Each year, about 10% of U.S. residents get the flu while less than half vaccinate against it. The CDC reports that the flu shot is an effective tool in preventing the flu, yet many people refuse to vaccinate due to the risk of dangerous health effects associated with it. The components of the flu shot and health effects are discussed, as well as holistic methods you may try to decrease the likelihood of catching the flu.
What Is the Flu?
The flu is an acute respiratory infection, but it differs from the cold in several ways. The flu comes on suddenly, the symptoms are more severe, and it has the potential for life-threatening complications to develop, especially for those with compromised immune systems, the elderly, children, and pregnant women.
What Is the Influenza Vaccine?
Influenza vaccines are composed of weakened live or killed viruses. When administered to individuals, an immune response is generated to protect the individual from developing influenza. Most people refer to it as getting “the flu shot,” although there is a nasal spray option available as well.
Types of Vaccines
Seasonal vaccines are usually made up of three or four different strains of the influenza virus. Experts in the medical field choose these strains based on what they think will be the most likely viruses to emerge in the upcoming flu season. While only a few influenza viruses circulate in the human population, new strains are developed each year to fight against the evolving virus. Eight RNA strands that compose the virus continually mutate through antigenic drift, so the virus evolves over time. Pandemic vaccines are created in response to a specific strain of the flu that is causing widespread disease. Compared to a seasonal vaccine, it is composed of one strain of the influenza virus and cannot be created and distributed until the virus is already widespread. An example is the 2009 pandemic outbreak of the H1N1 virus.
Protection from the Flu?
After receiving a flu shot, it takes your body about two weeks for the strain to integrate into your body, meaning you are less protected from the virus during that time. The vaccine lasts about a year, and then the antibodies your body created in response to the vaccine will be at a lower level, requiring you to repeat the process over again. The vaccine is not a cure-all; people can still get the flu even after receiving the vaccination.
The Composition of the Flu Shot
The vaccine typically begins as a virus inside of a fertilized chicken egg, although, recently, cell-based flu vaccines have been developed. Influenza vaccines typically contain the following ingredients:
Thimerosal is a preservative in the vaccine which contains mercury, a known toxicogenic substance in large doses. Researchers emphasize that the risks associated with mercury at low-level doses are unknown. In studies, children reacted stronger to Thimerosal-patch tests than adults. Thimerosal is being phased out as a vaccine preservative. Currently, it is only in multi-dose vaccines, so, by using a single-dose vial or nasal-mist formula, you can avoid this.
The use of stabilizers prevents vaccines from losing potency when exposed to heat or light. Sucrose (table sugar), sorbitol (artificial sweetener), and monosodium glutamate (MSG) are used. Sucrose is a table sugar while sorbitol is an artificial sweetener. MSG is a flavor enhancer found in many processed foods, a known excitotoxin that overs -stimulates brain cells, one which many people are sensitive to.
Antibiotics & Emulsifiers
The role of an antibiotic is to stop bacteria from contaminating the vaccine. Neomycin and Gentamicin are some antibiotics used, among others. An emulsifier blends the ingredients together and keeps them evenly distributed. Polysorbate 80 is the same emulsifier found in sauces and salad dressings to keep them from separating.
Health Effects of the Flu Vaccine
About 5-10% of people who receive the flu shot experience side effects such as muscle cramps, headache, nasal congestion, low-grade fever, or a sore throat. One-third of individuals report soreness or redness at the site of the injection. Allergic reactions are rare. While Guillan-Barré syndrome is extremely rare, it is a known side effect of vaccinations.
Alternative Methods of Protection
Regardless of whether or not you choose to get a flu shot, there are numerous holistic methods to incorporate into your routine during flu season (October-May) and all year to protect yourself from this virus.
Maintain Good Personal Hygiene
An easy way to ward off the flu is to create a barrier between yourself and others. Best practices include:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
- Avoid touching your face before washing your hands.
- Avoid close contact with individuals who are ill.
- Do not share clothing or other personal possessions with those who are ill.
- If you get infected, stay home for over 24 hours after all fevers have resolved.
Support Your Immune System
The function of our immune system is to protect our bodies against infections. Providing our bodies with the nourishment it needs is our best defense against the formation of any disease. We support our immune system when we:
- Prioritize Sleep – Eight or more hours is recommended. During our sleep, chemicals that support our immune system circulate while cells repair our organs and tissues. Sleeping also reduces inflammation and slows our breathing to promote relaxation.
- Incorporate Exercise – Moderate exercise helps our immune system to function well. However, over-exercising can have the opposite effect, so ease into a workout routine.
- Eat Healthily – Studies from 2010 demonstrate how consuming an abundance of fruits and vegetables led to a decrease in both RTIs and flu-related hospitalizations. In addition, at-risk populations who increased their fruit and vegetable intake to five servings a day showed greater immune response than those who only ate two servings per day. Without a doubt, proper nutrition is fundamental in promoting wellness. For an added bonus, consider adding an immune-boosting supplement to your regimen.
Building a solid immune system is your best defense against the flu, and it will support a vibrant and healthy life!
Last modified: January 2, 2019