Flu season is just around the corner, and the flu shot debate has already begun to created quite the frenzy on social media outlets: “to get or or not to get a flu shot.” The issue with vaccinations is very complex. It’s highly individualized and dependent upon your genetics (MTHFR status), your current health status, and of course, your own beliefs.
In Functional Medicine, the goal is get to the root cause and correct any underlying health issues so that you have a solid foundation to fight off any kind of infection, including the flu. Before you run out to the corner of happy and healthy and get your flu vaccine, lets look at the actual ingredients in these vaccines, their effectiveness in preventing illness, your legal rights, and natural alternatives.
Is the Influenza Vaccine Effective?
According to a study in 2008, the influenza vaccine was only 59% successful and benefited only 36% of the healthy children over the age of 2 who received it. Another study from 2008 indicated that the number of children’s doctor visits or hospitalizations did not differ between vaccinated and non-vaccinated children measured over two consecutive flu seasons, suggesting that the influenza vaccine had very little effect on children’s overall health status. Additional studies show that flu vaccines do not prevent influenza transmission to the patients of healthcare workers.
What’s in a flu shot?
- egg protein (cell culture)
- sucrose (stabilizers)
- gelatin (stabilizers)
- polysorbate 80 (stabilizer)
- aluminum salts (adjuvants)
- formaldehyde (inactivating ingredient)
- thimerosal/mercury (preservative)
- penicillin/sulfa drugs (antibiotics)
The manufacturing of the flu vaccine begins with an egg protein, which is used to grow enough virus to make the vaccine. Next, formaldehyde is added to kill the virus, and small doses of antibiotics are included to prevent any bacterial contamination of the vaccine during the manufacturing process. Thimerosal is added in most flu vaccines as a preservative to prevent any further contamination, and sucrose, polysorbate 80, or gelatin is added to stabilize the vaccine for transportation and storage. Finally, aluminum salts are added in order to help stimulate an immune response to the “dead” virus.
Many of these ingredients are known carcinogens and detergents that have harmful or unknown effects on the human body. Package inserts for Fluarix and Fluvirin even state that they are uncertain as to whether or not your fertility will be affected by the vaccine.
Formaldehyde is a powerful chemical used as a disinfectant and preservative in mortuaries and medical labs. It is listed as a human carcinogen in the 12th Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program.
Studies have demonstrated that thimerosal can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases by suppressing the overall immune system and causing systemic inflammation. Due to the controversy concerning this additive, some companies have started producing thimerosal-free vaccines, which are available in a limited supply at certain pharmacies.
Polysorbate 80 is a detergent used to help drugs and chemicals cross the blood-brain barrier. Unfortunately, this stabilizer is also used to treat chronic kidney failure and can contribute to liver toxicity. Polysorbate 80 was also shown to cause “severe non-immunologic anaphylactoid reactions” in this study from 2005.
Aluminum is a recognized neurotoxin that can adversely affect the central nervous system and cause cognitive deficiency and dementia if it enters the brain. Numerous studies have linked aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease.
The antibiotics hidden in the flu vaccine include neomycin, streptomycin, or penicillin, which can cause severe allergic reactions in many people. Not to mention that the overuse of antibiotics can increase your risk for gut infections, like Candida overgrowth.
Who may need a flu shot?
There is quite a quandary surrounding recommendations for immunocompromised individuals such as those with autoimmune diseases who are on immune-suppressing medications. The original thought was that they would be at higher risk of getting the flu and would benefit from getting vaccinated. However, recent studies have shown that the flu vaccine is less effective in these immunocompromised individuals. Given that thimerosal has been implicated in triggering autoimmune disease and that those with autoimmune diseases are three times more likely to develop another autoimmune disease, it would seem that the risk of getting a flu vaccine far outweighs any potential benefits. Certainly those with chronic lung diseases like cystic fibrosis, asthma, or COPD may want to weigh the risk with the benefits.
A Functional Medicine Approach to Preventing the Flu:
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly: This is the number one way to prevent the flu and other respiratory infections. You must scrub your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds in order to kill viruses. Twenty seconds is about how long it takes to sing the ABC’s one time through. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without first washing your hands.
Heal your gut: Your gut is the gateway to health. About 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Make sure your gut is in tip-top shape by maintaining a healthy diet and taking the proper supplements.
Reduce alcohol and sugar consumption: Even moderate alcohol consumption suppresses the central nervous system, and therefore your immune system. Consuming too much sugar can suppress the immune system and make it more difficult for your body to fight off infections like the flu.
Reduce your stress: Stress is known to suppress our immune systems. Consider meditation, yoga, or acupuncture for additional relaxation techniques.
Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night: Your body relies on sleep to recuperate from daily exposure to toxins. Chronic sleep deprivation can significantly reduce immune function.
Take antioxidants: Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, are very important for your immune function.
Take a probiotic: Probiotics are immune system boosters that support healthy gut function.
Optimize vitamin D: Spend a little time outside each day in the natural sunlight. Make sure you do not stay out long enough to cause damage to your skin and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Consider a zinc supplement: Zinc is another powerful antioxidant that plays a crucial role in immune health. Within the immune system, zinc is needed for gene regulation and functioning of neutrophils, natural killer cells, and lymphocytes. Individuals with a zinc deficiency are highly susceptible to a number of pathogens, including the influenza virus.
Get plenty of exercise: Exercise can boost your immune system by increasing your circulation and relieving stress. Increased circulation allows antibodies to travel throughout your bloodstream faster, making it easier for your immune system to fight off an illness. Exercise can also enhance your immune system by relieving stress and slowing the release of stress hormones in the body.