Pharmacies, health practitioners, grocery stores, and big-box stores all heavily push the flu vaccine this time of year. It’s hard to go anywhere without being bombarded by advertising for the annual flu shot. This frenzy occurs to capture a piece of the flu shot money pie. There is big money to be made for both the manufacturers and those administering the vaccine. But, given the questionable ingredients and lackluster effectiveness of the vaccine, many people are seeking alternatives to the flu shot.
What is the flu?
Influenza, or the flu for short, is a contagious respiratory system infection caused by a group of viruses known as influenza. Human influenza viruses A and B are the strains responsible for the flu experienced in humans during the winter months. It spreads from person to person by contact with tiny droplets expelled into the air when infected people cough, sneeze, and even talk. Contaminated surfaces are less often the cause of transmission from one person to another.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The flu can cause mild to severe illness depending on the age and health of the person. Its hallmark symptoms include:
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
Flu shot efficacy
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2018–2019 flu shot had an adjusted vaccine efficacy of just 29% for all ages. People at greatest risk of the flu—elderly individuals aged 50 and older and infants 9 to 17 months—fared worse with vaccine efficacy of only 12% and 6% respectively. Between 3% and 11% of people get the flu each year, making the 6% to 12% figures hardly significant and causing one to question whether you are receiving any protection at all by getting the flu shot each year.
Harmful and questionable ingredients in the vaccine
In addition to poor efficacy, some choose not to have the flu shot because of the harmful and questionable ingredients they contain. Chief among these is mercury (thimerosal), which is added to prevent the growth of microbes. Research links thimerosal to neurological damage, especially in children, by interfering with folate-dependent methylation. Moreover, the vaccine also contains toxic formaldehyde, aluminum, chicken egg proteins, gelatin, polysorbate 80, and antibiotics that have various risks.
Natural flu shot alternatives
Vitamin D. One of the most important steps to support healthy immune function is to take therapeutic levels of vitamin D when the flu virus is most virulent. In fact, some experts hypothesize that flu season is directly correlated to a lack of vitamin D synthesis in the skin because humans are not exposed to sufficient sun during less sunny months. Indeed, research suggests that supplementing with vitamin D—a very inexpensive supplement—can reduce the risk of flu with better efficacy than the bleak 29% of last year’s flu shot. Elementary-aged children should take 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily, while teens and adults should take 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily for optimal protection.
Probiotics. Given that up to 70% of your immune system lies within your gut, it is no surprise that taking a probiotic can reduce your risk of flu. One study found that taking combinations of various probiotic strains—three to five strains including Lactobacillus plantarum LP01 or LP02, Lactobacillus rhamnosus LR04 or LR05, and Bifidobacterium lactis BS01, lactoferrin, and prebiotics—reduced flu-like respiratory illnesses by a remarkable 75%. The probiotics also reduced symptom severity in people who did get the flu, by a significant 37%. Take a probiotic at least once daily with at least three of the above mentioned numbered strains.
Elderberry. Clinical research confirms that elderberry syrup (15 mL, four times daily) reduces the length and severity of flu symptoms, but it can also be taken to maintain healthy immune function. Most manufacturers recommend one teaspoon (5 mL) daily to maintain healthy immune function.
Essential Oils. As shown in Medicinal Essential Oils, some essential oils contain anti-viral properties and some demonstrate specific activity against the flu. These include tea tree, cinnamon bark (its primary constituent cinnamaldehyde), orange, clove, eucalyptus, rosemary, and melissa. Blending these oils together and taking two to three drops of the blend in a capsule, twice daily, may help support healthy immune function.
The evidence-based conclusion
Rather than expose your body to a largely ineffective and potentially harmful flu shot, keep your immune system in tip-top shape with natural products. Taking more than one of the solutions above is likely to enhance the protective effects you experience. By doing so, you’ll stay healthy during the challenging winter season and avoid missing life’s important celebrations.