Flu season is just around the corner, and the flu shot debate has already begun to create quite the frenzy on social media outlets: To get or or not to get a flu shot. As a physician, I'm often asked my opinion on the subject. The issue with vaccinations is very complex. It’s highly individualized and dependent upon your genetics, your current health status, and of course, your own beliefs.
As a functional medicine physician, my goal is get to the root cause and correct any underlying health issues so that you have a solid foundation to fight off any kind of infection, including the flu. Before you run out to the corner of happy and healthy and get your flu vaccine, lets look at the actual ingredients in these vaccines, their effectiveness in preventing illness, your legal rights, and natural alternatives.
Is the Influenza Vaccine Effective?
According to a study in 2008, the influenza vaccine was only 59% successful and benefited only 36% of the healthy children over the age of 2 who received it. Another study from 2008 indicated that the number of children’s doctor visits or hospitalizations did not differ between vaccinated and non-vaccinated children measured over two consecutive flu seasons, suggesting that the influenza vaccine had very little effect on children’s overall health status. Additional studies show that flu vaccines do not prevent influenza transmission to the patients of healthcare workers.
What’s in a flu shot?
- egg protein (cell culture)
- sucrose (stabilizers)
- gelatin (stabilizers)
- polysorbate 80 (stabilizer)
- aluminum salts (adjuvants)
- formaldehyde (inactivating ingredient)
- thimerosal/mercury (preservative)
- penicillin/sulfa drugs (antibiotics)
The manufacturing of the flu vaccine begins with an egg protein, which is used to grow enough virus to make the vaccine. Next, formaldehyde is added to kill the virus, and small doses of antibiotics are included to prevent any bacterial contamination of the vaccine during the manufacturing process. Thimerosal is added as a preservative to prevent any further contamination, and sucrose, polysorbate 80, or gelatin is added to stabilize the vaccine for transportation and storage. Finally, aluminum salts are added in order to help stimulate an immune response to the “dead” virus.
Many of these ingredients are known carcinogens and detergents that have harmful or unknown effects on the human body. Package inserts for Fluarix and Fluvirin even state that they are uncertain as to whether or not your fertility will be affected by the vaccine.
Formaldehyde is a powerful chemical used as a disinfectant and preservative in mortuaries and medical labs. It is listed as a human carcinogen in the 12th Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program.
Polysorbate 80 is a detergent used to help drugs and chemicals cross the blood-brain barrier. Unfortunately, this stabilizer is also used to treat chronic kidney failure and can contribute to liver toxicity. Polysorbate 80 was also shown to cause “severe non-immunologic anaphylactoid reactions” in this study from 2005.
Aluminum is a recognized neurotoxin that can adversely affect the central nervous system and cause cognitive deficiency and dementia if it enters the brain. Numerous studies have linked aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease.
The antibiotics hidden in the flu vaccine include neomycin, streptomycin, or penicillin, which can cause severe allergic reactions in many people. (Not to mention that the overuse of antibiotics can increase your risk for gut infections, like Candida overgrowth.)
Who may need a flu shot?
There is quite a quandary surrounding recommendations for immunocompromised individuals (such as those with autoimmune diseases who are on immune-suppressing medications). The original thought was that they would be at higher risk of getting the flu and would benefit from getting vaccinated.
However, recent studies have shown that the flu vaccine is less effective in these immunocompromised individuals. Given that thimerosal has been implicated in triggering autoimmune disease and that those with autoimmune diseases are three times more likely to develop another autoimmune disease, it would seem that the risk of getting a flu vaccine far outweighs any potential benefits.
Certainly those with chronic lung diseases like cystic fibrosis, asthma, or COPD may want to weigh the risk with the benefits.
Functional Medicine Approach to Preventing the Flu:
1. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
This is the number one way to prevent the flu and other respiratory infections. You must scrub your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds in order to kill viruses. Twenty seconds is about how long it takes to sing the ABC’s one time through. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without first washing your hands.
2. Heal your gut.
Your gut is the gateway to health, and 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Make sure your gut is in tip-top shape and take a high quality, multi-strain probiotic with at least 25 billion units. (Here's the probiotic I sell at my clinic.)
3. Reduce alcohol and sugar consumption.
Even moderate alcohol consumption suppresses the central nervous system, and therefore your immune system. Consuming too much sugar can suppress the immune system and make it more difficult for your body to fight off infections like the flu.
4. Reduce your stress.
Stress is known to suppress our immune systems. Consider meditation, yoga, or acupuncture for additional relaxation techniques.
5. Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Your body relies on sleep to recuperate from daily exposure to toxins. Chronic sleep deprivation can significantly reduce immune function.
6. Consider supplementing your diet.
- Take glutathione, turmeric, and vitamin C
- Optimize vitamin D
- Consider a zinc supplement.
- Take an immune booster.
Glutathione, turmeric, and vitamin C are all powerful antioxidants that support optimal immune function. Vitamin D is known to be a powerful immune system modulator, and zinc is required for the gene regulation and function of immune cells, like neutrophils, natural killer cells, and lymphocytes. You can also enhance your immune system by taking an Immune Boost supplement, comprised of immunoglobulins and immuno-proteins to help your immune system fight off any kind of infection.
In case you're wondering which specific brands I recommend to my patients, you can find them here.
7. Get plenty of exercise.
Exercise can boost your immune system by increasing your circulation and relieving stress. Increased circulation allows antibodies to travel throughout your bloodstream faster, making it easier for your immune system to fight off an illness. Exercise can also enhance your immune system by relieving stress and slowing the release of stress hormones in the body.
What about Vaccine Mandates?
Often employees and healthcare workers are told that they must receive a flu vaccination. It is imperative that you understand your legal rights concerning this issue. There are a number of options available to you if you wish to oppose these vaccine mandates from your employers.
Options for Opposing Vaccine Mandates:
- Ask to wear a mask instead
- Claim medical, religious or union exemption
- Sign a petition
- Write a persuasive letter
Dr. Tenpenny, an outspoken advocate for free choice in healthcare, wrote a template letter explaining why flu vaccines should not be mandatory. To view the full letter, click here.
I personally was working as an emergency physician a pediatric emergency department during swine flu and flu season. I was told I was required to get both vaccinations. Knowing my history of autoimmune thyroid disease and my MTHFR genetic mutations, I simply asked my employer if there was an alternatives to the vaccinations. Mutations on the MTHFR gene prevent the body from properly clearing out toxins like mercury, which is found in the flu shot. (One mutation means that your body can clear about half of the toxins that enter your body. Two mutations mean that your body has a very difficult time clearing toxins from your system.) This can lead to heavy metal toxicity or in some cases, the development of an autoimmune disorder. We agreed that I could skip the vaccination in exchange for wearing a respiratory mask during all my shifts.
If you do elect to receive a flu shot, I highly recommend a thimerosal-free vaccine, which are available in a limited supply. If you don’t already know your MTHFR gene mutations, I would definitely get them checked. If you have any mutations at this gene, it's difficult for your body to eliminate mercury from your system, even in trace amounts.
I'd also caution you against taking any over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol, Advil, or aspirin, in conjunction with your vaccine. These have been shown to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines by limiting your body’s proper immune response.
Once again, the decision to receive vaccinations of any kind is highly individualized. My goal, as always, is to empower you with the knowledge to make the best and most informed decision you can for yourself and your health.
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