Originally published October 19 2007
Can Flu Shots Really Protect Against the Flu?
by John Cole
(NaturalNews) Reading through the health section of any mainstream media outlet recently would convince most people that it's time to hurry up, rush out, line up, and get a flu shot. I just entered the search "flu shot" into Google's news page and got some of the following headlines: "Time for a Flu Shot", "How to Get a Flu Shot", and "Where Are You Going to Get Your Flu Shot This Season?". Makes it sound automatic, sound like something every sensible person should do.
Influenza and Flu Vaccine Facts
The CDC informs us on its Key Facts About Seasonal Influenza page that about 36,000 people die each year from influenza in the US. A National Vital Statistics Report (pdf) lumps influenza and pneumonia deaths together, and the total was roughly 62,500 in 2001. Some critics claim that the numbers have been severely manipulated, and that the real number of deaths from influenza in 2001 should be only around 750, with the remainder due to pneumonia. I think this view may be a little paranoid, because pneumonia can set in and be the final cause of death in any person who has suffered a serious illness or injury, and has been bedridden (and has been eating hospital food?) for more than a few days, leading to impaired immunity (so "the influenza made you vulnerable to pneumonia, which killed you; you wouldn't have gotten pneumonia without the influenza first" is the logic). Here is a simple page on what increases your chances of getting pneumonia and having severe complications from it.
Back to influenza, did you know that the influenza virus continually changes, and the strain causing most of the disease this year may be different enough from the one last year that the vaccine for one will not be effective against the other? A lot of guesswork goes into formulating the vaccine for the next "flu season"; sometimes the guessing is pretty accurate, sometimes it's not. Effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year. And of course there are dangers and side effects, which can be seen on this CDC page.
As many people don't like getting stuck with needles, and it's popularly believed that more vaccinations will lead to less frequent and less severe disease, a nasal spray vaccine, easy and painless, was approved by the FDA in 2003. However, it has not been tested or approved for use in people over 50, the people said to be most in need of protection. You can read more about the spray vaccine here (and note the huge financial implications!).
The Sunshine Vitamin
Here in central Japan, summer arrived a couple weeks late this year and left maybe three weeks late. Now, in the middle of October, the only chance to get enough sunshine to fill up your vitamin D tank is to get out right in the middle of the day for 30 minutes or so. Unfortunately for most people, the middle of the day is the middle of the working or studying day, which makes getting enough sunshine impossible. And from now until next April or May, the situation will be dismal.
Why am I talking about vitamin D in an article on flu season? Well, unknown to most people is the fact that vitamin D is one of the most potent stimulators of a general, non-specific immune response. It's mainly got to do with anti-microbial peptides; you can read a very short version here, and a full report, "Is Vitamin D An Antibiotic?", here (both courtesy of The Vitamin D Council).
From around the end of April till just about now, the middle of October, I use sunshine… lavishly, for the way it makes me feel and for the health benefits I know I'm getting, yet judiciously, because it can be dangerous (just like water, yeah?). But come the end of October, I dust off my sunlamp (which also requires care in its use), and find my bottle of vitamin D capsules (by now most people realize that sufficient vitamin D cannot be gotten from food alone). When I can't use the sunlamp enough to fill up my vitamin D tank, I take two 1,000iu vitamin D capsules a day, in addition to the 800iu a day in my multi-vitamin. Sounds like a lot to most people, but to overdose on vitamin D from supplements, you'd have to take 10,000iu or more a day for a long time (see this report, "Overdose" section).
Last flu season, a lot of the kids and even some of the adults studying at my small English school here had influenza. (Some of the local elementary schools even closed several classes for a few days because the number of absent students exceeded a pre-determined percentage. Wish they'd had that rule at my elementary school when I was a kid!). Twice I started coming down with a sore throat and nasopharynx that in previous years led to a full-blown cold or maybe even flu lasting a week or more. This season, each time I took ten of the 10,000iu capsules a day for two days, then five a day for the next two or three days (plus some extra sleep), and my symptoms were completely gone within two or three days. I have much better nutrition now than in the past, but still I think the vitamin D supplementation gave my immune system the extra boost it needed to avoid a full-blown cold or influenza.
(Two years ago, the mother of one of my adult students here, in her seventies, died a few days after getting an influenza vaccine. And two or three years ago here in Japan, about a dozen children died after taking the anti-viral drug Tamiflu. For most folks with their thinking caps on, the influenza vaccine and Tamiflu are "controversial", but personally I wouldn't take either one, no matter what.)
The Bottom Line
Mike Adams has written on this site numerous times about how to strengthen your immune system. I believe that if kids and adults alike just cut down on junk foods and replaced those calories with fresh fruit and vegetables, the incidence and severity of influenza and common colds would decrease significantly. Vitamin D supplements to strengthen the immune system when sunshine is scarce should not be viewed as a "magic bullet", but rather should be taken in conjunction with a good diet and sufficient exercise.
(Recommended reading: The UV Advantage by Dr. Michael Holick.)
About the authorJohn H. Cole has been editing medical manuscripts for publication in mainstream U.S. and European medical journals for the past 15 years in Japan. He also has a small English school in Gifu City, Japan. He believes that natural foods, superfoods, herbs, exercise, sunshine, good sleep, and avoidance of pollution are the answers to most people's health problems. He is a friend of nature.
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