Flu season is upon us, and once again you are faced with the dilemma: should you get a flu vaccine or not? Are there other flu prevention strategies that may work just as well or better? Well, recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of influenza vaccination in certain age groups and populations.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 90 percent of flu deaths occur among the elderly. However, in spite of widespread flu vaccination in adults older than 65 years old, increasing from 15 percent before 1980 to 65 percent by 2001, the
number of flu-related deaths in this group did not decline.
A new study in The Lancet showed that in adults older than 65, the protection offered by the flu vaccine may weaken or disappear entirely during a season. In contrast, the live attenuated flu vaccine, a.k.a. Flumist®, provided the best protection to children ages 6 months to 7 years, but not beyond.
If you are obese, meaning your BMI (Body Mass Index) is greater than 30, you are less likely to develop and maintain an effective immune response to flu vaccination compared to healthy weight adults. This may the reason why persons that were overweight were more susceptible to complications from H1N1 influenza two years ago.
[Body Mass Index is a way to standardize height to weight measurements, so that they can be compared across persons of different heights and weights. The link above will take you to a BMI calculator. A BMI < 25 is generally considered a healthy weight; a BMI between 25 - 30 is overweight, and BMI > 30 is obese. However, when calculating BMI's, differences in body composition are not taken into account, so males with more muscle (muscle weighing more than fat) may have a higher BMI without being overweight for their body build. It is also helpful to look at waist circumference, where a waist > 35 inches in women, and > 40 inches in men (as measured around the umbilicus), is associated with a higher risk of disease such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.]
With more than one in ten of the world’s population obese, that means that 700 million people worldwide do not respond well to flu vaccination. In other words, if you are obese, you are more likely to get the flu and suffer a complication than a healthy weight adult, if you both received the flu vaccine. Does the flu vaccine still offer protection? Yes, but not equally to all people.
Right now, if you are in one of these groups, you are concerned. What do you do?
Well, regardless of what group you’re in, following these Flu Prevention Guidelines will help keep you healthy during the flu season:
- Eat plenty of organic fruits and vegetables for their higher vitamin and anti-oxidant content
- Avoid excess sugar in your diet
- Make time for rest and sleep, especially when you feel run-down
- Exercise regularly
- If you are overweight, get on a plan to lose those excess pounds
- Stay well-hydrated, especially as the heat kicks in
- Do not smoke
- Use a hand sanitizer, which can kill up to 99 percent of viruses and bacteria
- Manage stress with positive activities
When this is not enough, certain natural remedies have a proven track record for helping stave off or shorten the duration of the flu.
Vitamin D plays an important role in the body’s “immune fitness.” Naturally, vitamin D levels drop during the winter months, especially in the northern latitudes. Vitamin D was looked at as the possible “unknown factor” that British researcher, Dr.
Edgar Hope-Simpson, postulated was the cause for the seasonal rise in influenza cases in the winter.
Black Elderberry Extract
A number of studies have shown the effectiveness of black elderberry extract in shortening the duration of the flu.  For treating influenza, take 15 mL every four hours while awake until symptoms subside.
Elderberry extract, such as Sambucol®, can also be taken daily as a preventive remedy. Take 1 tablespoon daily to prevent the flu during flu season.
If you are deficient in zinc, your immune system will have a diminished ability to fight off infections.  Zinc also offers protection from the spreading of influenza from infected cells to ones that have not been infected.
Take 25mg zinc lozenges every two to four hours while awake, until symptoms improve, starting at the earliest sign
 Simonsen L, Reichert TA, Viboud C, et al. Impact of influenza vaccination on seasonal mortality in the US elderly
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 Osterholm, M, PhD, et al. Efficacy and Effectiveness of Influenza Vaccines: A Systematic Review and
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 Sheridan, PA, et al. Obesity is associated with impaired immune response to influenza vaccination in
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 Zakay-Rones et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9.
 Zakay-Rones et al. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.
 Klaus-Helge Ibs & Lothar Rink. Zinc Altered Immune Function. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 33:1452S-1456S, May 2003.
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| Srivastava V, et al. Influenza A virus induced apoptosis: inhibition of DNA laddering & caspase-3 activity by zinc supplementation in cultured HeLa cells. Indian J Med Res. 2009 May;129(5):579-86.|