This could be a controversial post, considering I work at a hospital and they very strongly encourage all the employees to get a flu shot every year. In fact, we have to proactively opt-out of it and agree to wear a mask in patient care areas should we decline the shot. (I’m almost never in patient-care areas as a member of HR and am fine with wearing a mask if I need to.)
I have never received a flu vaccination and if I’ve ever had the flu, it hasn’t been in the last 6 years. In fact, in the last year or so, I’ve managed to avoid getting sick almost entirely, with the exception of two horrific bouts of food poisoning and one head cold. One of those horrific bouts was this week, so this might be a short post because I just want to drink my bone broth and go back to sleep …
Disclaimer and Warning:
This is not a generalized anti-vaccine post. I do not in any way support the anti-vaccine movement that’s going on in certain parts of this country (especially one just north of where I live). There is no evidence that routine vaccinations cause autism. I do not consider the flu vaccine to be in the same category of necessity as any of the standard vaccines recommended for the safety of our collective society, including MMR, hepatitis, pertussis, etc. Feel free to disagree with me on that opinion, but I’m just stating right now, for the record I am not an anti-vaccine advocate.
Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s continue.
Why I don’t want to get the flu shot
The CDC recommends the flu shot for high risk groups, including the very young and very old, those with compromised immune systems, asthmatics, diabetics, and heart disease patients. I do not fall under any of those categories and I take very good care of myself. That being said, the reputable websites I’ve scoured (including Harvard Health and WebMD) in my quest to justify my desire not to get the vaccine still insist that even healthy adults should get the shot, and they claim that it’s a myth that healthy adults don’t need it.
- If you have young children in your home (especially infants too young to be vaccinated), you should get the shot. (not me)
- If you have elderly folks in your home, you should get the shot. (not me)
- If you regularly come into contact with either of those two categories of people or very sick people, you should get the shot. (not me)
- The flu is miserable, and getting the shot will save you the trouble of potentially getting the virus. (…ok)
I agree that ensuring the safety of at-risk folks around you is a great reason to get the vaccine, and I’d get it if I worked directly with patients or interacted with them regularly. But I don’t. I also agree that actually getting the flu is horrible, and it’s a great idea to avoid it if possible.
I just don’t agree that getting the vaccine is the only way (or the most holistic and beneficial way) to avoid it.
Thimerosal in the Flu Shot
Most flu vaccines use thimerosal as a preservative, which contains mercury, a known and documented neurotoxin that bioaccumulates in our bodies over time and is difficult to clear from our systems. The FDA acknowledges the potential ill-effect of thimerosal in vaccines and has been working with vaccine manufactures to reduce or eliminate its use, but the work is not complete by any stretch. In order to get a flu vaccine free of thimerosal, you have to specifically request it, and there’s a limited supply made each year.
Question: Why not just make them all without it if the technology is there to do it successfully?
This bothers me a lot.
A Holistic Health Expert’s Take
Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I love the work of Dr. Mark Hyman. He’s a functional medicine doctor who takes a systems-approach to human health and illness. Functional Medicine doesn’t just focus on the symptoms of illness, it treats the dysfunction in the body that’s allowing these symptoms to occur — a whole-body approach to healing.
“As a Functional Medicine physician, I approach the flu like all imbalances in the body, which is to say I don’t assume the human body is subject to illness when the proper diet and lifestyle precautions are taken. When a patient is sick, some detective work is necessary to find out what missing pieces are interfering with the efficacy of their immune system.”
Check out this video for Dr. Hyman’s take on the flu shot and make your own decision.
7 Ways to Prevent the Flu
Recommendations for preventing flu infection are predictably similar to recommendations for general good health. The bottom line: take good care of your health and your immune system will be ready to fight for you when invaders come your way.
- Stay hydrated. Typical recommendations for hydration are to shoot for half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 100 lbs, drink 50 oz of water throughout the day.
- Eat the rainbow: Proper diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables every single day. Try to fill at least half your plate with both raw and cooked vegetables in order to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and fiber to feed that healthy bacteria in your gut.
- Load up on herb and spices: Herbs and spices are the closest things to wild foods we have in our diets these days, which means they haven’t been stripped of their natural phytonutrients that help us fight off disease. Garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, cilantro, oregano, and parsley are all great herbs and spices to add to your daily meals. Garlic and onions even have antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties! Check out this post on how to boost your intake of phytonutrients.
- Get some sun or take vitamin D: Vitamin D is a major component to a health immune system, so adequate amounts in the system are vital during flu season. Of course, in the winter months it’s hard to get enough sun for most people not living on the equator. I’m not big on making a broad recommendation for supplements, so I won’t say that every single person should supplement with vitamin D in the winter months, but it’s not a bad idea to find out your numbers to know for sure if you need a little boost.
- SLEEP! I can’t express enough how vital sleep is to the health of your immune system. I’ve written two recent posts on the importance of sleep and how to get more of it here and here. Check them out to get your sleep routine under control.
- Steer clear of processed sugars and flours: White sugars and flours are pro-inflammatory foods that weaken the immune system by their very nature. They also wreak havoc on your gut (the next item on the list.) This can be problematic considering flu season and holiday season overlap considerably. Just be smart about your treats this time of year and try to balance them out with numbers 2 and 3 above!
- Take care of your gut: Sing it with me now! I will beat this dead horse into the ground and keep beating forever. Gut health is number one for your immune system. Heal your gut and the rest will follow. What goes into your mouth determines so much of how we interact with the world around us, including how often we get sick. Drink bone broth, take a probiotic, maybe even make your own kombucha!