Are you debating whether or not to get a flu shot? With concerns about the risky downsides of these shots, many people are wondering about alternatives. As a practicing physician for more than 20 years, discussions about flu shots are a yearly ritual at my clinic.
As a rule, my recommendation to my patients is – don’t get the shots for a number of reasons, including these:
1) The Flu Virus Mutates Quickly
Since no one knows which flu strains will be in circulation from year to year, vaccine makers can only guess which particular virus should be targeted. Remember, the flu virus mutates quickly, so it’s very likely that your vaccination could “protect” you from a strain that isn’t even out there – and leave you exposed to those that are. Even the officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) admit that a flu shot that doesn’t match the circulating viruses is worthless.
Plus, there’s an additional complication: This year, the government shutdown has eliminated the CDC information gathering service, so, for the past couple of weeks, we haven’t had any statistics available, including which types of viruses are affecting people.
2) Your Risk Level is Actually Pretty Low
The odds that you’ll get the flu are actually very low and so is the risk of dying. The CDC issues an annual estimate of how many Americans died as a result of flu, then revises it later when more data is available. In one recent year (2011), fatalities were estimated at 36,000, but the actual number of deaths – due to flu and pneumonia – turned out to be closer to 22,000.
I don’t want to minimize these deaths; we would all like to see zero rather than thousands of lives lost. But the truth is the actual fatality rate is .007, not even close to 1 percent. There’s a much greater risk of dying from prescription medication than from the flu, so why are we being frightened into getting shots that could easily be worthless?
3) Toxic Ingredients
Flu shots may contain seriously toxic ingredients, including heavy metals. These are not things that should be put in your body, even in very small amounts.
4) Age Matters
If you’re over the age of 65, you probably won’t get much benefit from a flu shot. In a study published in a prestigious medical journal, Lancet Infectious Diseases, a flu vaccine expert reported that there was no evidence that flu shots work in adults over the age of 65. If that’s the case, why bother?
What You Can Do To Avoid the Flu
Skipping flu shots protects you from the toxins and other downsides of these vaccinations. But there is a second step involved, and it is very important. You absolutely must do everything you can to build up your immune system so it can protect you against whatever viruses or bacteria are circulating.
In other words, if your typical day consists of eating processed, prepared, or fast foods, drinking sodas and “fruit” flavored drinks, sitting at a desk or chair for hours at a time, and short-changing yourself on sleep while hoping anti-bacterial hand sanitizers will keep you well, then please keep reading because you need to make some changes.
Here are four things that can help.
1) Feed your immune system
The majority of immune system cells live in your intestinal tract. To keep them happy and healthy, avoid sugary foods and beverages, artificial sweeteners, processed and fast food, and go easy on the alcohol. Instead, focus on a nutritious diet of whole foods, with special emphasis on organic fruits and vegetables. For days when it’s difficult to eat properly, having a good greens supplement on hand can make a big difference.
In addition, you’ll want to maintain a healthy population of probiotics (good bacteria) in your digestive tract. These hard-working little organisms help boost immunity and can prevent the repeated bouts of colds and flu that can turn into life-threatening respiratory ailments, such as pneumonia.
2) Beware of antibacterial products
Soaps, shower gels, and many other products are marketed today as “antibacterial.” I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to add bacteria-killing ingredients to so many things, but it was a huge mistake that has backfired. The chemical triclosan, for example, a common bacteria killer found in hundreds of products, has been linked to a weakened immune system, allergies, flu, colds, and more serious disorders. If you feel you need a hand sanitizer, look for a product containing 60 percent alcohol, rather than antibacterial chemicals.
Furthermore, swap antibacterial soaps, as well as shower gels containing immune-disrupting chemicals like phthalates, synthetic fragrances, or parabens, for gentler products, like castile soap. Your skin is home to good bacteria that provide a layer of protection against foreign invaders, so treat it gently, try not to dry it out, and hold the chemicals, please.
3) Rest up
When it comes to a healthy immune system, there’s no substitute for sleep. Cells that have been damaged during the daytime get repaired while you’re sleeping, and that’s certainly something you don’t want to miss out on. If you’re having sleep problems, I recommend melatonin supplements. Melatonin is not just a sleep aid; it’s actually a powerful antioxidant, so it helps the healing process and protects against the rogue cells known as free radicals that contribute to aging and a long list of ailments.
In addition to getting a good night’s sleep, I urge you to look into mindfulness meditation. There are many books and websites devoted to mindfulness, a very simple form of meditation that helps reduce stress, another major enemy of your immune system. Taking a few minutes to meditate once or twice during the day can help bolster your immunity. Many patients tell me they sleep better when they meditate during the day. If you aren’t doing this already, I think it’s worth a try.
4) Supplement safely
Plenty of companies are trying to capitalize on flu fears by offering remedies I consider questionable at best. Why not stick with supplements we know work? Vitamins D3 and C are two of my favorites.
Vitamin D3 is now being recommended for everything from flu protection to strong bones and emotional stability. Many of my patients are deficient in D3, even though it can be produced in the body with exposure to sunlight. The problem is, we’ve been repeatedly warned to stay out of the sun or risk skin cancer. That’s really a shame, because it only takes about 20 minutes of bright sunlight on bare skin (without sunblock) to get a hearty dose of D3.
Unfortunately, fall and winter are not the best times for sunbathing. And to complicate matters, many middle-aged and older people have lost the ability to convert sunshine into D3. You can have your blood levels of D3 tested by your health-care provider to determine if you are deficient. Healthy vitamin D3 levels fall between 50 and 70 ng/ml
has a well-deserved reputation as a cold fighter. But there is a considerable body of research showing that vitamin C can do a lot more. Vitamin C actually helps the body cope with stress, and it boosts the activity of another important nutrient, vitamin E. Unlike vitamin D3, humans cannot manufacture C in their bodies. Fresh fruits, especially citrus, cantaloupe, berries, and mango (as well as many vegetables) contain vitamin C, but few Americans get enough in their diet. I recommend 2,000 to 4,000 mg of vitamin C daily, in divided doses throughout the day. Since the nutrient is water soluble, there is no danger of overdosing; any excess will be flushed from the body in your urine.
Make avoiding the flu one of your goals for the months ahead. I know it can be done, because I work with sick people most days of the week and rarely get sick myself. Instead of hoping that a hit-or-miss, risky vaccination will protect you, take charge of your own health and follow these instructions for a happy, healthy, flu-free fall.