The seasonal menu offers a dazzling variety of options. Choices for everyone including young children. Unfortunately, this menu is not from a high-end restaurant but from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). I am referring to the CDC’s seasonal flu shot menu.
The Seasonal Selection
For the 2013-2014 influenza season, the CDC offers Americans an unprecedented number of vaccine options from which to choose:
1) The standard flu shot is designed to protect against two common A-strain viruses (H1N1 and H3N1) and a B-strain virus from the B/Yamagata lineage. The vaccine is recommended for ages 6 months and older.
2) The mega (quadrivalent) flu shot comprises a vaccine designed to protect against the three strains listed above plus another B strain lineage: B/Victoria. This vaccine is also available for ages 6 months and older.
3) The egg-free vaccine called FluBlok® is designed for people who are allergic to eggs and previously had no option for a flu shot. This vaccine, containing the three “standard” strains, is recommended for ages 18 to 49 years.
4) The Fluzone® Intradermal vaccine is administered by a tiny micro-needle under the skin, rather than deeper in the muscle. This flu shot for the squeamish contains the three “standard” vaccines, and is recommended for ages 18 to 64 years.
5) The Fluzone® high-dose vaccine comprises a flu protection cocktail designed for ages 65 and older. This flu shot contains four times the amount of antigen, the part of the vaccine that triggers the body to produce antibodies, than the standard shot. However, the Fluzone® high-dose vaccine includes only the three “standard” viral strains.
6) The FluMist® nasal spray vaccine is designed to protect against the same four strains contained in the mega (quadrivalent) dose. The nasal vaccine is only recommended for people ages 2 to 49.
Supplies of flu vaccines appear to be plentiful. Manufacturers of influenza vaccines project a production of about 138 – 145 million doses this season. As of November 15, 2013, 126.3 million doses had already been distributed within the United States.
By the way, the CDC is promoting the seasonal flu menu by declaring 8-14 December 2013 as the National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW). The NIVW is a “national observance that was established to highlight the importance of continuing influenza vaccination.”
My reactions to the seasonal menu include: Seven days of “national observance” dedicated to promoting the importance of flu shots? Flu shots are recommended for 6-month-old infants? What about the mercury contained in some of this season’s vaccines? (Several types of flu vaccines are distributed in 5.0-mL multi-dose vials that contain about 25µg (Hg/0.5 mL) of the neurotoxin mercury. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers 25µg of mercury unsafe for any human who weighs less than 550 pounds.) And, of course, I thought about the lucrative business of flu vaccines.
Rather than addressing the plethora of concerns with flu vaccines, let’s focus on some nutritional and common-sense alternatives that may protect us from the flu as well as other viral illnesses. Attaining and maintaining a strong immune system is the key to preventing the highly contagious influenza.
Vitamin D ranks as one of the top “flu fighters.” If you are familiar with my work, you know that I have written a lot about vitamin D’s anti-viral and anti-inflammatory mechanisms of action. Suffice to say, activated vitamin D strengthens the immune system by producing peptides that combat viruses.
As the days in the Northern Hemisphere grow shorter, we enjoy less sunlight and vitamin D exposure. These dark days of the “vitamin D winter” pose a risk to our health. Taking a daily vitamin D3 supplement (soft gel or liquid) of at least 5,000 international units may bolster the immune system. In lieu of optimal sun exposure, using a safe tanning bed (one with electronic ballasts to generate UV light) in moderation is another vitamin D source.
Beneficial bacteria called probiotics not only directly affect gut health; they also play a significant anti-viral role by stimulating the immune system and attacking invader cells. Probiotics are widely available as supplements (including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis/lactis). Foods that may contain probiotics include yogurt, cottage cheese, and fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.
Other Dietary Anti-Viral Sources*
Foods that may boost the immune system include:
Legumes (including black-eyed peas, peanuts, pinto beans, roasted pumpkin seeds, and wheat germ) are rich in anti-viral zinc.
Mushrooms (Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake) are replete with selenium, an element that produces antioxidant effects to prevent viral replication, as well as beta glucans.
Tomatoes and other citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C.
Fish such as salmon, bluefin and albacore tuna, and caviar are packed with DHA omega-3 oils that can boost the immune cell system.
Propolis is a bee product that is not only antimicrobial but one of the richest sources of compounds that can bolster immunity.
*Also available as dietary supplements.
Common Sense Approaches
— Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
— Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
— Avoid hospitals and medical offices.
— Get plenty of high-quality sleep.
— Avoid sugar in your diet.
— Exercise regularly.
Please remember that every individual is biochemically different. There is no single optimal dose of specific nutrients to prevent viral infections in everyone. Consult your healthcare professional prior to making nutritional supplementation choices or significant lifestyle changes.
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