Common cold and influenza are caused by more than 200 different viruses that cause various degrees of upper respiratory tract infections. These viruses have the ability to readily mutate (i.e. alter their genetic makeup) constantly creating new strains that pose new challenge on our immune system and make permanent immunity against flu impossible. Unlike the effective use of antibiotics to deal with bacterial infections, conventional medicine offers no cure for viruses. The best that medicine can do is to control symptoms and sustain body functions until our own immune system takes care of the invaders.
What do vaccines offer?
Influenza vaccines deliver inactivated (i.e. containing dead viruses) or attenuated (i.e. containing weakened viruses) dose of influenza viruses. The shot is aimed at boosting our body’s immune system to synthesize the required antibodies for fighting against the upcoming flu.
Are they really effective?
Among those hundreds of strains of flu viruses, only three could be included in the vaccine shot. Pharmaceutical companies have to take a calculated ‘guess’ on the most possible ones to appear in the flu season. And, since the vaccines need around 11 months from development till they reach the consumers, and given the fact that the flu viruses have a tremendous ability to readily mutate into new strains, we cannot be certain that these are the right three strains any more. According to the reputable Lancet journal, there is reliable evidence that “the usefulness of vaccines in the community is modest”. Knowing the nature of human mind and the power of mind-body connection, I honestly think that this ‘modest’ effectiveness is largely, if not all, due to the placebo effect, a dummy pill or inactive medicine presented to the patient as a real cure, which is proven to be effective in at least 20-30% of the cases.
I have yet two other problems with vaccines. First, vaccines, like any other medicine, if un-necessarily taken, can actually create long-term vulnerabilities of our immune capacities. Our natural immunity could, on the long run, fail us when we need it the most to act promptly against natural assaults. My second concern is about the added synthetic chemicals used as preservatives. No one really knows what their prolonged effects (or side effects) on us are. It took medical establishment decades to link increased incidences of autism in children to thimerosal, the mercury compound added to many children compulsory vaccines. Still, thimerosal is used as preservative in many vaccines including the multi-dose vials of the flu shot.
What’s the alternative?
Our only way to defeat viruses is through our natural body defenses. So the best way to beat the flu is by naturally boosting your immune system. Here are some holistic approaches:
Nutrition/ food recommendation:
- Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables especially citrus fruits, the cabbage family (cauliflower, broccoli…), green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard…), and sprouts.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration; this includes lots of water with/without lemon, fresh juices, soups, and herbal teas. Try ginger, peppermint, and fenugreek teas.
- Raw honey with freshly squeezed lemon is great for sore throats and cough.
- Garlic is a natural antibiotic and immune system booster.
- In case of infection, consume lots of hot soups and broth. Chicken soup is a great source of essential amino acids needed to support health and healing. Add carrots, celery, and potatoes for more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals benefit. Herbs and spices addition to soups also offer great benefits. Try parsley, cilantro, ginger, cardamom, frankincense, fennel, cumin and/or coriander. If available, shiitake or maitake mushrooms are also great additions that boost immunity and fight viruses. A bit of cayenne (capsicum) powder added to soups helps in headache, congestion, and keeps mucus flowing. Barley soup is a great health booster; it heals and fortifies the body.
- During the common cold or flu bout avoid dairy products as they increase mucus formation.
- Antioxidants combination: these usually contain beta carotenes, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium. They help protecting and healing the mucus membrane and strengthen the immune system
- Essential fatty acids supplements, flaxseed or cod liver oil are great source of essential fats that ensure proper immune function and have anti-inflammatory action. (N.B. do not take cod liver oil in pregnancy unless prescribed by your physician)
- Zinc strengthens immunity and its lozenges are reported to relieve symptoms and reduce duration of common cold and sore throat.
- Extra vitamin C, 1000-2000 mg daily, fights cold viruses, protects mucus membrane, and promotes the production of interferon, the body’s own natural anti-viral protein.
- At the first sign of cold take echinacea extract to boost your body’s natural defense mechanism (It is available at most health food stores and pharmacies - make sure to get the alcohol-free extract not the tincture).
- As inhalation, Eucalyptus essential oil is helpful in relieving nasal congestion. Put few drops on boiling water and place a towel over your head and inhale the steam for 3-5 minutes. Rosemary, chamomile and sage oils can also be added to the steam to ease congestion. Eucalyptus is also available as salves or nasal stick for easier use when out of the house. N.B. Too much of the good thing is not always better.
Life style recommendation:
- Stress and poor diet are main enemies of our immune system. Manage your stresses, eat healthy food and avoid refined sugars, sweets, processed and junk foods, and all products with synthetic additives, and preservatives.
- Wash your hands often, use disposable tissue papers, and change your tooth brush after the cold or flu bouts as they harbor viruses and may cause re-infection.
- Whenever you can, remain physically active unless you have a fever or fatigue. Walking and moving help loosening up accumulated mucus and secretions.
- Get enough sun light for maximum vitamin D protection. Vitamin D is proven essential not only for bones health, but also for boosting immunity and easing depression. Vitamin D is naturally available in fish liver oil, fatty saltwater fish, milk and dairy products, eggs, butter, liver, sweet potatoes, vegetable oils, and fresh alfalfa sprouts and parsley.
- Adams, M. 2011. Seasonal flu vaccine. http://www.naturalnews.com/
- Jefferson,T., et al. 2005. Efficacy and effectiveness of Influenza vaccines in elderly people.The Lancet. 366: 1165–74.
- Case, B. 2010. Thugs, Drugs and the War on Bugs. CA: New Renaissance
- Balch, P. 2010. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. NY: Avery.
- CDCP. 2011. Thimerosal and 2011–2012 Seasonal Flu Vaccines. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/thimerosal.htm
- Cave, S. 2000. Autism and Mercury. 2000. Testimony before the Committee on Government Reform U.S. House of Representatives
 Case, 2010
 Jefferson, et al. 2005.
 Cave, 2000
 Center of Disease control and prevention, 2011.
 Center of Disease control and prevention, 2011.