As a health care provider, I am as concerned as everyone else about the severity of this flu season and how you can protect yourself from the flu. There is a lot of fear out there, and in my experience the best way to ease that fear in my patients and hopefully my community, is to provide sound and useable suggestions for fighting off the flu (and most any other illness, for that matter).
Is the flu really that bad this year? What’s the truth?
Depending on who you listen to, this is either the scariest flu season on record or really no big deal. I personally don’t think it’s either of those. I think that there is definitely an increased incidence of the flu this year due to a variety of factors, and I think that sensible precautions are definitely in order, but I also don’t think we all need to suit up in biohazard suits and wear masks everywhere we go.
The best defense against the flu is a strong immune system and sensible hygiene measures. As a chiropractor, I am amazed at how much emphasis is placed on how strong the virus is and how little focus is put on the strength of the host (you).
Your state of health in general is a balance between the internal environment of your body and the external environment you live in. In simple terms, a strong immune system beats a weak virus any day.
Try these 6 suggestions for helping to make it through the flu season this year.
Exercise stimulates the immune system. It mobilizes your body’s defenses to more actively search for invaders. Moderate aerobic exercise or strength building has the best effect. Over-exercising has a negative effect on the immune system. Go for a walk around the neighborhood instead of the gym if you’re worried about the concentration of germs in the gym right now. The outdoor air is more diluted. Stay warm when outside. Exposure to cold causes your body to use valuable resources trying to stay warm. Add enough layers to break a mild sweat without your clothes staying wet. Consider a wicking base layer.
Eat real food
The higher the nutrient density in your food, the better your body will repair itself and naturally fight off illness. A diet full of processed food and additives stresses your body’s defenses and makes you more prone to illness.
To really protect yourself from the flu and build up your defenses, look for organic, whole foods when possible. General rule of thumb: if you leave it out it will rot relatively quickly. If you can leave it on your counter for days and it doesn’t spoil, it’s not real food. Don’t believe me? Get some fast food French fries and put them on your kitchen counter. They will look identical in a month. See if you can do the same thing with an organic banana.
Use common sense hygiene
The goal here is to decrease your exposure to pathogens, not completely eliminate them from your environment. Eliminating them completely is virtually impossible anyway. Fear-based approaches and overdoing hygiene adds more stress and probably harms your immune system more than the bugs you have eliminated. Common sense measures include things like
- changing out your toothbrush regularly, but especially getting a new one before and after the winter months
- taking off your shoes when you enter the house – it’s amazing how much you can track around your house from outdoors
- changing bed linens frequently, and daily for anyone in the house who is sick
- changing the bathroom and kitchen towels daily
- using hand sanitizer after all shopping trips
- covering your cough or sneeze and encouraging your family members to do the same
Staying regularly adjusted, especially during flu season, is critical for an optimally functioning immune system and will help you protect yourself from the flu. This may be the most under-appreciated aspect of chiropractic care.
Chiropractic adjustments aren’t just for back pain, neck pain, and headaches. There is a complex interaction in our bodies between the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system. Coordinated function of these three systems maintains our health on a daily basis. Regular chiropractic adjustments have been shown to enhance and protect the function of these systems. Check out these links for more on this topic:
Maintain Adequate Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D has been talked about a lot in the news and is being increasingly looked at for its role in protecting our health. Deficiency is far more common than we initially thought. One of the best benefits of an adequate vitamin D level is that it stimulates our immune system and has protective benefits for our respiratory system. Read this article on this topic.
A quick word of caution. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that excess beyond what we need is not simply excreted in urine like its water-soluble cousins (vitamin C, the B vitamins, etc.). This means that overdoing vitamin D supplements can make you sick. Consult your health care provider to help you test your levels and optimize your supplementation for the best benefit.
Get fresh air
I saved the most obvious suggestion for last. Get outside. Open your windows if we get a warm enough day. Stagnant, unfiltered air is a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Fresh, clean air through your house and your lungs can only help you to avoid getting sick.
Should I get a flu shot?
This is an individual decision. It should be based on balancing the risks of injecting foreign substances into your body versus the benefits of trying to protect yourself from the flu. The CDC states that “while vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by about 40% to 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the vaccine viruses.” This sounds impressive, but a closer look at the studies these numbers are based on shows that the numbers being reported can be a bit misleading.
The CDC reports something known as relative risk versus an absolute risk of catching the flu in any given year. I found an excellent blog post by a statistician who analyzed four different years of the flu season. Without going into too much detail, he found that the actual reduction in chances of getting the flu if you receive the vaccine are, on average, only about 5%.
So, we do get a bit of protection from the vaccine, but at what cost? Flu vaccines can contain many toxic or hazardous ingredients:
- Formaldehyde – used to deactivate the flu virus in the vaccine
- Aluminum Salts – aluminum is a potent neurotoxin and can accumulate in the brain
- Gelatin – used as a stabilizer, usually from pig-based collagen
- Thimerosal – contains ethylmercury (which is a neurotoxin that can accumulate in brain tissue), used as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent in the vaccine
- Chicken Egg Proteins – provides a growth medium for the virus in the vaccine
- Antibiotics – usually neomycin, keeps bacteria from contaminating the eggs used to grow the virus in the vaccine
Some would argue that these toxins are present in very small amounts and don’t negatively affect our health. For a 5% reduction in my chances of getting the flu, I would ask if the risk of injecting them at all has been considered by the individual? These are important questions. If the risk of these toxins is perceived to be small and a 5% reduction in the chance of getting the flu seems worth it, then the choice is made. I would never tell you to get or not get a flu shot. Like I said at the start of this section, that is an individual decision. My job for you is to help you make a balanced one.