Fighting the flu

Last month I used an e-Alert (“One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” 10/30/02) to address the yearly question: “What is your advice on getting a flu shot?” And my answer this year, as it is every year, is that only a doctor or other qualified health care provider should offer such advice. Instead, I weighed the pros and cons of the flu shot. And at least one member wrote to complain that I had discouraged readers from getting flu shots. And although I admit that I didn’t do the “pro” side any favors by listing the unsavory contents of a flu shot (including thimerosal, amercury derivative added as a preservative), it was not my intention to encourage any one to abstain.

But if you do decide to get a flu shot, you might improve the effectiveness of the vaccination (especially if you’re older) by exercising, eating a balanced diet of nutritious foods, and managing your stress levels. This conclusion was recently reached by not one, but two studies – one from the Netherlands, and one from Iowa State University.

We already know that the flu vaccine isn’t a magic shield that stops all flu from getting through. And we know that a strong immune system is the key to fighting off all kinds of diseases, including the flu. So what these two studies are saying, in other words, is that if you take the proper measures to strengthen your immune system, you’ll help the flu shot ward off the flu. Was it really necessary to go to the trouble of conducting two different studies to come to this conclusion?

If you have reason to believe that your immune system may not be up to fighting off flu bugs this winter, and if you feel comfortable with getting the vaccine, by all means, don’t let me stop you. But if you’re already in good health, there’s a very good chance that all the flu protection you need can be achieved by getting the right amount of sleep, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a light to moderate exercise regimen, and supplementing with a few proven helpers, including: echinacea; vitamins C and E; and beta carotene – all of which have been shown to help fight colds and flu. Selenium – a naturally occurring mineral with antioxidant properties, is also an effective flu fighter, as is N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – an amino acid that stimulates your body to produce glutathione, a powerful antioxidant enzyme.

I guess it all comes down to perspective. Does the flu shot help the immune system, or does the immune system help the flu shot? Of course, the answers to these questions vary from person to person. But if I had to put my money on one horse or another, I’d bet it all on the immune system – to win.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute