Summers over and guess what flu season is just around the corner. In fact soon enough youll be seeing PSAs about getting your flu shots.
But before you jump into the vaccination line, take a minute and consider this: It isnt that simple. The biggest proponent of the vaccine, the CDC, estimates that the vaccine is only 70-90% effective.1 Truth is, the vaccine only protects against the viruses that are expected to be in circulation for the upcoming season.
The flu virus mutates extremely quickly, and the strains in circulation change seasonally. So every year, the public health officials charged with deciding the vaccines composition have to make educated guesses about which flu virus strain will actually hit.2 And in some years, like the 2003-2004 season, they completely missed the mark, leaving us vulnerable.3
Furthermore, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, D.O., author of Vaccines The Risks, the Benefits, the Choices, raises concerns about the safety of the vaccine itself, pointing out that in addition to the small amounts of mercury in the vaccine preservative, thimerosol, the vaccine has other ingredients from non-flu chicken viruses to formaldehyde that could have adverse effects on peoples' health. Making the designation that the vaccine is safe, points out Tenpenny, is done on very short-term information. And quite frequently its done on small populations.4
Finally, the vaccines effectiveness depends on your immune system. Remember, a vaccine is really just like pre-season practice for your immune system. If your immune system is already compromised, it may not rev up to the necessary level of protection.
But whether or not you decide to get vaccinated, there are some tried and true measures you can put into play to stay healthy. Read carefully, stock your arsenal, and you too may make it through to March with nary a sniffle.
9 Flu Beliefs: True or False?
- Germs are your enemy. False.
The word germ covers a broad array of microbes viruses, bacteria, fungi some of which can indeed make you ill. Yet once again, those wonder germs, probiotics, the friendly bacteria that live inside of you and fermented foods like yogurt, are coming to the rescue. Consumption of foods that contain active live cultures of bacteria, have been linked to lower rates of infection. A recent study of factory workers in Sweden found that those who took a daily dose of the bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri were 2.5 less likely to get sick than workers who took a placebo.5 And in Japan, researchers found that a nasal spray with Lactobacillus casei bacteria gave mice four times the protection against the flu virus than mice who were untreated.6
- Laughter is the best medicine. True.
More and more research is indicating that laughter itself boosts your immune system. Add to this research indicating that loneliness and unmitigated stress can compromise your immune system and youve got a solid prescription for a date with someone you care about to watch a good comedy for some good laugh and love therapy.
- Cleanliness is next to godliness...and healthiness. True.
Cleanliness does help. Number one prescription: wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. The CDC has found that an effective handwashing program in schools has reduced absenteeism by at least 50%. Since the sneeze-to-doorknob-to-hand-to-mouth is one of the cold and flu virus favorite commutes, disinfecting contamination-prone surfaces, like doorknobs, phones and microwave buttons at work can also help reduce infection. Other ways to reduce your exposure to viruses, use an air purifier.
- Use a humidifier to keep your mucus membranes healthy. False.
Humidity is not what we need to keep hydrated; we need water poured directly inside of us. Excess humidity can actually fuel the growth of mold that also compromises the immune system and affects the respiratory system resulting in frequent illnesses with long-drawn out recoveries.7 Ideal humidity is 30% to eliminate mold growth. Instead of a humidifier, lather yourself with rich lotions and drink even more liquids. If a hygrometer indicates your home is up in the 60% humidity range, consider purchasing a dehumidifier.
- Chicken soup will cure what ails you. True.
Not only does chicken soup keep you hydrated and warm, it also contains garlic, an immune system booster, and other components that limit the movement of neutrophils, white blood cells that contribute to mucous build-up in our respiratory passages. And an amino acid released by chicken when cooked resembles the chemical acetylcysteine that is found in medicines used to treat bronchitis and other respiratory ailments.8
- You can't catch cold or the flu from getting cold. False.
Doctors are the worse at spreading this rumor. While it's true that we get a cold or the flu from viruses not the cold temperature itself, research conducted at the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in Wales has clearly shown that exposure to cold increases the chance that we will get infected. While the research focused on the rhinovirus that causes colds, much of the theory behind why we get infected when we get cold translates for the flu: Cold reduces our circulation, thickens our defensive mucous and stresses the body, depleting its energy reserves.
- Anti-viral drugs will keep me healthy if all else fails. False.
Only two anti-viral drugs attack influenza type B viruses and the others treat influenza type A. Furthermore, many strains of influenza type A have developed resistance to some anti-viral drugs. So, for these drugs to be effective, you have to identify what flu strain has made you its home and hope that it is not drug-resistant, and still weather the possible side effects.9
- The best thing when you're feeling under the weather is rest. True and False.
As described before, too much stress can lower your immune system, but small doses of stress can actually strengthen it. Recent research on both mice and humans indicates that giving ourselves moderate amounts of stress can actually keep our immune systems going stronger. And the best way to give your body that controlled dose of healthy stress is through moderate exercise. So if youre feeling a little low, take a short brisk walk, put on the music and dance a few songs. Then eat a nice bowl of chicken soup and go to bed.
- Supplements can help protect you. True.
There is no question that diet can have a huge effect on your overall health, including your immune system. While whole foods provide the best nourishment for your body, supplements can fill in the gaps. Get plenty of zinc and vitamin C, as well as garlic. Finally, for effective immune system support, try Jigsaw Health's Cyto-Ess. This casein-free patented formula uses immunoactive molecules found in milk to modulate your immune system over time. Cyto-Ess has been clinically tested and proven to support a healthy and strong immune system. Says Jigsaw Health founder, Pat Sullivan, I am amazed at the results that people are getting using this product. I am using it myself and can really feel the difference.
- Personal interview Dr. Randy Horwitz, MD. Medical Director of University of Arizonas School for Integrative Medicine 6/27/07
- Personal interview Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, D.O. (6/29/07)
- Hori, Tetsuji et al, Effect of Intranasal Administration of Lactobacillus casei Shirota on Influenza Virus Infection of Upper Respiratory Tract in Mice. Clinical Diagn Lab Immunol. 2001 May; 8(3): 593-597
- Personal interview Dr. Neil Schachter, Medical Director at Mount Sinai Medical Center 6/26/07