Should I get the flu vaccine to prevent influenza?
Overall hospitalizations for influenza-like illness (ILI) are at their highest since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began collecting such data. A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that the flu vaccine is only 10-30% effective against this season’s most virulent virus, H3N2. This means that the vaccine will help prevent F3N2 flu in 1-3 out of 10 people exposed to the H3N2 virus. That may be why this year’s influenza has hospitalized a record number of people. Still, 10% protection is better that “0” percent protection. Given these odds, we generally recommend that our patients consider adding to the vaccine benefits by addressing overall immune system health and anti-viral strategies that do not depend on the specific strain of flu you are exposed to. Taken together, we at Oregon Regenerative Medicine recommend the vaccine plus the following preventive strategies. We can also provide a convenient “Flu Kit” for those who want to do more than only vaccinate. While no treatment can guarantee complete immunity, we advocate that the following can provide a measure of protection that gets you protected well beyond a vaccine only strategy.
#1 Wash your hands! Obvious but we often forget how important this is for preventing viral spread.
#2 Take 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.
Pleschka S, Stein M, Schoop R, Hudson JB. Anti-viral properties and mode of action of standardized Echinacea purpurea extract against highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (H5N1, H7N7) and swine-origin H1N1 (S-OIV). Virol J. 2009;6:197.
#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.
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.
#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.
Beard JA, Bearden A, Striker R. Vitamin D and the anti-viral state. J Clin Virol. 2011;50(3):194-200.
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 kits have the highest quality Echinacea, Sambucus and Vitamin D available. Ask our lovely staff for assistance.