The Health Sciences Institute is intended to provide cutting-edge health information.
Nothing on this site should be interpreted as personal medical advice. Always consult with your doctor before changing anything related to your healthcare.

Is it a good idea to get a flu shot?

Debugging Kit

We’re only a couple of days into autumn and I’ve already heard someone say, “There’s a bug going around.”

This is also about the time of year when I start to receive e-mails asking if it’s a good idea to get a flu shot. My answer to that question is the same as it is every year: I don’t personally get one, but you should consult a qualified health care provider who’s familiar with your specific health concerns as well as any medications you may be taking.

Vintage strains

Each year the flu vaccine is newly redesigned, using several strains from different types of flu that were common the season before. So the 2003-04 vaccine is, in theory, ideal for protecting you from last year’s primary flu types. Vaccine developers are basically hoping that whatever new flu mutations come our way this season will not be much different than last year’s strains.

But one of the most troubling problems with flu shots is that you’re not just being injected with flu strains, you’re also getting dosed with several unpleasant additives, such as; thimerosal (a mercury derivative added as a preservative), formaldehyde (to kill viruses), aluminum (to promote antibody response), and ethylene glycol (also known as antifreeze, used in vaccines as a disinfectant).

Two words: No thanks!

But if you and your doctor decide that a flu shot is best for you, there are three things you can do to improve the effectiveness of the vaccination. According to two different studies reported last year, regular exercise, combined with a balanced diet of nutritious foods, will help your vaccination keep the flu away, especially if stress levels are also managed.

What these studies don’t reveal (because they weren’t designed to) is that a regimen of regular exercise, nutritious foods, and habits that promote lower stress levels will help prevent the flu WITHOUT a vaccine, because all of these methods do the one essential thing that has to be done to avoid the flu: they enhance the immune system.

The best defense

If you pick up a flu virus, you won’t necessarily come down with the flu. Whether or not you become ill will depend on how well your immune system deals with the virus. So you might say that a virus doesn’t give you the flu; an immune system that doesn’t defeat the virus is what gives you the flu. The key is immunity.

Fortunately, strengthening the immune system isn’t very hard; it just takes some discipline and common sense. I mentioned exercise, nutritious foods and managed stress levels above. Getting the right amount of sleep is another very important factor in maintaining immune system health.

Studies have shown that it’s also helpful to supplement with a few proven immune system enhancers, such as Echinacea, and vitamins C, E, and beta carotene – all of which have been shown to help fight colds and flu. Selenium is also an effective flu fighter, as is zinc and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – an amino acid that stimulates your body to produce the powerful antioxidant enzyme glutathione, which we’ve written about many times at HSI.

In the April 2001 issue of his Nutrition & Healing newsletter, Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., also suggests eating a daily clove of fresh, raw garlic, which is loaded with plenty of antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. And he strongly recommends avoiding sugar, because even a single teaspoon of sugar can impair the immune system by 50 percent for several hours.

Special teams

In the September 2003 HSI Members Alert, contributing writer Jennifer Arnold notes that the most disturbing thing about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation to get a yearly flu vaccination is the way it’s portrayed as the only option available to avoid getting the flu. In the article, Jennifer discusses a variety of natural products that have been shown to enhance the immune system to provide protection against viruses, bacteria, and in some cases even cancer.

  • ProBoost and T-Cellerate – two products that deliver a thymus gland protein that stimulates the t-cells responsible for immune response
  • ImmPower-AHCC – a t-cell booster that also increases natural killer cell activity, which helps eliminate tumor cells and cells infected with viruses
  • ImmunoCare – an Ayurvedic herbal blend that prompts production of a specific type of infection-fighting white blood cell
  • Transfer Factor – isolated sets of molecules from colostrum (breast secretions produced by mothers just after childbirth) that protect against parasites and viral infections

For more details about how these products affect the immune system and where to purchase them, HSI Members can refer to their September issue of the Members Alert. To access online, sign in at

Priorities set

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 taking a few key supplements.

And whether you decide to get a flu vaccine or not, the important thing to remember is that your ultimate success in keeping the flu at bay will have much more to do with the strength of your immune system than a shot in the arm.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


“Nutrition and Exercise Boost Effectiveness of Flu Shot in Older People” Press Release of the Gerontological Society of America, 9/30/02

“The Flu Vaccine: Is It Really Safe and Effective?” Concerned Parents for Vaccine Safety

“Why I Never Get Flu Shots” Chet Day, Chet Day’s Health & Beyond,

“Immunological Activity of Larch Arabinogalactan and Echinacea” Alternative Medicine Review, 2002;7(2):138-149

“Echinacea Helps Boost Immune System” Darin Ingels, N.D., Healthnotes Newswire, 9/19/02