This is one of the most common questions I get this time of year. Many people fear the complications and inconvenience of getting the flu, but are also concerned about the efficacy and safety of the flu shot.
As many people are aware, the flu shot is based on the best possible prediction of the flu strain most likely to emerge in the coming flu season. Sometimes the prediction is quite accurate and sometimes it is not. Since the flu vaccine cannot protect against all strains of flu, if the prediction is incorrect, protection is minimal.
The estimated efficacy of the flu shot is roughly 59% in a good year and only 20-30% in a bad year. According to the CDC’s website the 2018 flu vaccine was only 25% effective against the most predominant strain of that years flu season. Overall protection was estimated to be about 40% based on protection from less predominant strains1.
The US and Canada are currently the only nations in the world to promote mass vaccination for the flu across all segments of the population. The European Centers for Disease Control only suggests vaccination for high risk groups. This includes people with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, kidney disease, and neurological conditions.
Other at risks groups advised to be immunized include children between the ages of 6-59 months, health care workers and adults over the age of 652. However, it is also noted that adults over the age of 65 may have difficulty achieving good immunity to the flu from the vaccine because our immune defenses tend to decline as we age. Some have suggested that supplements may play a critical role in helping fill in the immune gaps in adults over the age of 65 even if they opt for a flu shot.
In reality, the data related to vaccination are not present to scientifically justify population wide vaccination. It was a policy decision made by the CDC in the USA regarding potential benefits of mass vaccination including something called herd immunity which suggests a reduced spread of the virus if a large part of the population is vaccinated.
Positive research around the ability of herd immunity to lower rates of transmission in communities that reach more than 70% vaccination rates are growing. The scientific experts in Europe still disagree and only encourage routine vaccination in high risk individuals. Major complications from the flu often impact the respiratory system, so people with pre-existing issues related to the lungs are typically at highest risk.
Many people are concerned about the possible adverse reactions to a vaccine and exposure to potentially harmful chemicals used in the flu shot. Some people with an egg allergy are not advised to get the flu shot because a component of it is developed in eggs and can trigger dangerous immune reactions. And the reality is that anything designed to stimulate an immune response runs the risk of creating some unwanted side effects. Stories abound related to adverse reactions ranging from mild soreness, fever and getting a flu-like illness to more serious complications including neurological complications. According to the CDC some studies have linked a serious neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome to the flu vaccine, although the reported risk is estimated to be about 1-2 people out of one million3.
However, getting the flu shot can boost immune defenses for some people and may protect people at high risk of complications from the flu. This may include people with compromised immune systems and pre-existing conditions.
I rarely give patients a straight answer. The decision to vaccinate is a personal one in my opinion. The benefits for each person have to be weighed against the cons and I believe each person should have the right to choose what they feel is best for them. I firmly believe that no government and no employer should have the ability to force any medical decisions on an employee. Health risks associated with smoking are far worse than those associated with the flu, yet individuals still get to choose if they want to take on that risk.
Supporting the Immune System
As we have already established, even if you get the flu shot, you are not necessarily immune to the flu depending on the strain or stains that arise during the flu season. Additionally, it does nothing to protect against other common cold viruses, bacterial infections, and other infectious micro-organisms that are commonly transmitted during the winter months.
For this reason, I recommend most people, myself included, take a combination of nutrients to fortify their immune system during the winter. It makes a world of difference for most and seems to significantly reduce the incidence of cold and flu throughout the year. It helps the body compensate from the increased exposure to illness-causing organisms and helps to support our immune systems during times of stress from things like lack of sleep, increased stress, reduced exposure to daylight, and over indulgence in immune suppressing food and drink like sugar, alcohol and heavy amounts of processed carbohydrates.
Immune support from the natural pharmacy serves a critical role in supporting health during the winter months whether you choose to vaccinate or not. Most people who do not get a flu vaccine are very much interested in what else they can do to keep their immune defenses in top shape as are people who choose to get the vaccine.
In response to these concerns I have developed a synergistic combination of products that fortify the immune system to provide comprehensive and complete immune support during cold and flu season.
Patented 1,3/1,6 beta glucan
This ultra purified beta glucan extract derived from yeast has been shown to be a potent stimulator of the first line of immune defenses that are designed to protect us against viral and bacterial infections. This includes increased stimulation and activation of macrophages, neutrophils and T-cell-mediated immunity4.
Human clinical trials have shown that this patented form of beta glucan was able to reduce acute immune challenges and discomfort associated with cold and flu viruses5. It is important to use a highly purified beta glucan extract to avoid impurities that can cause digestive upset and inhibit absorption.
Individuals at increased risk for immune challenges, those in need of immune support, or those undergoing surgery have been found to benefit from 1,3/1,6 beta glucan6 7 8 9 10. It is the most effective and powerful tool I have ever used clinically to address presenting concerns related to bacterial and viral infections.
Most people are aware of the immune benefits associated with Vitamin C. It is a critical nutrient needed by the immune cells responsible for engulfing and destroying viruses and bacteria. During times of stress and under increased immune activity, the demand for vitamin C can drastically increase in these specialized immune cells.
Supplementation with vitamin C regarding the reduction of both the duration and severity of immune challenges has been studied for more than 60 years11 12 13. The benefits seem to be the most notable for people under extreme physical stress such as increased physical activity, lack of sleep, and exposure to cold temperatures.
Human studies have shown that vitamin C supplementation reduced signs of acute immune challenge by an average of 50% in marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers that had been physically stressed or exposed to cold temperatures14. While not all of us undergo these extreme stressors, the reality is that vitamin C is very beneficial to the immune system, has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of viral infections, has no known toxicity, is low cost, and supports many other body systems including the adrenal glands/stress response, wound healing, collagen production and is potent anti-oxidant shown to limit the formation of carcinogens commonly found in processed meats, beer and cheese15.
Last year a critical care doctor, Dr. Paul Marik, MD, at Virginia Medical School shook the medical field up by achieving significantly better survival outcomes for patients admitted to his hospital with the often fatal diagnosis of sepsis. He administered IV vitamin C alongside the standard medical treatment to 47 confirmed sepsis patients over the course of 7 months. Out of the 47 patients administered IV vitamin C, 43 survived. In the previous 7 months without the implementation of vitamin C therapy only 28 of 47 patients admitted with sepsis survived.
Sepsis, a life-threatening condition triggered by an infection is very difficult for doctors to treat and severe cases are at high risk for dire consequences, including death. While we cannot liken oral supplementation to that of IV therapy, the impressive results he observed certainly speaks to vitamin C’s potent ability to support proper immune function. Because of his work, clinical trials using IV vitamin for sepsis are springing up all over the world.
Over 300 enzymes in the body depend on this trace mineral for their normal activities related to cellular metabolism. Zinc’s role in supporting the immune system includes regulating key immune cells including T lymphocytes, natural killer cells, CD4 cells and important immune signaling chemicals like interleukin II16.
Many human clinical trials have demonstrated the powerful impact zinc has on reducing rates of infection related to common bacterial and viral organisms. These studies span from young children to the elderly and encompass a wide variety of infections including; bronchitis, malaria, herpes virus, gastrointestinal infections and the common cold17 18 19 20.
Animal studies have shown that within 30 days of sub-optimal zinc intake immune function is decreased by 30-80%!21 Known to have very little potential for toxicity, and many immune and health benefits, increased zinc supplementation is a great way to support healthy immune function during the winter months.
This vitamin is mis-named and should be classified as a hormone. Its nomenclature was established improperly because it was first discovered in food and not until after that discovery was it understood that its primary production was in the skin in response to exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. A hormone is classified as a substance that is produced by the body and has specific receptor sites on cells. Vitamin D fits both these criteria whereas no other vitamins meet these standards.
For many years, it has been speculated that vitamin D plays an important role in immune function. This hypothesis first came to light when researches noted that people living in more Northern latitudes suffered higher rates of certain autoimmune diseases. In 2006, researchers confirmed some of these suspicions when they discovered that people with the highest blood levels of vitamin D were 62% less likely to develop autoimmune problems than those with the lowest levels22. Although these types of studies do not directly show that vitamin D prevents these conditions, the correlations are strong and suggest a strong immune-modulating effect.
Another widespread theory regarding vitamin D and immune function originated from the observation that bacterial and viral infection activity and rates are much higher in winter months. Because blood levels of vitamin D fall significantly in winter months due to less sun exposure and weaker rays from the sun, it seemed logical that these factors might be correlated.
In 2006, a group of scientists researched this theory in more detail and found that the evidence in favor of a seasonal stimulus to increased infections was compelling. The online publication of the Harvard School of Public Health summarized the findings they cited to support their theory.
- Vitamin D levels are lowest in winter months.
- The active form of vitamin D alters the response of several immune cells, including damping certain damaging inflammatory responses and increasing the production of microbe-fighting proteins.
- Children with diagnosed vitamin D deficiency and the resulting condition rickets tend to have compromised immunity, while children who have more sun exposure tend to have stronger immune systems.
- Adults who have low vitamin D levels are more likely to report having had a recent cough or other signs of compromised immunity.
Other investigations into this issue have shown more of the same; higher blood levels of vitamin D support optimal immune health. It is very important nutrient necessary for proper immune function. The institute of medicine established that 5,000iu was a safe dose of vitamin d for all adults and that no adverse reactions had ever been reported with long term supplementation of this dose.
Probiotics have long been known to have a beneficial impact on immune function and improve our resistance to pathogenic infections. The clinical data related to probiotics impact on regulating human immune function is broad and convincing with human clinical trials even demonstrating protection against cold and flu viruses.
In one study analysis revealed that L. acidophilus helped to activate genes in our DNA related to viral defense mechanisms. One way they work is by enhancing our non-specific cellular immune response characterized by the activation of potent first-line immune cells like macrophages, natural killers and cytotoxic T-lymphocytes.
All of this research makes sense when you consider that roughly 70-80% of the immune system resides in the lymphatic tissue of the gut. Having an abundant amount of exposure to non-harmful bacteria seems to increase our resistance to harmful bacteria. Think of it as a regular workout for your immune system, which in the end makes it stronger.
There are countless probiotic supplements on the market. What is critical to consider when choosing a product is make sure it contains strain specific, genetically verified bacteria. Many products may contain a lactobacillus acidophilus species but since there are thousands of strains, not all work the same in our body and not all have clinical research.
All trends in the natural health industry are moving towards strain specific, genetically verified probiotics for supplementation because these are the ones backed by clinical trials related to different health conditions. Including daily probiotic supplementation into your daily regimen is a great way to support your immune system through the winter months.
While there is not extensive data or human clinical trials regarding multi-vitamins and their role in supporting the immune system, I have found that including them in a comprehensive immune support protocol increases the overall effectiveness. They provide trace minerals not found in many other supplements and abundant sources of b-vitamins which help the body to deal with stress.
The bottom line
If you are looking for ways to fortify your immune system for the winter, with or without the flu shot, combing the above nutrients into a comprehensive protocol offers a significant immune boost. I have personally seen this protocol be very effective for my immune system and for that of many patients I have treated over the years.
As an added incentive from now until January 1st, I am offering 10% off each individual product and 15% off the total purchase of all products if you are interested in implementing the comprehensive protocol.
Feel free to call the office 443-433-5540 for more details if you are interested.
- 1 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2017-2018.htm
- 2 https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/seasonal-influenza/prevention-and-control/vaccines/risk-groups
- 3 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/general.htm
- 4 Liang, J., D. et al. Enhanced clearance of a multiple antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in rats treated with PGG-glucan is associated with increased leukocyte counts and increased neutrophil oxidative burst activity. Int J Immunopharmacol. 1998 Nov;20(11):595-614. [PMID: 9848393]
- 5 Feldman S, Schwartz HI, Kalman DS, et al. Randomized phase II clinical trials of Wellmune WGP® for immune support during cold and flu season. J Appl Res. 2009 March-June;9(1&2):30-42. http://jrnlappliedresearch.com/articles/Vol9Iss1/FeldmanVol9No1.pdf. Accessed September 9, 2011.
- 6 Feldman S, Schwartz HI, Kalman DS, et al. Randomized phase II clinical trials of Wellmune WGP® for immune support during cold and flu season. J Appl Res. 2009 March-June;9(1&2):30-42. http://jrnlappliedresearch.com/articles/Vol9Iss1/FeldmanVol9No1.pdf. Accessed September 9, 2011.
- 7 Vetvicka V, Terayama K, Mandeville R, et al. Pilot study: orally-administered yeast ß1,3-glucan prophylactically protects against anthrax infection and cancer in mice. JANA. 2002;5(2):5-9. Reprint. http://www.ana-jana.org/Journal/journals/JANAVol52.pdf. Accessed August 21
- 8 Yan J, Allendorf DJ, Brandley B. Yeast whole glucan particle (WGP) beta-glucan in conjunction with antitumour monoclonal antibodies to treat cancer. Expert Opin. Biol Ther. 2005 May;5(5):691-702. [PMID: 15934844]
- 9 Senoglu N, Yuzbasioglu MF, Aral M, et al. Protective effects of N-acetylcysteine and beta-glucan pretreatment on oxidative stress in cecal ligation and puncture model of sepsis. J Invest Surg. 2008 Sep-Oct;21(5):237-43. [PMID: 19160131]
- 10 Kournikakis B, Mandeville R, Brousseau P, et al. Anthrax-protective effects of yeast beta 1,3 glucans Med Gen Med. 2003 Mar 21;5(1):1. [PMID:12827062]
- 11 NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin C. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/. Accessed September 3, 2012.
- 12 Linus Pauling Institute. Vitamin C. Updated November 2009. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminC/. Accessed August 15, 2012
- 13 Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94. [PMID: 16373990]
- 14 Douglas RM, Hemilä H, Chalker E, et al. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD000980. [PMID: 17636648]
- 15 NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin C. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/. Accessed September 3, 2012
- 16 Pelton R, LaValle JB, Hawkins EB, et al. Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook. 2nd ed. Hudson, OH: LexiComp, Inc. 2001.
- 17 Sazawal S, Bentley M, Black RE, et al. Effect of zinc supplementation on observed activity in low socioeconomic Indian preschool children. PEDS 1996;98:1132-1137
- 18 Licastro F, Chiricolo M, Mocchegiani E, et al. Oral zinc supplementation in Down’s syndrome subjects decreased infections and normalized some humoral and cellular immune parameters. J Intell Disabil Res 1994;38:149-162
- 19 Mocchegiani E, Muzzioli M. Therapeutic application of zinc in human immunodeficiency virus against opportunistic infections. J Nutr 2000;130:S1424-S1431.
- 20 Bodgen JD, Oleske JM, Lavenhar MA, et al. Effects of one year supplementation with zinc and other micronutrients on cellular immunity in the elderly. J Am Coll Nutr 1990;9:214-215.
- 21 Fraker P, King L. Changes in the regulation of lymphopoiesis and myelopoiesis in the zinc-deficient mouse. Nutr Rev 1998;56:S65-S69
- 22 Munger KL, Levin LI, Hollis BW, Howard NS, Ascherio A. JAMA. 2006; 296:2832-8.