Flu Shot Alternatives
Flu season’s upon us and along with it comes the ongoing fear that every cough, sneeze, ache, or sniffle could be the first indication that you have caught the dreaded flu.
Of course, along with flu season comes the annual controversy: should I get the flu shot?
The short answer is probably not.
If you’ve ever had the flu, you know it’s absolutely miserable—you’re couch-bound and bed-ridden with a fever, the chills, coughing, sweating, aching. And that’s if you’re “lucky.”
Every year the flu hospitalizes up to 200,000 people a year and kills an average of 32,743, in the U.S. alone.
Some would argue that that makes a pretty strong case in favor of flu vaccination.
But there is research indicating that the flu shot can actually leave otherwise healthy people more vulnerable to catching the flu. And that each successive flu shot causes more damage, weakening your immune system and leaving you susceptible to other respiratory diseases…pneumonia among them.
We also know that modern flu shots are made with aluminum salts—shown in studies to increase risk of Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, and other chronic diseases.
Plus, there really aren’t any guarantees it’ll even work for you. On any given year, the flu shot is a “best guess” at which strains will be most prevalent. And since it’s produced months in advance of flu season, there’s no accounting for new mutations or variations of existing flu strains.
In fact, according to the CDC, during the 2007-2008 flu season, the prevailing flu menace was caused by a mutated H3N2 virus…and that year’s flu shot had an overall efficacy of about 37%.
Barely more than a third of the population who received a shot saw any benefit. And as flu strains continue to mutate and multiply, year after year, I believe we’ll only see that number drop over time.
So who should get the flu shot?
According to the CDC, among the populations of people who would benefit most from the flu shot are children under five, adults over 65 and pregnant women.
But, you may be interested to learn that, printed right on the box that the flu shot comes in, it says, “safety and effectiveness…have not been established in pregnant women.” It also says, “safety and effectiveness…in pediatric patients have not been established.”
AND it goes on to say that in a study of 330 patients over the age of 65, antibody responses were lower than in younger subjects.
So, why these populations are considered tops on the “who needs a flu shot” list is kind of a mystery.
But there are ways to protect yourself from the flu virus on any given year…and it works for almost anyone and on almost any strain.
Step one is kind of obvious: simply do your best to avoid contact with people who have the flu. That means avoiding schools, child care centers, auditoriums, and public transportation.
Well, not really. As effective as that tip could be…for most folks, it’s just not practical. So here are some useful tips for avoiding and combating the flu:
Use a tissue to cover coughs and sneezes. We’ve been trained since we were kids to cover our mouths, but when it comes to the flu, your hand is not your best “sneeze guard.” Not only do you run the risk of putting harmful germs closer to your own face (that you may have accidentally picked up along the way), but using a tissue also helps protect those around you in the event that you’re sick.
Then immediately throw away the tissue and wash your hands. In fact, washing your hands often and keeping your hands away from your face is good advice in general during cold and flu season. And if a cough or a sneeze sneaks up and you don’t have access to a tissue, cough into the crease of your elbow.
Do some light aerobic exercise frequently. You don’t have to sprint around the block, but any exercise that increases your blood flow, intake of oxygen and overall body heat also helps kick your body’s natural defenses into high gear.
Load your plate with colors. Dark red, green, and yellow vegetables and fruits are loaded with immune-supporting vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Getting your nutrition from natural sources is always best, but a high-quality multivitamin and maybe even a greens supplement as well, can help fill in the gaps when your diet falls short..
Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Studies show that smokers get more frequent and more severe colds and flus. The smoke dries out respiratory passages and paralyzes the tiny cilia that work to sweep viruses out before they can take hold and do you any harm. And, like cigarettes, alcohol dries out the body—it also suppresses your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections.
Defuse the stress and relax. Believe it or not, the act of relaxing can rev up the leaders in the charge against colds and flu called interleukins. Relaxing is not the same as doing nothing, try picturing a pleasant image or your favorite destination while breathing evenly for 15-20 minutes. Or go for a gentle walk while working to clear your mind. Clearing your mind and learning to relax is not always easy but it can be learned and your immune system will thank you.
As a physician, I am surrounded by sick people all the time and I’ve never gotten a flu shot. Better to strengthen your immune system and follow the simple tips I’ve outlined above.
If you’re unlucky enough to land a nasty flu, despite your best efforts, all of the above are great tips for fighting it off quickly. Plus get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids and don’t be a hero…if you don’t feel yourself getting better within a few days, be sure to visit your doctor for treatment and advice.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: January 12, 2015