It’s that time of year again—flu season. From coast to coast, the signs and posters are popping up like some mutant pharma-derived mushrooms: Get Your Flu Shot Here.
Well, you all know what I think of that advice. A resounding “Bah, humbug!” about sums it up—but don’t take my word for it. Back in 2014, the Cochrane Foundation—whose sole purpose is to examine the evidence for different medical treatments, drugs and so on without bias—concluded that getting a flu shot “shows no appreciable effect on working days lost or hospitalization.” The CDC’s own numbers show that the flu vaccine is seldom even 50% effective. Even if their numbers aren’t massaged to show the vaccine in a favorable light, it still averages out to only about 40% effective.
That’s not very compelling. And the evidence against flu vaccination keeps rolling in.
This year, the nasal spray version of the vaccine isn’t being offered. Why? Because they found it just doesn’t work. And studies earlier this year showed that getting an annual shot actually lowered your resistance to the flu. The people least likely to get it were those who hadn’t had a flu shot in the last five years. And having a seasonal flu shot appears to make you more likely to catch “novel” forms of flu—like swine flu. Other research suggests that vaccination is least effective for toddlers and people over 65—the very people who’re targeted for flu shots most often.
So it’s not just my personal bias talking when I say: the flu vaccine is a waste. A waste of money, a waste of time, a waste of effort, and a waste of your health.
What does that mean for you? That the best way to avoid the flu isn’t having a needle stuck in your arm. The key to escaping the flu this flu season is taking simple, commonsense precautions and taking simple, commonsense care of yourself.
Tip #1 – Avoid sick people
This one should go without saying. It stands to reason that one of the best ways to get sick yourself is to expose yourself to someone else who’s sick, but a surprising number of us do just that and expect to stay well. Of course in some cases it’s unavoidable—if you have a sick child or spouse, for example. But a shocking percentage of our exposure to sick folks is purely by choice. We visit with our friends even though they have a cough and the sniffles, go to the doctor’s office for routine things we could put off, and so on.
Don’t. That’s just asking to get sick. Unless it’s an emergency, stay out of the doctor’s office and the hospital. And if your friend, sibling, in-law or whoever has the signs of a respiratory illness, suggest putting off your visit (or theirs) till they’re feeling better.
Tip #2 – Wash your hands often
This is especially important if you’re out in public, where you’re touching the same surfaces that who knows how many other people—and sick people—have touched. Fifty people with the flu could have touched that door handle, or drinking fountain button…or faucet handle. So scrub thoroughly when you’ve been out and about, and avoid touching your nose or mouth until you have. You can transfer the flu virus from a surface to your own respiratory system that way. And don’t bother with “anti-bacterial” soaps—they’re no more effective than regular soap and water. The important thing is to scrub thoroughly and for more than a couple of seconds.
Tip #3 – Get plenty of sleep
The most important thing you can do to avoid the flu is to keep your immune system strong, and getting enough sleep is a vital part of doing this. Even mild sleep deprivation is a serious blow to your immune system, so aim for a full 8 hours of quality sleep every night.
Tip #5 – Keep your stress levels down
Stress too has a serious negative effect on immunity. Simply put, the more stress you have the more likely you are to get sick with anything—including the flu.
Tip #6 – Stay hydrated
While this is advice you usually hear once you already have the flu, it also helps keep you from getting sick in the first place. While we usually equate dehydration with summer, we’re actually more likely to get dehydrated in the winter thanks to indoor heating leaching the moisture in our bodies away. And we’re less likely to realize it.
What does that have to do with your immune system? Immune cells can’t function as well as they should without proper hydration. So drink up.
Tip #7 – Get a massage
Not only will it lower your stress levels, it will help your body fight off infection. Studies have found that just 45 minutes of Swedish massage can boost your immune response for as long as 48 hours.
Tip # 8 Take your vitamin—D, that is
Low levels of vitamin D—common during the winter months when we get little sun—leads to poor production of virus-killing immune cells called CD8 T cells. Big Pharma player Sanofi is actually working on a vaccine that boosts production of these cells, so get a head start on them by supplementing with vitamin D through the cold months.
You can also supplement with natural immune system boosters like garlic, oregano, Echinacea, and zinc. The bottom line is this: they key to flu prevention is a healthy immune system. The flu can only make you sick if it can get a foothold in your body, and keeping your immune system strong ensures that it doesn’t get a foot in the door.