by Dr. Tina Marcantel
Getting a flu shot can be helpful for some, but there are alternatives that may prove more effective at preventing sickness during the flu season. Dr. Tina Marcantel is a naturopathic doctor in Gilbert, Arizona, who also serves the East Valley cities of Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, Apache Junction, and Queen Creek, and the greater Phoenix area.
Cold and flu season is fast approaching and it’s time to address a question I’m often asked by my patients: “Should I get a flu shot?” While it would be nice to give a quick “yes” or “no” answer, the truth is that there are several factors to consider before deciding whether a flu vaccination is appropriate for you. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of getting the immunization and talk about some basic alternative measures you can take to help avoid the flu. Even if you choose to get the immunization there are good ways to boost your immune system to avoid getting sick this winter.
This year the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website is recommending that all people over the age of 6 months receive the vaccination.
On the list of those the CDC says should not get the flu shot are people who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, those who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past, people who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine, children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group), and people who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)
Tests have shown that receiving the vaccine is effective in preventing flu in many people. Most also have either no or only mild side effects that may include low grade fever, aches, and soreness where the shot was received. In rare cases the flu vaccination can result in major side effects such as severe allergic reactions. For more detailed information you can visit the CDC website page listing key facts about the flu vaccine.
The REAL Down Side of the Flu Vaccine
As a naturopathic doctor, I’m not necessarily opposed to anyone receiving a flu shot. My usual response when asked about it by my patients is that if they’ve had the vaccination in the past and haven’t had a negative reaction, then it’s probably fine for them to get it again. BUT it is important for people to understand what the influenza vaccination will not do for them.
To illustrate what I mean, let’s return to the CDC’s website for more information on how the vaccination works: “Seasonal flu vaccines are designed to protect against infection and illness caused by the flu viruses research indicates will be most common during the flu season. “Trivalent” flu vaccines are formulated to protect against three flu viruses, and “quadrivalent” flu vaccines protect against four flu viruses. Flu vaccines do NOT protect against infection and illness caused by other viruses that can also cause flu-like symptoms. There are many other viruses besides flu viruses that can result in flu-like illness* (also known as influenza-like illness or “ILI”) that spread during the flu season.”
In other words, receiving the vaccine will not prevent you from getting sick this winter; it may protect you from catching the particular strains of virus contained in the vaccination formula you received.
An Alternative–Strengthen Your Immune System
The best way to prevent sickness–whether it’s influenza, colds, or other sicknesses–is to have a strong immune system. There are many ways to bolster our immune systems, starting with eating a healthy diet, but let’s look at a few specific things you may want to consider as an alternative to–or in addition to–receiving a flu vaccination.
Wash your hands–often–with soap. This seems so basic, but there are many studies illustrating a) that many people don’t use good hand hygiene and b) that washing with soap is very effective in limiting the spread of communicable diseases.
Take vitamin C with bioflavinoids. Taking two 500 mg tablets twice daily can help boost the body’s immune system. During times of stress the body’s immunities can be decreased. The adrenal glands release hormones that help us handle stress, and taking vitamin C can support the adrenal glands. The gland itself contains a large amount of vitamin C that is necessary for its function.
There are also pharmaceutical grade natural dietary supplements that can prevent the replication of influenza and other viruses in the system and I recommend these to my patients on a case-by-case basis depending on their individual needs. Along with these supplements, I may also recommend certain IV therapies that include specific homeopathic remedies that help the body build its immune system.
The great thing about using supplements and IV therapy to boost the immune system is that there are virtually no side effects and that it helps protect the patient against a much wider range of cold and flu viruses than flu shots or nasal spray vaccines.
It’s Your Choice
Flu vaccinations have been very beneficial to many people. At the same time, I’m glad to be able to offer my patients alternatives that may be more in keeping with their own health goals. I always encourage everyone to consider all the options and then make an informed decision that they feel is right for them.