Should I get the flu vaccine to prevent influenza?
Flu prevention is on all of our minds once fall arrives and winter approaches. A recent report by the CDC estimates that the flu vaccine was about 29% effective against last season’s influenza virus, and it is unknown how effective the vaccine will be against this year’s strain. The reason flu vaccines are not more accurate is because makers of the vaccine guess at which flu strains will be circulating in the following year.
To improve upon these odds we generally recommend that, in addition to being vaccinated, patients also address overall immune system health with anti-viral strategies that do not depend on the specific strain of flu to which you are exposed. Taken together, we recommend the vaccine and the following preventive strategies, and have developed our own convenient “Flu Prevention Kit” for those who want to do more than vaccinate.
When is the flu season?
The CDC notes that flu season’s timing varies from year to year — it can peak from as early as October to as late as May. Flu outbreaks are usually at their highest in February. Immunity to the flu shot wanes about 10 percent each month post-injection. So, if you do get vaccinated, late October is probably the ideal time. There are exceptions such as if you have upcoming travel plans so it’s best to consult with your medical provider for an individualized personal recommendation.
Did you know the most common flu medication, Tamiflu, is derived from the spice Star Anise?
What can I do to help prevent the flu?
Since no flu shot can guarantee complete immunity, we advocate that the following can provide a measure of protection that goes well beyond the 29% protection offered by available vaccines.
#1 Wash your hands!
Obvious but we often forget how important this is for preventing viral spread.
#2 Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea stimulates immune cells to release more anti-viral molecules and decreases virus-induced inflammatory pathways. The most relevant mechanism of Echinacea for the flu virus is through the Hemagglutinin receptor (the “H” in H3N2). This is the receptor that the virus uses to enter the cell and infect it. The vaccine depends on guessing which exact strain will be in circulation, while Echinacea binds directly to the Hemagglutinin receptor, thereby blocking entry of any flu virus, regardless of the specific strain. The key is that the Echinacea components must be in circulation and at high enough doses that they can occupy a significant number of receptors. So, take it preventatively and take higher doses at the first sign of illness or exposure.
#3 Elderberry (sambucus nigra)
Elderberry contains the phytochemical Sambucol, which has been shown to inhibit the replication of influenza virus types A and B and decrease the virulence of the human influenza virus by inhibiting neuraminidase, the “N” in H1N1 and H3N2. The activity of Elderberry tincture against the H1N1 virus was attributed to a variety of flavonoids shown to bind to H1N1 and in H3N2 virions and block the ability of the virus to infect host cells, including the neuraminidase inhibiting benefits . In clinical trials, treatment with Sambucol decreased the duration of illness in patients with influenza. This follows the same idea as Echinacea dosing, where it must be in circulation at the time of exposure.
#4 Vitamin D3
Vitamin D strengthens your innate immunity by making you more impenetrable to any microbe, viral or bacterial. One way that Vitamin D does this is through the upregulation of anti-microbial proteins on the surfaces of the respiratory tract, digestive tract, eyes, skin and urinary tract. Furthermore, D3 seems to inhibit certain viral signaling pathways needed for replication, thereby decreasing the spread through the body. The best way to know if you need vitamin D is to get the blood test to determine your current levels.
Flu Prevention Kit Dosing:
EHB (Echinacea combo supplement): 3 caps per day preventive, 3 caps 3 times per day at first sign of illness.
Sambucus tincture: 2 droppers twice per day preventive, 2 droppers 4 times per day at first sign of illness.
Vitamin D3: 5,000IU per day preventive, get your levels tested for more precise dosing.
Our flu prevention kits have the highest quality Echinacea, Sambucus and Vitamin D available. Stop by or call to ask our friendly staff for assistance.
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Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res 2004;32:132–140.
Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1:361–369.
Beard JA, Bearden A, Striker R. Vitamin D and the anti-viral state. J Clin Virol. 2011;50(3):194-200.
Featured photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash