It seems that every year with the ringing of a new year we also ring in a new season of the flu. It’s at that same time that everyone seems to be recommending that you get a flu vaccine. You can get it practically anywhere at no large expense. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there making it difficult to decide if the flu shot is right for you. Could it cause more harm than good? Ultimately, it is a personal decision, and one you should take time to research thoroughly.
Public health agencies argue that vaccinations have been some of our biggest public health successes resulting in longer lifespans compared to our ancestors. This includes the flu, which can be a deadly disease in vulnerable populations. For instance, the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed 20 million people worldwide, 675,000 of them in the US. This was prior to vaccinations and in times of decreased awareness about hygiene. Today, influenza remains a health threat killing an estimated 3,000 – 49,000 people annually (CDC.gov). Many of these people have lowered immune systems due to underlying medical issues (heart or lung disease) or are in the age ranges vulnerable to disease (the very young and the elderly).
Supporters of the flu vaccine promote its use because it can protect those around you unable to get the vaccine. This is a concept called “herd immunity.” Some people are concerned that if they get the flu vaccine they may get the flu. Pro-vaccine agencies indicate that the vaccine does not give you the flu; however, some people may experience a low-grade fever, muscle aches, or fatigue, which indicates an immune response to the vaccine. This use of immune cells to address the vaccine antigens may decrease those cells available to fight other diseases predisposing you to illness.
While it is true that the influenza vaccine does not prevent the influenza in 100% of people, it has been associated with a reduction in the risk of death and other medical complications in those populations most at risk. For example, in the elderly population, there is a 27% reduction in hospitalizations in those vaccinated compared to those without. However, how this information translates to those populations not vulnerable to flu complications is still up for debate.
While vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella and polio has proven to be highly effective historically, influenza changes rapidly making vaccination development challenging. Each year the CDC uses data to predict the following year’s influenza strains to begin development of a flu vaccine in time for the next flu season. Despite their greatest efforts, there are years where they are incorrect, such as 2015.
Many people in opposition to the flu vaccine are concerned about toxins found in the vaccine, such as preservatives, metals, and contaminants. Some components are incorporated to promote an immune response to the vaccine, although data is lacking about chronic yearly exposure to these additives. Despite this concern, some work facilities are requiring employees to receive the flu vaccine to be able to work with the public. This brings into question one’s personal rights and beliefs.
Opponents to the flu vaccine also believe that it does not prevent the flu, which stems from information provided on the vaccine’s packaging. This is because not all flu is the result of influenza. It has been noted that an average of 16% of those with the flu are found to be influenza positive. For the remaining 84% the influenza vaccine would not be effective. In addition, some believe that a flu vaccine can predispose you to getting other strains of the flu the following year. This is based upon a study from the University of Minnesota where they found that “receiving a flu shot for one strain may contribute to higher risk of contraction and severity from the flu of a different strain the following year.”
Ultimately it is a decision that should be made with your healthcare provider to determine if you should receive the influenza vaccine. Beyond the vaccine, there are other ways to prevent and treat the flu naturally without medication.
What you can do to prevent the flu and recover quicker.
Building up the immune system, which is the foundation to staying healthy is important to preventing the flu regardless if you choose to vaccinate yourself or not. Virues other than influenza are also more prevalent in the winter, when people are living in closer quarters and staying inside due to weather. Since it is not possible to get a vaccination for every virus out there, the best strategy is to strengthen the immune system to fight all of them including influenza.
- Optimize your Vitamin D3 status- Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that supports the immune system in addition to many other functions. Some studies have shown it to be effective against the flu, with some believing it is equivalent in effectiveness to the flu vaccine. The physicians at Today Integrative Health and Wellness can help you optimize your vitamin D status.
- Improve your gastrointestinal flora. A strong immune system relies heavily on having a healthy, well-functioning gut (as 70% of your immune system is in the gut). Probiotics found in foods and supplements can ensure your gut is functioning optimally.
- Avoid inflammatory foods. Foods that inflame the gastrointestinal tract decrease immune function. Instead consuming nutrient-rich whole foods rich in vitamin C, such as nourishing soups, colorful salads, and dark greens and veggies provide flu-fighting phytonutrients.
- Antiviral herbs and supplements. Elderberries, Echinacea root and garlic are three anti-viral herbs often used in fighting illness. Zinc lozenges can also be used; however inappropriate dosing can lead to depletion of other nutrients. Contact our office today to arrange an appointment to discuss the best supplement dosages and frequencies for you.
- Get good sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential to allow the body to restore and repair itself. Trying for a minimum of 7 hours per night can increase energy and immune fighting abilities. If you struggle with sleep, make an appointment at Today Integrative Health and Wellness and our physicians will provide you with individualized care to improve your sleep.
- Stress reduction. Stress produces inflammation, which decreases your immune response. Exercise can be a healthy way to reduce stress. Additional stress management techniques include mindfulness, acupuncture, and journaling.
- Avoid antibiotics. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and if taken when not needed they can disrupt gastrointestinal flora making it more challenging for you to recover from illness.
- Water therapies have been used for thousands of years in times of illness. Using alternating hot and cold has been thought to increase circulation and lymphatic flow increasing immune fighting abilities.
- Personal hygiene. Washing your hands multiple times per day and every time you are around someone ill will help reduce exposure to disease.