From what you hear out in the world, you would think the flu vaccine was the only way to prevent the flu. Given that flu vaccination is so widespread these days, even required by employers, you’d think there would be solid evidence supporting their use. Yet according to Cochrane Reviews, there is little quality evidence showing that flu vaccines work. In case you are not familiar, Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They investigate the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.
According to Cochrane Reviews, 40 healthy adults would need to be vaccinated to prevent one case of flu-like illness and 71 would need to be vaccinated to prevent a proven case of the flu. Vaccination shows no appreciable effect on working days lost or hospitalization.
The protection against flu-like illness in pregnant women is uncertain or at least very limited. In children under two years old it is no better than a placebo.
Cochrane Reviews determined the influenza vaccine effective in children 2 years and older, but qualified their conclusion with this statement:
“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. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in the light of this finding.”
Yikes! Cochrane Reviews came to a similar conclusion for the elderly:
“Due to the poor quality of the available evidence, any conclusions regarding the effects of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older cannot be drawn.”
So flu prevention, just like any disease prevention, may come down to hygiene and making yourself a poor host for the virus, that is, keeping a strong immune system.
Remember that influenza virus is spread primarily by droplets released in the air when someone who is ill coughs, sneezes or talks, and by touching droplets on surfaces. So the surest way to avoid the flu is to prevent contact with the droplets and to wash them away as soon as possible. Here’s how:
Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. You are less like to transmit droplets that way.
Wash your hands often, with plain soap, especially after touching surfaces others touch. Anti-bacterial soap is no more effective than plain soap and likely breeds resistant bacteria. Use a towel to turn off water and to exit public restrooms.
Hands off your face! A 2008 study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that the typical person touches their face an average of 16 times per hour. If you avoid touching your eyes, nose and lips, you drastically reduce the chances of transmitting the virus to yourself.
Next to reducing contact with the flu virus, healthy habits go a long what to strengthen your defenses against influenza and other common winter infections.
Resist sugar season. The big sugar blast begins with Halloween and doesn’t end until the new year. Sugar depresses your immune system making you more prone to infection.
Avoid alcohol. It does the same thing as sugar. In fact, it is sugar.
Stay hydrated. Dry mucous membranes are more susceptible to infection.
Sleep. Holiday celebrations that tempt you with sugar and alcohol also keep you up late. Lack of sleep weakens your ability to fight infection. During the winter months the average need is 9 1/2 hours. Yes, most of us are sleep deprived.
Keep stress in check. Stress depletes immunity. Here at HealthSpan, we recommend mindfulness practice, yoga, tai chi and qi gong to build and maintain stress resilience.
Exercise. According to a survey by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, exercising vigorously for at least two and a half hours each week can reduce your chances of catching the flu. The survey suggests that 100 cases of flu per 1,000 people could be prevented each year this way.
Once contact with the flu virus has been minimized and healthy habits are in place, supplements can add an extra measure of flu protection.
Keep your vitamin D3 level up. It’s exciting to see the medical community slowly coming around to the use of vitamin D3. I addressed vitamin D3 blood level targets in a recent post. A rule of thumb is 1000 IU per 25 pounds of body weight per day, not to exceed 10000 IU per day . Doses higher than that need to be monitored with laboratory testing.
Boost your resistance with homeopathy. O’Brien Pharmacy offers a protocol using pellets of homeopathically prepared flu virus taken orally that increases your immunity flu without side effects.
Keep your adrenals strong. At HealthSpan, we almost always recommend an adrenal support. Why? 21st century life is stressful. Period. Our favorite: Adrenoven from Premier Research available at our online store or O’Brien Pharmacy.
Boost your immunity with herbs. Astragalus, curcumin, echinacea, elderberry, garlic and mushroom extracts all have been shown to improve resistance to infection. All are available at ouronline store or O’Brien Pharmacy.