One question I hear from folks ALL the time is: “Should I get a flu shot?” There’s a lot of confusion around this topic, and since we are deep into flu season, I’m dedicating this blog post to helping you understand your options when it comes to warding off this seemingly ubiquitous virus.
But before we even touch the question, we need to talk about IMMUNITY. Did you know that your body is beautifully designed to take care of you and keep you feeling well? But when you layer on stress, poor eating habits, lack of sleep and self-care, you’re looking at a recipe for imbalance—and that’s when you are at your most vulnerable for contracting a virus…or worse!
Consider this example: If the foundation of your house is weak, it can’t hold up to a storm and with repeated exposure, eventually it will crumble. Immunity works in the same way. When you shore up the foundation of your health, you can stand strong in the face of whatever cold, flu, or bug that’s making the rounds.
I always say: PREVENTION IS THE CURE! So, how do you put that mantra into practice and shore up your foundation? You increase the “resistance of the host!” Here are some of my favorite ways to fortify your immune system—from the inside out—so that you are less inclined to contract the flu virus in the first place.
Load up on Vitamin D. This is a biggie. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that low doses of Vitamin D reduced schoolchildren’s chances of contracting the flu by more than 40%. In the past decade, Vitamin D has emerged as an absolutely essential hormone that, in addition to playing an important role in preventing cancer and heart disease, also enhances muscle strength, builds bone, has anti-inflammatory effects, helps regulate insulin, and bolsters the immune system. This has broad and far-reaching consequences when it comes to helping you live a healthy, energetic, and disease-free life. Yet, D deficiencies run rampant! This is in part because Vitamin D is produced in your skin in response to UV rays from sun exposure, and those who live in the North don’t create sufficient Vitamin D in the winter months. I recommend getting your Vitamin D level tested and supplementing accordingly.The 25 (OH) D test is the gold standard. Make sure your levels are not just “within normal range;” they need to be optimal (between 60-80ng/ml).
Steer clear of sugar. While you’re at it, add processed foods to the list, as most of them are laden with hidden sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Physiologically, when you ingest sugar you almost immediately depress your immune system, so eating sweet treats works against your master plan to bolster the network of cells that fight germs and disease. If cutting sugar out altogether sounds daunting, strive to gradually reduce your intake. Every little bit helps!
Pile your plate high with vegetables. Organic vegetables are the original immune support heroes, with garlic and onions leading the pack. The allicin found in these veggies make them especially potent medicine during flu season as they are chock full of antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Get adequate sleep. A lack of sleep may be directly associated with your chances of getting sick, as the circadian clock of mice was found to be tied to the rise and fall of an essential immune system gene (TLR9) that helps sense and ward off bacteria and viruses. I recommend getting to bed no later than 10 pm and logging a full 8-9 hours.
Move your body. Even something as mild sounding as a walk can deliver immune-system benefits! That’s because walking helps stimulate your lymph system. This system helps keep your tissues and organs alive and healthy by moving fluid throughout the body so waste doesn’t pool around your cells. Pardon the second house analogy, but if your sink is clogged, and dirty water begins to pool, you’ll eventually pollute the kitchen and attract bacteria and viruses. NOT GOOD!
And finally, a common sense precaution that needs to be said: Wash your hands. Then wash them again! J
OK, But What About Getting the Flu Shot?
For sure, this year’s flu statistics are bleak. The CDC is reporting “elevated” levels in all regions with accompanying deaths. But getting vaccinated is not a silver bullet and it isn’t risk free either. Plenty of people succumb to sickness despite getting a flu shot and reactions include flu-like symptoms, fever, aches and fatigue as well as a more serious allergic reaction, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune illness. It is important to note that according to Hugh Fudenberg, M.D, founder and Director of Research at the Neuro Immune Therapeutic Research Foundation, if an individual has had the flu shot consecutively at lest five times, her or she increases the chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease tenfold. This might be because of the accumulation of aluminum and mercury in the brain.
However, that doesn’t mean that NOBODY benefits from a flu shot. If your immunity is severely compromised, or you are in close contact with someone who is immuno-compromised (i.e.: a loved one or relative who lives with you or you see often), then getting a flu shot may be a viable extra layer of protection you need to feel confident that you won’t get sick and you won’t infect those around you who may be more vulnerable than you.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s ultimately YOUR decision to vaccinate, to focus on prevention—or some combination of the two. The flu is nothing to sneeze at, but armed with this knowledge, you can rely on your healthy foundation to stay strong while everyone around you is sniffling!