The Flu Shot: Is It Worth It?

Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Vaccines are an incredible public health accomplishment. They save lives. However, there remains some debate over just how effective the influenza (flu) vaccine is, and this information is lost in the strong marketing campaign that all but shames individuals choosing not to acquire the vaccine. If you’re savvy enough to hear the conflicting messages, then choosing whether or not to receive the vaccination can be difficult. And regardless of your decision, there are reasonable steps you can take to prevent a variety of flus and colds this season.

According to a review of recent research by the Cochrane Collaboration published in March 2014, 71 healthy people would need to be vaccinated to prevent 1 case of influenza. Furthermore, “vaccination shows no appreciable effect on working days lost or hospitalisation”. The lack of benefit may be partly due to the use of vaccines that contain the non-relevant influenza strains for that season. There are more than 200 viruses known to cause influenza-type symptoms, and the best collaborative science prepared by the World Health Organization frequently identifies the wrong strain as the next seasonal threat. (Viruses adapt and change at incredible speeds!) Correspondingly, this recent Cochrane review found that approximately 10% of vaccinated individuals still developed influenza-like symptoms.

The flu shot offers inadequate protection against the flu and it doesn’t address other concerns like the common cold. It’s worth spending a considerable about of effort supporting your own immune system’s ability to ward off a variety of infections and their complications. This approach is particularly critical for people at high risk of developing life-threatening complications, including those over the age of 65, as 90% of influenza-related deaths occur in this population, even though these people are most compliant with the flu vaccine.

There are many immune supportive nutrients and pills at the health stores to choose from. However, the key to keeping your immune system up and running effectively is in identifying where your body in particular is most deficient. For example, approximately 70% of your immune system’s activity exists in the gut. A digestive tract suffering from regular acid reflux, bloating, nausea, discomfort, constipation, or diarrhea, is not supporting a health immune system. The food we eat, the bacteria and yeast in our gut, and stress, all have a major impact on immune system function as mediated by the digestive tract. (Please read our previous newsletter about bacteria balance in the gut, here.)

Deficiencies of immune balancing nutrients, such as vitamin D, zinc, Vitamin C, and omega 3 oils, can all increase your susceptibility to colds and flus. According to literature published by Stats Canada, up to 65% of all Canadians are deficient in vitamin D. Additional research suggests that vitamin D may be more protective against the flu than the flu shot! You can have your vitamin D blood levels checked by your MD or ND. This out-of-pocket test is not insured by OHIP and costs approximately $33.

Addressing immune system balance is a key component of any Naturopathic medical practice. If one side of your immune system is deficient so as to enable colds and flus, then the other side is often generating chronic inflammation or over-reacting to non-threatening proteins (i.e. allergies). Chronic inflammation is a significant source of chronic pain and disease, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. (Please read more about this in our previous articles, here.) If you’re having difficulty addressing immune system health on your own, or if you have signs of serious immune imbalance, please work with a trained health professional to heal your immune system and address acute episodes of illness before serious complications can occur.