce abnormalities in brain structure and function, at least while the medication is being administered45.

Are there side effects to ADHD treatments?

While stimulant medications offer a number of benefits, there are some document side-effects to their use20,46. These should be discussed with your doctor.

Are there any other solutions to ADHD?

While the side-effects of medication might cause parents and sufferers to seek alternative treatments, they should not ignore the advice of their healthcare provider. Behavioural therapies and medication can offer significant benefit, but in cases where additional support is required, some herbal supplements can help reduce the severity of symptoms. A few natural compounds have been shown to have improved symptoms which are associated with ADHD while causing few side-effects. Of these, two of the most promising is Rhodiola Rosea (Roseroot) and inositol. Both of these ingredients are well backed by science and are known to have positive effects on a range of factors associated with the mental function. Rhodiola Rosea has been used for thousands of years in northern European countries to improve mood and combat stress. Recent research has uncovered its ability, in addition to these uses, to enhance mental function, memory and attention span, in part through increasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain47. This is reflected in its wide use and recognition as an assistive therapy in Russia, Scandinavia, the UK and Sweden. Inositol is a naturally occurring B vitamin which is present in the body and a number of food sources, especially fruit, beans and nuts. The molecule plays a role in a number of pathways in the brain, especially during the biosynthesis of norepinephrine. Low levels of inositol have been associated with some psychological conditions characterised by low mood, motivation and anxiety48,49, and supplementation of inositol has been shown to alleviate these symtoms49,50. NeuroVance, a unique blend of the above scientifically endorsed plant-based ingredients, has been developed by The Medical Nutritional Institute to safely and effectively improve mental functioning. The individual ingredients (Rhodiola Rosea, inositol, magnesium and zinc) target multiple biological pathways recognised to reduce stress, improve concentration and focus and promote calmness in both children and adults. As an assistive therapy, NeuroVance can, therefore, help to lessen symptoms of ADHD and assist you or your child in reaching your full potential.

What about diet?

Diet in itself is not likely to cause ADHD, but poor eating habits can worsen symptoms and impair proper brain development. Refined carbohydrates, simple sugars and some food colourants and additives are known to negatively affect mental function and worsen hyperactivity. Furthermore, ADHD sufferers are more likely to crave and binge eat these foods due to their ability to increase reward signalling in the brain, leading to other health and eating-related disorders, such as obesity. A healthy, well-balanced diet is also essential to proper development of the brain, and lack of many nutrients can cause impairments in brain development. If you feel a particular food-stuff is negatively affecting your or your child’s ADHD, remove this from the diet and see if symptoms are improved. This should, however, not be done to an extreme – it can be difficult to pick out the true causative factors and removing too many foods from anyone’s diet can result in negative health consequences. It is most important to ensure that you or your child are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet based on plant-based sources of nutrients and which avoids junk foods and processed carbohydrates. For more advice on healthy eating in general and with regards to ADHD, email our dietician at .

How can I manage my or my child’s ADHD?

First of all, it is essential to seek professional advice and treatment. There are, however, a few strategies which you can begin to include in your daily life.

  • Organise your or your child’s day, set a routine and create structure. When major changes occur, like a holiday or a visit from a relative, make sure you are aware and prepared for them.
  • Remove distracting stimuli from the environment, especially during times when the focus is required. Ensure that you or your child know that activities such as TV watching are only allowed after work is complete.
  • Do regular aerobic exercise.
  • Set a good example, put rules, structure and discipline strategies in place in both day to day life and before activities. Make sure you or your child understand these and do not deviate from what you have set in place. Consistency is key to maintaining productive behaviour.
  • Talk with teachers and other guardians to ensure they employ these strategies and to understand how your child acts in situations when you are not present.
  • Focus on positive reinforcement, praise and rewards more than punishment. People with ADHD are more likely to perform if they feel that an experience will be pleasurable than to avoid something because of possible negative consequences.
  • Involve your child in the above processes, especially as they age. This will help them develop the ability to implement their own coping strategies, improve their self-esteem and make compliance more likely as they will feel they are actively trying to better themselves.

Taking NeuroVance alongside the above behavioural interventions can also safely and effectively assist you or your child in improving mental function, concentration and motivation, allowing you to live a more productive life and helping you to excel in the activities you see as important.


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Eubig, P. A., Aguiar, A. & Schantz, S. L. Lead and PCBs as risk factors for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Environmental health perspectives 118, 1654 (2010).

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Immune System

What Is The Immune System?

The immune system is a complex biological system, consisting of many different types of cells, tissues and organs, each with their own specific function. The immune system’s major functions are to recognise and neutralize harmful substances and infective organisms (like bacteria, viruses and parasites), heal damaged tissue and remove cells of our own body that are not functioning correctly, such as cancer cells. The immune system gets stronger as we approach adulthood, but again gets weaker in old age. This is why children and the elderly are more susceptible to illness.

The most important ability of the immune system is to be able to distinguish between self and non-self, or in other words, normal and abnormal. If it is not able to do this properly, it will either allow infectious organisms to invade, or begin attacking your own body. The latter is known as autoimmune disease. Early on, the body learns to recognise specific proteins that are on the surface of the body’s cells as ‘self’. As we are exposed to infectious organisms, the body learns to recognise proteins on the surface of the invaders cells, known as antigens, which signal that it should attack them.

What Are The Different Types Of Immunity?

There are three types of immunity in humans called innateadaptive, and passive immunity.

What Is Innate Immunity?

Innate immunity consists of the parts of the immune system that you are born with and that do not change significantly throughout life. It includes defensive structures such as the skin and mucous membranes, as well as a number of white blood cell types such as Natural Killer Cells. These are general defences, which means that they don’t recognise specific invaders, but rather that you have been infected and attempt to attack all invaders in a similar way. The innate immune system is your body’s first line of defence against new threats. While it can often deal with infections before they become an issue, invaders are sometimes able to overcome it. This is where adaptive immunity comes in.

What Is Adaptive Immunity?

Adaptive, or acquired, immunity is the part of the immune system that changes over time, learning to recognise new invaders and mount a response to them. This is known as immunological memory.

This memory is why vaccines can confer immunity, as well as why we do not get certain diseases (like chickenpox) twice. This is also the part of the immune system which takes the most time to develop. In children, the adaptive immune system is largely untrained, which is why they get sick so much more often. By adulthood, we have come into contact with many more pathogens and therefore are able to stay healthier longer.

The adaptive immune system relies on two special types of white blood cell, called lymphocytes. These are B-cells and T-cells. B-cells do not directly attack invaders, but are more involved in remembering what they look like and ensuring T-cells (which do attack invaders) and other immune cells can recognise them. One way they do this is through production of antibodies. Antibodies are protein molecules which circulate through the body and bind to the surfaces of invading organisms. Through binding they coat the invader (making it harder for it to move around or get inside cells) and signal to T-cells to attack.

What Is Passive Immunity?

Passive immunity is the passing of resistance to a disease from one person to another. An important role of passive immunity is to protect new-born infants from infection. Various antibodies are transferred from mother to child in the womb and through breast milk. The infant therefore temporarily receives the mother’s highly developed immunity while its own immune system begins to develop.

Passive immunity is short-lived (from days to several months), and the immunity to a wide range of organisms that an infant has while breast feeding is gradually lost as it is weaned. Toddlers and older children will therefore not be resistant to the complete range of organisms their parents are. As such, focus on supporting their growing immune system is paramount to prevent illness and develop their adaptive immune system.

What Happens To The Immune System As I Age?

As with many other biological functions, the immune system becomes less effective as you age. This includes its ability to recognise and ward off pathogens, prevent the proliferation of cells of our own body that cause disease, as well as its ability to recognise self from non-self. As we age, we therefore become more likely to develop a number of diseases, including autoimmune disorders, and become more susceptible to invading organisms.

It is therefore important to focus on immune health as you age. Some micronutrient deficiencies are also more prevalent in the elderly, and these have been linked to a decline in the immune system.

How Can You Strengthen Your Immune System?

The immune system is complex, relying on the correct function of a wide variety of cells, tissues and organs. Optimal immune function therefore relies on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

This includes following a helathy, well-balanced diet, getting an adequate amount of sleep, regular exercise, reducing stress, and avoiding toxic substances.

Deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamins A, B6, C, D and E have been associated with poor immunity and higher rates of disease. Ensuring you are receiving optimal amounts of these nutrients is therefore essential. These nutrients can be obtained from a healthy diet, centred on plant-based foods, as well as supplements designed to optimise your immunity. Contact the MNI dietician at for healthy diet tips for you and your children.

ImmunoVance has been specifically formulated to contain all of the micronutrients essential to immune function. These, together will scientifically prove herbal extracts, work to strengthen your immune system and optimise its function. Read more about ImmunoVance here.

What Negatively Affects Immunity?

The health of your immune system is inseparable from general health. Factors which negatively affect general health, therefore, impair the functioning of the immune system. These include poor diet, stress, lack of exercise and bad habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Stress may seem to be the least obvious, and yet it is a major contributor to general negative health, and specifically affects the immune system. In the short term, stress can have a positive effect on immunity, priming the body for attack. Short term stress is therefore beneficial, or at least not harmful. Stress becomes an issue, both for health and immunity, when it is chronic.

Biologically, stress causes a number of changes in the body. Many of these are linked to the secretion of cortisol, a hormone which regulates a variety of processes in the body. Cortisol prepares you for ‘fight or flight’, steering energy away from processes that normally use energy but would not necessarily be useful to helping you survive an attack by a bear, for example. One of the biological functions which these hormones impair is the immune response. In the short term, this is not problematic, but in the long term, if cortisol is secreted in excess, the body can enter a state of chronic immune deficiency. Managing stress is therefore extremely important to ensuring optimal immune function.

Why Does Exercise Supress The Immune System?

Regular exercise is important to maintaining health and the immune system. Despite this, excessive amounts of exercise can negatively affect immunity. This is because exercise is a form of stress. During a normal exercise regime, the body has time to recover and return to normal. When exercise is prolonged (over 90 minutes) and extreme, however, the body does not get this opportunity, and it begins to affect the immune system in a similar way to chronic psychological stress. Athletes may also develop deficiencies of certain micronutrients important to the immune system, such as zinc, which is lost through sweat.

The phenomenon is especially observed in endurance and professional athletes, who are more likely to develop upper respiratory tract infections than the general population. Prolonged, intense exercise leads to suppression of the immune system, affecting white blood cell function, lasting up to 24 hours. During this period, athletes are more susceptible to infection. If adequate rest is not taken between sessions, the body is not able to normalise, and a chronic state of immune suppression can develop.

Adequate recovery periods and rest is therefore important, as is focus on good nutrition, high in vitamins and minerals.  It has also been found that maintaining energy levels through consumption of carbohydrates while training can reduce the negative effect on the immune system.

Infectious organisms

What Is An Infection?

An infection occurs when a foreign organism (such as a bacteria or virus) colonises, gets nourishment from and reproduces inside the body. Infection does not necessarily lead to disease, but when the organism damages cells and tissue, it does.

Among the millions of types of organisms, only a few are able to infect our bodies and even fewer are able to cause disease. Those which do are called pathogens. Pathogens usually enter the body through openings to the environment such as the nose, mouth, eyes and wounds. They then migrate to tissues which they can more easily live in.

Infections can be divided into primary and secondary infections. Primary infections are caused by the first organism to invade the body. Secondary infections are caused by organisms that colonise the body due to a weakened immune response or other complications caused by a primary infection. For example, flu, a primary infection, can cause infection of the lungs or airways by bacteria, leading to bronchitis or pneumonia.

What Is A Virus?

A virus is the smallest and most primitive type of infectious organism. There are thought to be millions of types of viruses, found almost everywhere on earth. These can infect anything from the smallest bacteria to mammals, reptiles and plants.

Viruses cannot reproduce and survive on their own in the way a bacteria, plant or animal can. Instead, they consist of only a few genes packaged tightly into an outer coating made of protein. The coat serves to protect the viral DNA and help the virus to break into and enter a host cell. Once inside, their genes take over the replication machinery of the cell, causing it to produce more viruses. In the process, the cell dies, either because it cannot sustain both itself and the virus, or because the virus causes it to swell until it bursts. New viruses are then released, which spread into the environment and infect other cells.

What Is A Bacteria?

Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms which are able to replicate and survive on their own. After viruses, they can be considered the next simplest infective agent. Bacteria can be found in almost every environment on earth, from the soil to the bottom of the ocean, on and in plants and animals, and even in radioactive waste and the atmosphere.

Most bacteria are essential to life on earth. They are extremely important to cycling nutrients, from causing the decomposition of dead animals and plants, to creating new nutrients by turning nitrogen in the air into fertilizer that plants can use. It is thought that bacteria where the first organisms to begin producing oxygen millions of years ago, thereby creating a world that was hospitable to other, more advanced life.

Surprisingly, the majority of bacteria living in your gut and other parts of your body are actually good for you. They keep other dangerous bacteria at bay by outcompeting them, or even producing their own antibiotics to kill their competition. These bacteria also help regulate your immune system, improve your overall health and produce nutrients which you may not usually be able to acquire from your diet. This is one reason why bacteria are used to create foods such as yogurt and other fermented foods.

Less than 1% of bacteria can actually be considered dangerous. The few types of bacteria that can make you sick cause diseases such as pneumonia, cholera, tuberculosis and food poisoning, amongst others. They cause disease by invading tissue and releasing toxins which damage cells and organs.

Are There Other Infectious Organisms?

Yes, there are a few. Fungi, protozoa and parasitic worms are more complex than viruses and bacteria. Infection by these organisms is not as common, however, and is often linked to unhygienic environments, contaminated foods and insects.

Fungal infections most often affect the skin and nails and sometimes the airways. They do not usually cause severe disease, but in some cases can, especially when infecting the lungs. Fungi are responsible for common conditions such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.

Protozoa are usually contracted from contaminated water or bites from insects like mosquitos. These organisms cause diseases like malaria and amoebic dysentery.

Parasitic worms are internal parasites and can be contracted from soil, water, raw meat and infected surfaces. Proper sanitation, cooking food thoroughly and avoiding swimming in stagnant water can efficiently prevent them.

What Do Antibiotics Treat?

Antibiotics specifically treat bacterial infections and have no effect on viruses. Taking an antibiotic for the flu is therefore unnecessary and will have no effect, unless your doctor has reason to believe that a secondary bacterial infection is developing. This can be difficult for a doctor to determine, and so they may prefer to be cautious and prescribe antibiotics just in case.

Over prescription and incorrect use of antibiotics can give rise to bacteria that are resistant to these drugs. It is therefore extremely important to take antibiotics exactly as they are prescribed.

Unlike antibiotics, which can kill a broad spectrum of bacteria, antivirals, prescribed for certain viral infections, are often very specific to the virus they target. This is why antiretroviral medication can not be used for the flu, for example. Because of this specificity, many viral infections cannot be directly treated.

What Makes Us Sick?

Why Do We Get Sick?

We get sick due to an infection by a foreign, disease causing organism. The most common symptoms of sickness, such as a runny nose, cough, fever and fatigue are, however, not caused directly by the infecting organism, but are rather part of your body’s immune response. For example, a runny nose results from your body trying to flush an infection out with increased mucous production.

Microorganisms can cause disease in many ways, invcluding by releasing toxic substances, invading cells and tissues as well as releasing signalling molecules that can affect the whole body. These are the effects that damage the body, and are why it is essential to ensure the infection lasts for as short a time as possible, and specific treatment for the infection, rather than its symptoms, receive focus.

Why Are We More Likely To Get Sick In Winter?

Scientists are still unsure why we tend to catch colds and flu mainly in the winter. There are, however, a number of hypotheses, and as with most things in biology, the answer is more likely to be a complex interaction of all of them, rather than any specific one in particular.

It is thought that cold, dry air protects viruses and bacteria, allowing them to survive in the environment longer. The same conditions may also dry out the organisms, making them lighter and able to travel further. Cold, dry air also prevents mucous secreted in the nose, etc., from being as effective at clearing out inhaled material, giving the organisms more time to gain a foot hold. Another reason is that people spend more time indoors in winter, creating a perfect environment for pathogens to spread from one person to the next.

When Should I Go To The Doctor For A Cold Or The Flu?

Colds and flu will usually clear up on their own but, in some cases, they may become more severe or result in secondary infections. If you are unsure whether to go to the doctor or not, it is always better to be cautious – rather pay a visit to your doctor than wait until an illness becomes really problematic. This is especially important for individuals who are at greater risk of developing serious complications, including young children, the elderly, immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women and persons suffering from respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

If you are an otherwise healthy individual, and experience any of the following symptoms, you should contact your healthcare practitioner:

  • You are not recovering, your symptoms are not subsiding, or are getting worse
  • Unrelenting fever: If the fever does not subside after a few days or respond to over the counter medication
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Worsening or persistent cough

See your doctor immediately or visit the emergency room of you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Severe weakness
  • Difficulty breathing or breathlessness
  • Severe headache
  • Severe rash


What Is A Vaccine?

A vaccine is a medicine aimed at preventing a disease rather than curing it. In medical terms, this is known as a prophylactic treatment. Vaccines train your immune system to recognise certain infectious organisms without actually having to come into contact with them. In order to do this, they contain only the parts of the organism that your immune system can recognise, killed organisms, or a similar organism that doesn’t cause disease. Therefore, a vaccine doesn’t make you sick, but your immune system can recognise the important antigens and train itself to recognise them in future.

Over time, vaccines have reduced the number of infections (and deaths) linked to many infections. For example, vaccines have eliminated smallpox. Getting vaccinated therefore not only protects you, but those around you, especially children and the elderly, as you are less likely to carry and spread an infectious organism if it is eliminated or supressed as soon as it tries to invade your body.

If My Body Can Recognise Previous Infections, Why Do I Get The Flu & Need A Flu Vaccine Every Year?

The flu virus has developed to change itself rapidly in order to avoid detection by our immune system. The strain that infected you last year is therefore very unlikely to be the same one that infects you this year. Before each flu season, scientists and regulators meet to decide which types of the virus will be more prevalent that season. Pharmaceutical companies then begin production of a vaccine containing antigens for these particular strains. By the next season, however, the virus has again changed, and so a new vaccine needs to be developed.

There is also not just one type of flu circulating at any one time, but thousands of slightly or very different versions. Some of these may be similar to what has been vaccinated against or what has been experienced before, and so the body can recognise and fight them off quicker, leading to less severe and shorter duration of symptoms.

Therefore a vaccine can never provide complete protection. In general, however, your chance of catching the flu is reduced by half, and the likelihood you get very sick is much less.

ImmunoVance contains micronutrients essential to optimal immune function. It has been specifically formulated to deliver those vitamins and minerals that are difficult to obtain through our modern lifestyles, and which are often more seriously depleted in the elderly. ImmunoVance® may therefore aid in preventing the decline of your immune system as you age.

Immune support

The immune system is a complex biological system, consisting of many different types of cells, tissues, and organs, each with their own specific function. The immune system’s major functions are to recognise and neutralize harmful substances and infective organisms (like bacteria, viruses, and parasites), heal damaged tissue and remove cells of our own body that are not functioning correctly, such as cancer cells.

The immune system gets stronger as we approach adulthood, but again, gets weaker in old age. This is why children and the elderly are more susceptible to illness. Here are some ways you can strengthen your immune system with exercise.

Immune support for adults

Regular exercise is important to maintaining health and the immune system. Despite this, excessive amounts of exercise can negatively affect immunity.

Immune support for kids

Children will naturally get sick and it is impossible to completely protect them from invading organisms. It is possible, however, to prevent them from getting sick as often, and to speed up recovery.

Immune Support
For Children

How Does A Child’s Immune System Develop?

Development of a child’s immune system begins in the womb. Here, although the organs and structures associated with the immune system are present, the activity of the immune system itself is low. In the womb, the mother transfers numerous antibodies to the foetus via the umbilical cord. These are trained to recognise organisms which the mother herself has been infected with during her lifetime, and so confer a level of protection to the infant once it is born.

Once a baby is born, it is suddenly exposed to a huge variety of antigens (molecules that the immune system can recognise) and foreign organisms. This is thought to be one reason why an infant’s immune system is suppressed during the first few months of life, as it could easily become overwhelmed and cause serious health issues. This also allows good bacteria transferred from the mother during birth to begin to colonise the baby’s intestines.

After birth, a child’s immune system begins to develop rapidly. This process is complex and not fully understood, with certain cells becoming active and transforming into new types of cells at specific stages.  During this stage, maternal antibodies are still active, protecting the baby while its immune system learns and develops. Breastfeeding also transfers protective antibodies to the infant, and can thus extend the protection offered by the mother. Maternal immunity generally does not last longer than about 6 months.

As the infant’s adaptive immune system becomes active, so does the extremely important and long process of training their immune system. From this point on, their body will be constantly learning to recognise what is dangerous, and how to defend against it. It is generally thought that a child’s immune system becomes mature at about 3 months. All this means, however, is that it is able to begin defending against and recognising invaders. It will still take a number of years before it is adequately able to recognise the numerous germs that can infect us.

How Can I Help Prevent My Child From Getting Sick?

Children will naturally get sick and it is impossible to completely protect them from invading organisms. It is possible, however, to prevent them from getting sick as often, and to speed up recovery. Most advice is centred upon encouraging a healthy lifestyle, ensuring the complex process that is the development and function of their immune system is optimal. The next best way to help prevent disease is to ensure your children are up to date with their vaccinations. To read more about vaccines, scroll to the bottom of this link.

Make sure that your children understand and practice good hygiene, regularly washing their hands, avoiding others who are sick, and being able to recognise something that potentially harbours infectious organisms. It is also good to teach them how to lower the risk of infecting others when they are sick, like by covering their mouths when they cough and washing their hands before touching anything that might be touched by others. Most common pathogens are either spread through the air or through touching infected surfaces.

Do I Need To Keep My Child Away From Germs Or Make Their Environment Sterile?

While maintaining hygiene is an important part of keeping healthy and avoiding infection, a developing immune system needs to learn to recognise what is dangerous and what is not, as well as develop immunity to as many organisms as possible. To keep your child safe, you should encourage regular hand washing, keep their environment clean and make sure they know what is safe to touch. To ensure their immune system develops properly and learns to control its response to every day challenges, however, it is necessary that they are exposed to environmental bacteria, viruses and allergens like pet fur. Children learn by holding, playing and chewing on new objects and things they find. Keeping them away from germs is therefore almost impossible. Instead of letting this stress you out, consider it a learning experience – not just for their minds, but for their immune systems too.

Most of the germs children come into contact with will stimulate the immune system and be removed and remembered for future. This prevents infection later in life, as well as allergic reactions to the environment once the immune system is fully developed. Allowing them to come into contact with low doses of viruses and bacteria can also help protect them at a later stage if they are infected by a larger dose of the same organism. Every day we inhale or ingest numerous harmful microorganisms, but because it is only one or a few the immune system can overcome them easily. When we ingest a large amount, like if eating infected food, the immune system struggles to dispose of all the pathogens before they establish an infection. For example, your child placing a small amount of E. coli present in the soil in their mouth is unlikely to cause disease, but does allow the immune system to learn to recognise it. Severe disease at a later stage if they ingest food or water contaminated with E. coli is therefore less likely.

How Can I Help Strengthen My Child’s Growing Immune System?

A child’s immune system is constantly changing and growing. In order to ensure that they have a strong and optimally functioning immune system, it is essential to ensure you do all you can to give it what it needs during this essential stage of development.

In order to strengthen your child’s immune system:

  • Ensure they receive a diet high in plant based sources of nutrition. This should contain good sources of magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron and the vitamins A, C, D and E. If you are worried that your children are not receiving enough of these from their diet, you can give them a supplement designed to enhance immune function.  Contact the MNI dietician at for healthy diet tips for you and your children.
  • Avoid processed foods and sugar. These have been linked to many health problems, including reducing the effectivity of the immune system and promoting inflammation.
  • Make sure they receive adequate amounts of good quality sleep. Sleep is important to a wide range of functions, and many developmental processes occur or are enhanced during sleep. This includes immune system development and function. Children should receive between 10 – 14 hours of sleep, depending on their age.
  • Reduce stress. This not only includes helping them to deal with issues at school and extramural activities, but promoting a family routine through ensuring meals, playtime and bed time (amongst others) occur at set times each day. Routine can be one of the best ways to reduce stress.
  • Ensure the environment is free from harmful substances. This is especially true for second hand smoke.
  • Encourage them to exercise and go outside regularly. This will not only help strengthen their immune system but also has a wide range of other benefits, including helping them establish a lifelong fitness routine.
  • Focus on healthy bacteria. The microbiome, or the normal suite of bacteria which live on and in us, serve many helpful roles in maintaining optimal health. Not only can they provide us with nutrients which may otherwise be inaccessible, but they also help prevent infection. Beneficial bacteria crowd out invaders and prevent their attachment, regulate our immune system and even produce their own antibiotics. The best way to help your children develop a healthy microbiome is to provide them with substances called pre and probiotics. Probiotics are small amounts of living healthy bacteria, and can be found in supplements and fermented foods such as certain types of yogurt. Prebiotics are the food which these bacteria eat, helping them to stay healthy and maintain adequate numbers to stave off potential infections. An important component of prebiotics is fibre, and while it can be supplemented, it is best sourced from unprocessed, plant based food sources such as fruits and vegetables.

When Should I Take My Child To The Doctor (Colds & Flu)?

If you are in doubt at all about whether to visit the doctor, it is always best to take your child for a consultation or call your paediatrician to make sure. The younger your child, the more important this is.

Colds and flu will usually clear up on their own and generally require only over the counter treatment. In some cases, however, they can cause greater health issues, either by themselves, or because they can open the door to secondary, more dangerous infections. It is best to ensure you can recognise the signs that a cold or flu is developing into something more dangerous.

You should seek medical care or advice if your child is experiencing:

  • Persistent low grade fever
  • If the illness is getting worse, new symptoms develop, or the symptoms or illness are not getting better
  • Pain that is not reduced by over the counter medicines
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Your child is under the age of three months
  • Refusal to eat or drink

You should seek immediate medical attention if your child is experiencing:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A high and persistent fever
  • Skin colour changes
  • Dizziness, confusion or seizures
  • Dehydration
  • Severe rash


What Is A Fever And Is It Dangerous?

A fever is one of the many natural and normal responses of the body to infection. Most infectious organisms can only live, develop and reproduce efficiently at normal body temperature (37°C). When we become infected, the immune system signals to a structure at the centre of our brain, the hypothalamus, which is responsible for temperature regulation. It responds by increasing our body’s temperature, making it harder for the invading organism to spread and cause disease.

A fever is a body temperature over 38°C. It is very rare for an infection to cause a body temperature that is dangerously high, as the hypothalamus strictly regulates how high it should go. Most fevers don’t go past 40°C, and rarely past 41°C. Even though these fevers are high, they will generally still not cause harm. Dangerously high body temperatures are only really observed during hyperthermia, or when heat exposure, such as from being stuck in a locked car, makes it impossible for our body to adjust through normal mechanisms such as sweating.

It is important to note that depending on how you measure body temperature, normal temperature can be different. For example, a reading of 37.2°C and above using an armpit thermometer is considered a fever, while the threshold for an oral reading is 37.8°C. Be sure to check the threshold for fever according to the specific thermometer type you are using.

While a fever is often thought of as dangerous, it is therefore actually a very normal response to infection, and in most cases is beneficial.

When Should I Be Worried About A Fever?

Fevers may be seen as problematic in the following cases:

  • It lasts longer than 3 days: this is a sign that the infection is not clearing.
  • It is accompanied by worrying behavioural changes that would be considered more severe than what is observed normally during a cold or flu, such as refusal to eat and drink, lethargy or if your child appears seriously sick.
  • Temperature above 39°C.
  • Your child is younger than 3 months.
  • You are pregnant.
  • Your or your child is immunocompromised.
  • Your child’s fever does not respond to over the counter medication.
  • Any of the following symptoms are experienced:
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness or confusion
  • Stiff neck
  • Trouble breathing
  • Severe pain or swelling at any part of the body
  • You are worried. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Rather call your doctor or pay them a visit if you are unsure.

How Should I Treat A Fever?

It is not usually necessary to treat low grade fevers (below 38.9°C) unless a doctor recommends it, and doing so may prolong the infection as lowering body temperature would allow the infection to spread. Treatment is usually symptomatic, and is recommended to make your child more comfortable.

Treatment of fevers can be achieved through using over the counter medicines such as paracetamol. Ask your pharmacist for a recommendation. Keep in mind that most of the normal symptoms of infection are actually your body’s defence against illness and so treating them can reduce the efficacy of your body’s response. Treatment should only take place when your child is feeling uncomfortable. It is important to note that once the medicine wears off the fever will return. This should not be any cause for concern. Once the body has control of the infection, usually after two or three days, the fever will subside.

Furthermore, ensure that your child is receiving enough liquid to prevent dehydration. For higher temperatures, placing the child in a lukewarm bath or a damp cloth on their forehead can provide some relief. Do not place them in cold water as this can cause more discomfort. Wrapping your child in blanket or clothes can also be problematic. Even though they may feel cold and be shivering, remember that their body temperature is actually above average. Doing this can therefore cause further body temperature rise or issues with temperature regulation.

What Are Febrile Seizures?

Febrile seizures are a relatively rare side effect of fever, occurring in only 2-4% of children under the age of 5. Of children who have febrile seizures, 40% will have another one in future, and children who are related to them are more likely to have one. While they may be unnerving and cause you to worry, they are not usually dangerous. Febrile seizures of normal duration, and even those that last over 15 minutes, do not appear to have significant negative effects, and are not linked to epilepsy.

Febrile seizures usually only last a few minutes. The signs that your child is experiencing a febrile seizure include:

  • Passing out
  • Jerking movements
  • Eye rolling
  • Rigid/stiff limbs

If your child experiences a febrile seizure, lower them onto a protected surface such as the floor and place them on their side. Do not place anything in their mouth or try to subdue/hold them down. Following a seizure, immediately contact your doctor. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, multiple seizures occur, your child exhibits problems breathing, their skin colour changes or your child does not recover quickly following a seizure, seek immediate medical attention.