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Alternatives to the flu shot frenzy

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:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • 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.

Eradicating H. pylori Naturally

One of the most successful pathogens in human history is the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium. It has manipulated cellular death pathways to ensure its survival and propagation, permitting it a prolonged existence and perpetual infections in humans. It is so successful that the CDC estimates nearly two-thirds of the human population has this bacteria living inside them.(1) While H. pylori has a long history of success and infection, it can be managed naturally with an evidence-based approach.

What is H. pylori

H. pylori (previously Campylobacter pylori) is a gram-negative bacterium that resides in the digestive tract and has a propensity for attacking the stomach lining — so much so it causes the majority of peptic ulcers (sores in the stomach and upper part of the intestine). H. pylori is transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids (saliva, fecal matter, or vomit) of an infected person. It is also contracted by drinking contaminated water. Good hygiene is essential to avoid its spread.

Signs and Symptoms of Infection

One of the problems with H. pylori is that the majority of people who are infected don’t exhibit any symptoms. However, if symptoms do occur they generally present as bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, belching, and vomiting. More serious infections may include diarrhea, dark or tarry stools, heartburn, peptic ulcers, loss of appetite, anemia (low red blood cell count), vomiting blood, and fatigue. It is also linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer depending on health status and other environmental factors.(10)

What is the Conventional Treatment for H. pylori

H. pylori is typically treated with “triple therapy.” This involves the simultaneous administration of two antibiotics to kill the bacteria with an acid reducer (esomeprazole, lansoprazole, omeprazole or pantoprazole). The acid reducer decreases stomach acidity to improve the action of the antibiotics. Side effects of triple therapy include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, stomachache, headache, dark colored stools, vaginal itching/discharge, muscle weakness, mood changes, and yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Die-off Symptoms

Die-off (Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction) reaction is a term used to describe a reaction during the clearance of pathogens (bacteria, fungi, viruses, yeasts, etc.) from the body with antimicrobials. It is believed to occur when endotoxins produced by massive numbers of dying pathogens overwhelm the body’s ability to clear them out. This creates a toxic state that produces characteristic flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, muscle aches, skin rashes, brain fog, and gastrointestinal problems (bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation). Die-off reactions usually occur when significant lifestyle changes are made: diet modification (switching from processed to whole foods — pathogens starve and die off rapidly), beginning probiotics (modifies the gut microbial balance to one with more good bacteria), or taking an antimicrobial substance (food, herb, supplement, or drug). This type of reaction will usually occur hours (1-2) to days (up to 10) after the lifestyle modification occurs.

The risk of die-off reactions may be reduced by backing off on the amount of the antimicrobial substance consumed, making a dietary change more gradually, or reducing the dosage of probiotics taken. In addition, a digestive enzyme (especially one with bromelain and proteases) may reduce reactions to whole foods added to the diet by facilitating better absorption of proteins and nutrients new to your body.

Eradicating H. pylori Naturally

  • Essential oils (2 drops each of clove, German chamomile, ginger, and lemongrass in a capsule, twice daily, one hour after a meal). Fortunately, scientists have revealed that a number of essential oils kill H. pylori — some at very low concentrations. Common essential oils that are effective against H. pylori include clove, German chamomile, ginger, and lemongrass.(2)(3)(4) Even more importantly, research suggests that some of the essential oils kill the bacterium without promoting resistance — a problem plaguing modern day antibiotics.
  • DGL (760 mg 20 minutes before each meal). This special form of licorice root has been relied upon for centuries to soothe stomach issues. It is very useful for ulcers and heartburn. One study concluded that the addition of DGL to triple therapy increased the elimination of H. pylori, particularly in people with peptic ulcers.(6) Another study demonstrated that licorice was as effective as bismuth (Pepto-Bismol) for H. pylori infections.(7)
  • Black cumin seed oil (1,000 mg after lunch and dinner). Black cumin seed oil and one of its active constituents thymoquinone are two of the most useful natural medicinals known. Scholarly research suggests that they are valuable for myriad health conditions and H. pylori is no exception. People administered 1,000 mg of BCSO (and 40 mg omeprazole), twice daily after meals, experienced reduced H. pylori counts comparable to triple therapy.(8)
  • Probiotics (15-50 billion CFU with evening meal). Results of clinical studies suggest that specific probiotics (Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, L. johnsonni La1, and L. reuteri) reduce H. pylori counts in the digestive tract, improve triple therapy eradication rate, or reduce the side effects of triple therapy.(9)

Conclusion

Chances are you are infected with H. pylori, even if you are symptom free. This infection could increase the risk of adverse reactions during lifestyle changes and puts you at greater risk for peptic ulcer and gastritis. Conventional triple therapy is not without side effects and may not be the most effective therapy to eliminate H. pylori. Natural options including essential oils, DGL, black cumin seed oil, and probiotics are promising natural remedies to control this common infection. Talk to your doctor about these natural, evidence-based options if you know, or suspect you have, and H. pylori infection.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a healthcare professional.

When to take your probiotic supplement to maximize effectivenss

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To many it probably seems counter-intuitive to intentionally introduce live bacteria into the human body. Bacteria causes disease, right? So, who would want to willingly introduce bacteria into their body? The reality is that trillions of bacteria — some harmful, some beneficial to human health — live in and on the human body.

These beneficial bacteria are known as probiotics, and the growing body of evidences suggests that the balance of healthy to harmful bacteria within the human gut is critical to human health. Research suggests that probiotics influence immunity, digestive health, inflammation, allergies, mood, and nutritional status. Indeed, probiotics aid the absorption of calcium, fats, B vitamins, proteins, and phosphorus. To learn more about how these tiny organisms benefit human health, and what the therapeutic dosage is, read pages 99-100 of my book The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails.

Now, the question I am frequently asked — when is the best time to take a probiotic supplement. If you search the internet for this answer you are likely to get a number of varying opinions and answers. Some say to take them on an empty stomach, some at night, others in the morning, and still others say they must be taken with food. So, what is the right answer?

As usual I looked to what science tells us about this question and applied the evidence to come to my conclusion. To answer this question it is first important to understand that probiotics are living organisms that must remain viable in order to provide a benefit. They must also be able to survive the acidic environment of the stomach and then colonize the intestines.

Research suggests that probiotics are able to survive a stomach with a pH of 3 or higher. Unfortunately, the stomach has an average pH of 1-3 when empty, but it usually remains at a pH of 2 — too low for probiotics to survive. However, when food is in the stomach the pH rises as high as 4 or 5 pH, which is ideal for probiotic survival. This helps us answer part of our question — that it is best to take a probiotic with a meal.

Now, to the timing debate. Is it better to take your probiotic in the morning or at night? Again, this requires a knowledge of how a meal affects stomach acidity (or pH). One study evaluated the effect of meals on stomach acidity and found that breakfast increases stomach pH to 2.5 to 3, whereas a high-fat dinner raised the pH to between 4.0 and 4.9. Interestingly, a spicy lunch induced a stomach pH of 3.0 to 4.2. The study authors concluded that a fatty meal had the greatest buffering effect on stomach acidity. That tells us that taking your probiotic with dinner may be best — as long as it includes some healthy fat.

So, now we have a solid evidence-based answer as to when we should take our probiotic to maximize survival and effectiveness. The best time to take your probiotic supplement is with a meal and at dinner time, with some healthy fat.

Now, one last thing before we leave the subject of probiotics. People are often concerned about how antibiotic medications alter intestinal balance of bacteria and if natural antimicrobials like essential oils harm friendly bacteria. It is unquestionable that antibiotics severely disrupt gut balance, and some researchers believe this alteration is permanent. Researchers have also investigated the effects of antimicrobial essential oils on probiotics and found some interesting conclusions. To discover these conclusions refer to pages 45 and 46 of Evidence-Based Essential Oil Therapy.

The Doctors Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails-smCover_EvidenceBasedEssentialOilTherapy