If you are weighing the pros and cons of getting the flu shot this year then you are not alone. Recent studies have questioned how well the flu vaccine really works. A 2010 Cochrane Database review of 50 studies including over 70,000 people, found that “influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.”
Furthermore, the authors made a specific note that studies funded by the vaccine industry were more likely to cast a positive light on the data whereas publicly funded studies were not so supportive of flu vaccines. They conclude “the review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies.”
In the years when the flu vaccine matches well with the specific strains of influenza virus about 4% of unvaccinated people get the flu while only 1% of those vaccinated come down with the flu. In an off year, when the vaccine does not match so well, about 2% of unvaccinated people get the flu compared to 1% of those vaccinated.
In 2006 and 2008 Cochrane reviews showed the flu vaccine was no more effective than placebo in children under age 2. Another review from 2010 analyzed flu vaccine efficacy in the elderly and found “the available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older. To resolve the uncertainty, an adequately powered publicly-funded randomized, placebo-controlled trial run over several seasons should be undertaken.”
Certainly I recommend you speak with your physician if you have questions about the flu vaccine, but clearly the studies show that the vaccine is not the invincible protection against the flu that many presume. The good news is there are several proven things you can do to limit the severity and duration of these infections, but you need to prepare ahead of time.
There are a variety of natural substances that are proven to boost the immune system, when taken as needed for acute infections. These may also be taken regularly for improved health, prevention or chronic immune support. The key is to get them now so you are ready to go at the first sign of an infection.
Vitamin D is well known to support immune function and many studies confirm the association between low vitamin D levels and higher rates of influenza infections. I highly recommend having your blood level of vitamin D checked. Supplement using vitamin D3, with as much as necessary to get blood levels into the 60-80 ng/ml range, or, taking 2,000 iu daily is a reasonable guess for most adults.
Zinc lozenges have become popular supplements to use when people feel a runny nose coming on. When zinc is sucked in the mouth in lozenge form, it binds to specific cell receptor sites in the nasal-oral cavity that inhibit the ability of viruses to take hold. The key to success is to suck on two 24 mg zinc lozenges within the first 24 hours of a runny nose developing, and continue every two to three hours while awake until runny nose resolves. Limit zinc intake to less than 300mg per day and only for a few days at this level.
Vitamin C protects the body from free radicals and fights oxidative stress, both of which threaten the immune system. In fact, a major immune-supporting activity of vitamin C is boosting glutathione levels (a potent internal antioxidant) in human lymphocytes, cells that make up about 25% of all white blood cells in the blood. Studies demonstrate that dihydroquercetin acts to inhibit the oxidation of vitamin C, thereby helping to maintain its concentration and to recycle vitamin C throughout the body. This synergistic relationship between dihydroquercetin and vitamin C greatly enhances the efficacy of both molecules in the body’s organs and tissues. I suggest taking 1000mg every 2-3 hrs, up to 10,000mg daily.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an acetylated ester of the amino acid L-cysteine. NAC also raises glutathione levels. For many years, NAC has been used to treat bronchitis and other lung conditions as an expectorant or mucous thinner as well as an anti-inflammatory.
Thymic Protein A (TPA) is an essential substance, necessary for the proper functioning of the immune system; specifically the portion named “cell-mediated immunity” which controls how viruses, bacteria, and other harmful agents are controlled and disposed of by the immune system. I recommend a TPA product called ProBoost® which activates the infection fighting portion of the immune system.
Astragalus (A. membranaceus) root extract has been shown to have beneficial antioxidant and immune-modulating effects. It seems to improve lymphocyte function by increase the activity of interleukin-2, an important immune support chemical.
Andrographis (A. paniculata whole plant extract 12:1) is a traditional remedy used in India and Asia as a broad-spectrum natural antibiotic and immune system stimulator to treat bacterial, viral, and parasitic conditions. Studies indicate that Andrographis decreases the duration and severity of cold symptoms, such as fatigue, sore throat, and nasal secretions.
Sambucus nigra, also called black elderberry, has been shown to have antiviral properties and is commonly used to treat colds or flu. Multiple studies have shown that people with influenza who supplemented with elderberry experienced improvement in symptoms in 2 days, whereas recovery took at least 6 days in the control group. No adverse effects have been reported in clinical trials.
Homeopathic remedies such as “GUNA-flu” and Oscillococcinum have some clinical evidence of benefit, although larger reviews have been less encouraging. In my experience both these preparations help prevent the flu when taken regularly and reduce symptoms of infection when taken acutely.
In our clinic we have found the “Myer’s cocktail” to be a potent treatment to halt cold and flu symptoms. This mixture of vitamins and minerals is given by intravenous infusion in about 15 minutes and many patients report almost immediate improvement in symptoms.
Don’t forget to get plenty of rest, include a diet rich in colorful fruits and veggies, avoid excess sugar and alcohol, and enjoy immune supporting drinks such as green tea. Ethyl alcohol hand gels work well for disinfecting hands. At the end of the day, our immune system works best when proper support is already in place so get prepared to stay well!
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.