One question I hear all the time is: “Should I get a flu shot?” There’s a lot of confusion around this topic, and because we are deep into flu season, let me help you understand your options when it comes to warding off this seemingly ubiquitous virus.
The first thing you need to understand is immunity. Did you know that your body is beautifully designed to keep you feeling well? Unfortunately, when you layer on stress, poor eating habits, lack of sleep, and poor 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 analogy. If the foundation of your house is weak, it can’t hold up to a storm; 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 best cure.
How do you put that mantra into practice and shore up your foundation? You increase the resistance of the host. That is, you.
Here are some of my favorite ways to fortify your immune system — from the inside out — so that you are less likely 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 percent.
In the past decade, vitamin D has emerged as an absolutely essential hormone, which, 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.
But vitamin D deficiency is running 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 amounts of vitamin D during 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 the normal range; they need to be 60 to 80 ng/mL to be optimal.
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 immediately depress your immune system, so eating sweet treats works against bolstering 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 with vegetables. Organic vegetables are the original immune support heroes, with garlic and onions leading the pack. The allicin found in these veggies makes them especially potent medicine during flu season, as they are chock full of antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Get adequate sleep. 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 p.m. and logging a full 8 to 9 hours per night.
Move your body. Even something as mild-sounding as a walk can deliver immune-system benefits. That’s because exercise helps stimulate your lymph system, which keeps tissues and organs alive and healthy by moving fluid throughout the body so waste doesn’t pool around your cells. Just like if your sink is clogged and dirty water begins to pool, you’ll eventually pollute the kitchen and attract bacteria and viruses.
Finally, a common sense precaution that needs to be said: Wash your hands. Then wash them again!
Okay, but what about getting the flu shot?
This year’s flu statistics are bleak, with the CDC is reporting “elevated” levels in all regions, which will result in some deaths.
But getting vaccinated is not a silver bullet. It isn’t risk free either. Plenty of people succumb to sickness despite getting a flu shot, and reactions include flu-like symptoms such as fever, aches, and fatigue, as well as the possibility of a more serious allergic reaction — the autoimmune illness Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
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 at least five consecutive years, he 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 nobody can benefit from a flu shot. If your immune system is severely compromised, or you are in close contact with someone who is immuno-compromised (such as a loved one or relative who lives with you or you see often), then getting a flu shot may be a good extra layer of protection you need to feel confident that you won’t get sick or 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 a healthy foundation to stay strong while everyone around you is sniffling.
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