Flu Shot or Not?

Every year around this time I get the question from my patients about the flu shot. Let’s talk a little bit about the flu shot and some pros and cons.

The flu shot was first developed as a live-attenuated (weakened live form of the virus) vaccine in the 1930’s. It then developed into an inactive vaccine that eventually became a trivalent inactive vaccine, meaning there are 3 major strains the vaccine covers, (two influenza A strains and one influenza B strains). Each year the shot is slightly adjusted to cover the most common strains that are circulating that year.

Pros: The flu shot may be a good idea for you if you work in an environment where you are more likely to get the virus, like a school teacher around loads of kids, or where being contagious could be a danger to those around you, for examples health care workers in an elderly home or who work with immune compromised individuals.

Although there are numbers of people that do have fatal encounters with the flu, for the most part most healthy people that get the flu will not die from it. Is it uncomfortable and an inconvenience? YES! But here’s what most doctors and medical professionals don’t explain to you:

Getting the flu and any acute illness for that matter, although uncomfortable, is an important part of building up your immune strength. Each time we get sick our immune system develops a “memory”, if you will to that infection. It learns to fight it, and detect it, and in the long run is stronger because of the encounter. It is possible to get the flu again if you’ve gotten it once, and I’m sure some of you have experienced this, but as you encounter more strains, you build up that memory and your system becomes better at fighting it off. Eventually, and as long as your health stays up to par, your susceptibility to the flu will go way down.

Cons: Getting a flu shot each year does not allow the body to create this memory like it would if it actually had to fight it off. (It can help with antibody production but not cell mediated immune response- more discussion on this for another time) In fact, in a lot of ways it tends to suppress or diminish the immune systems responses leaving you more vulnerable in the long run and dependent on continuous flu shots. Think of it like a well-trained army that never actually goes to battle or trains anymore. Eventually their skills decline, and they are not so great at fighting anymore. There can be local and short term side effects from the flu shot such as soreness at the injection site, fever and chills, muscle aches, headaches or other symptoms. Additionally, there are preservatives found in the shot to allow them to have longer shelf lives. These preservatives have been found clinically to block detox pathways, affect neurological functioning and have even been associated with autism.

One of the best ways to support yourself and your family’s during cold and flu season is to strengthen and support your immune system. In fact being healthy is the BEST defense against any illness. 70-80% of our immune system is found in our guts, so a healthy gut is a healthy immune system. Here are some of Dr. Emily’s top tips for strengthening your immune system this season:

  1. Sleep: Get plenty of well rested sleep. At least 8 hours and trying to get to bed before midnight is key
  2. Water: Drinking plenty of water. At least half your body weight in oz each day
  3. Reduce stress: Keep stress to a minimum. Control what you can and let go of the rest. Use prayer, meditation, exercise, community support, music, etc to help with coping with stress
  4. Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Eat an anti-inflammatory diet! That means a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruit, fiber, healthy fats, clean sourced protein and cutting out (or at least back on) processed sugar, alcohol, processed and fast foods, dairy, gluten and any other food sensitivities you may have that cause inflammation in the body
  5. Movement!!! Include exercise, stretching and movement that allows for sweating, moving circulation and lymph, supporting heart rate variability, mental health and so much more!
  6. Fat Soluble Vitamins: Vitamin D3- can get the most active vitamin D from the sun. Get 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight each day to bare skin. Can also supplements with 2000-5000 IU of D3/ day Vitamin A- a potent antioxidant and fat soluble vitamin. Can dose 5000-10,000 IU daily.
  7. Antioxidants: Vitamin C from foods like berries, cruciferous vegetables and camu camu or can supplement 2000-4000 mg in divided doses
    Zinc- important mineral that helps boost immune function. Found high in animal protein, oysters, lentils, nuts and seeds or can supplement with 15-30 mg daily
  8. Probiotics– beneficial flora for the gut. Can take supplement versions or get from fermented foods like: sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir
  9. Immune modulating herbs: Elderberry, Cordyceps, Shitake, Schisandra, Astragalus, Licorice, Echinacea. Can make teas with these herbs or get in capsule or tincture form.
  10. Antimicrobial herbs: Garlic, Black pepper, Thyme, Basil, Oregano, (these sound familiar huh?) Melissa, Olive leaf extract. Can cook with these herbs or take in capsule or tincture forms.

In the end it’s always important to choose the best option for YOU as an individual. If your job involves being around crowds of people or with school aged kids or elderly, then maybe a flu shot is the right choice for you, especially if your own immune system is not as strong as it could be. But what about also working on strengthening your immune system through these lifestyle changes to improve your overall health, so you don’t need to rely on this shot for the rest of your life? Make sure to talk to your doctor or reach out to Dr. Emily or Dr. Cloyd so you can make the best decision to support your system.