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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.

Surviving the 2018 flu season

The peak of the 2018 flu season is upon us with outbreaks being reported across North America. The influenza virus has hit every state in the continental United States and the media reports that Canadian emergency rooms are overcrowded with sick patients. A number of schools have canceled classes due to a rapid rise in flu-related absences. The flu shot has been a miserable failure, particularly since the mutated H3N2 strain that is spreading is difficult to prevent with the vaccine. And people are missing work, negatively affecting businesses. With the significant effects of the flu this year, some are wondering whether they should isolate themselves at home until the peak flu activity ends in April.

What is the flu and what are the symptoms?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory infection caused by a group of viruses known as influenza. There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. Influenza D primarily affects cattle and does not cause illness in humans. Human influenza A and B are responsible for the seasonal flu. Influenza C generally only causes mild respiratory symptoms and is not believed to cause seasonal epidemics.

Influenza A is further divided into different strains based on the presence of two proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin (H) and the neuraminidase (N). There are 18 different H subtypes and 11 different N subtypes. Influenza A also involves different strains due to virus mutation. H1N1 and H3N2 are two of the most common strains responsible for seasonal flu. They may be labeled according to the year they were most virulent, such as 2009 H1N1 Influenza.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness depending on the age and current state of health of the individual. It usually comes on suddenly and includes the following symptoms:
• Fever
• Chills
• Cough
• Headache and body aches
• Fatigue
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy noise

The role of the immune system
Whether or not you get the flu depends on the strength of your immune system. This is why the elderly, very young, and people with chronic medical conditions tend to be hit the hardest by the flu — both in incidence and severity.

The immune system is relatively immature at birth and has to adapt during life through exposure to multiple foreign challenges (viruses, bacteria, etc.). Babies produce their own antibodies each time they are exposed to a foreign challenge. Infants rely upon antibodies passed from their mother to protect them against germs for their first few months of life. Breastfed babies continue to receive a boost of disease-fighting antibodies through breast milk that is rich in cells that fight infection. By age one, their immune system has developed significantly but not fully. An immature immune system obviously increases the risk of influenza infections in infants.

The effects of aging on the immune system include a reduced production and diminished function of key immune cells. (1) In other words, the immune system detects and responds to foreign challenges more slowly with fewer cells performing this vital function. The body also heals more slowly in aged adults. As a result, elderly individuals experience a decline in immune function that makes them more susceptible to illness and a greater risk for complications.

Prevention strategies
Prevention is a far better strategy than treating the flu, especially if you are in the more vulnerable populations. Flu-related complications — such as pneumonia, sinus or ear infections, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), and more — resulting in hospitalization and sometimes death are more likely in the elderly, very young, and chronically ill. Here are some tips to reduce your risk of infection:
Wash your hands with soap and warm water regularly. The flu virus is spread via contact with respiratory droplets. This contact can occur through direct contact with the virus or by contact with a surface the has the virus (like a door handle or shopping cart). Washing your hands frequently can reduce your risk of infection.
Eat real whole foods (not packaged, processed foods). Your body relies on a daily infusion of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary for proper immune function. Inadequate supply of nutrients weakens your immune defenses and makes you more susceptible to illness. On the contrary, eating fresh fruits and veggies improves your immune defenses. (2)
Reduce sugar intake. Sugar depresses the activity of white blood cells, (3) which not only protect your body from viruses and germs but help prevent some medical conditions. Indeed, recent research suggests that drinking 1 liter (33.8 ounces) of sugary soda — or 100 grams of sugar — can disable the immune system for up to five hours. (4) Sugar also has a similar structure to vitamin C and competes with C, resulting in less vitamin C in white blood cells. Vitamin C is important for both the production and function of white blood cells.
Be physically active. Regular physical activity isn’t just good for your heart, body, and mind. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week may reduce the risk of respiratory infections. (5) Regular low to moderate activity also decreases flu-related mortality. (6)
Take a vitamin D supplement daily. Research has made it abundantly clear that vitamin D plays an important role in immune system regulation. (7) Experts concluded that about 41.6% of U.S. adults are deficient in vitamin D, with those of African American decent reaching 82.1%. (8) Individuals who are deficient can see up to a 50% reduction in influenza risk by taking vitamin D according to a 2011 study. (9) Ideally, people would have their vitamin D status determined by a blood test. However, in the absence of a test it is not unreasonable for elementary aged children to take 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily during flu season, and older teens and adults 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily.
Take probiotics daily. You may not realize it but about 70% of your immune system lies within your gut as the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT. (9) Probiotics play a vital role in the gut microbiome and therefore significantly impact immune function. A review of 13 randomized controlled trials concluded that probiotics reduced the number of people who experienced an acute upper respiratory-tract infection. (10) Another review that included 23 trials and 6,269 children determined that probiotic consumption reduced the incidence of respiratory tract infections in children. (11) Look for a multi-strain probiotic with at least 10 to 15 billion CFU and take one to two daily.
• Wear a mask if you choose. Although not very attractive, wearing a respiratory mask has proven significantly effective in reducing the risk of influenza. (12)

Natural solutions if you get the flu
Despite your best efforts, you may still get influenza. If this happens, a number of natural solutions exist to help speed your recovery.
Rest. Your body needs time to heal and recover, so take it easy. Stay home from work or school. Not only does this provide much needed rest but you reduce the spread of the virus.
Drink plenty of fluids. Water, herbal teas, and broth keep your respiratory system hydrated and thin mucus for expulsion. Don’t drink sodas, sugary sports-drinks, or other sugary beverages that will depress your immune system.
Take elderberry syrup. Preliminary research suggests that taking elderberry syrup reduces both the severity and duration of the influenza A and B. (13) Thousands of individuals can also attest to its effectiveness. As outlined in SuperCritical Essential Oils, typical doses are as follows: teens/adults: 10–15mL, 4 times daily for 5 days; children 1–6 years old: 5mL, twice daily for up to 5 days; children 7–12 years old: 5 mL, 4 times daily for 5 days.
Use essential oils. Teens and older adults can take a few drops of an immune-supporting blend with two drops of one or two SuperCarrier oils (balsam fir, lavender, lemongrass, ginger, and ylang ylang) in a capsule up to three times daily. This will help support normal immune activity to identify and eliminate the virus. Be sure to diffuse a respiratory blend to support mucus expulsion and respiratory function as well. Younger children can have an immune-supporting blend rubbed onto their feet with carrier oil. Diffusing respiratory supportive oils is also helpful in children three and older. For more information on how to use essential oils see Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails, Evidence-Based Essential Oil Therapy, or Medicinal Essential Oils.
Take homeopathic Oscillococcinum. If you catch the flu within the first 12 hours — even better within the first two hours — then you may have success with Oscillococcinum. It is designed to reduce flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fever, chills, fatigue, and headache. Take as directed in the supplement box.

Conclusion
You don’t need to panic and sequester yourself until Spring. Take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect you and your family and life will continue without inviting the dreaded flu into your home.