At this time of year someone always asks this question:
‘What is your advice on getting a flu jab?’
This year, that question came from a regular reader named Karen. And my answer to Karen, and to everyone who asks that question, is that I’m not in a position to give advice about flu jabs. Only a doctor or other qualified healthcare provider should offer such advice.
So while I’m not going to recommend or discourage you from a yearly flu jab, I do have information you can use to weigh the pros and cons of the vaccine, along with some useful insights about how to help your immune system prepare for the seasonal attack of virus and bacteria.
No extra charge for the anti-freeze
There is no doubt that many thousands of the people who receive flu jabs this season will make it through the winter months without coming down with a case of influenza. So taken at face value: if it works, it works – enough said.
But you should stop reading now if you’d like to remain unaware of the complete contents of a flu jab. I’ll tell you this: it’s not pretty.
Each year the flu vaccine is newly redesigned, using several strains from different types of flu that were common the season before. So basically you’re getting a vaccine that is, in theory, ideal for protecting you from last year’s primary flu types.
Meanwhile, vaccine developers cross their fingers and hope that whatever new flu mutation comes our way this season is not much different than last year’s flu.
But that shot at your doctor’s office contains much more than just flu strains. The vaccine is prepared with chicken embryo fluid, inoculated with the living flu strains. The fluid is then treated with formaldehyde to inactivate the virus.
Thimerosal, a mercury derivative, is injected to help preserve the mixture. Ethylene glycol (better known as anti-freeze) and another chemical called phenol are added to disinfect. And because animal cells are used for this process, animal viruses are sometimes introduced into the vaccine, undetected. This has happened as recently as 1995.
Now ask yourself: If you were intending to purchase a dietary supplement, and the label offered this warning: ‘May contain traces of formaldehyde, thimerosal, phenol, ethylene glycol, and animal cells,’ would you buy it?
A ‘shot’ of antioxidant
If you pick up a flu virus, you won’t necessarily come down with the flu. Whether or not you become ill will depend on how well your immune system deals with the virus. So you might say that a virus doesn’t give you the flu – an immune system that doesn’t defeat the virus is what gives you the flu. The key is immunity.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – an amino acid that naturally stimulates your body to produce glutathione – is a powerful antioxidant enzyme. Previous studies have shown that patients with ailments associated with a breakdown in the immune system are often deficient in their levels of glutathione.
NAC has been used for many years to treat chronic respiratory ailments with its ability to break up and dissolve the mucous that contributes to pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma and sinusitis.
And just a few years ago, an Italian study found that supplementation with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) significantly increased immunity to flu infection. Over a six-month trial, only 29% of those taking NAC developed symptoms of the flu versus 51% of those taking a placebo. Of the 262 people taking part in this study, three-quarters were over the age of 65.
300 mg of NAC per day is probably both effective and safe for most people. But it’s always a good idea to consult a trusted health care provider before beginning any new supplement regimen.
Wolf on the run
In addition to NAC supplements, there are a number of other supplements that may help keep the flu away from the door. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene have all been shown to help fight colds and flu.
And for several years our regular readers have known about the advantages of selenium – a naturally occurring mineral with antioxidant properties. A study has concluded that selenium may stop viruses from mutating and becoming more potent.
And finally, we have echinacea – the herb that’s become so well known in recent years for its apparent ability to help reduce the length and severity of colds and flu.
How this is done is not yet known, although some studies have indicated that echinacea may stimulate the production of white blood cells that are necessary to effectively manage viruses.
A study on echinacea was conducted at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. It purported to be one of the first human studies of this herb, and the researchers concluded that the effectiveness of echinacea may lie in its ability to strengthen a specific part of the immune system that is known to attack viruses.
So if the idea of getting a flu jab is reassuring to you, don’t let me stop you. But there’s a very good chance that all the flu protection you need can be achieved by getting the right amount of sleep, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a light to moderate exercise regimen, and supplementing with a few proven helpers in the yearly fight between us and the flu bug.
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