Here is where we left off last week. The reverence we place upon the flu vaccine as a public health maven is adding to its social stigma and deep capacity for cultural and conversational polarization. So what can we do take back control with respect to protecting ourselves from the pestilence of influenza and other circulating microbes?

Lack of exercise, poor nutritional status, inadequate intake of vitamin D, chronic stress and sugar consumption have all been shown to contribute to an under-functioning of our immune defense.  Gaining control over the vulnerable 50% is within reach. Several studies examining the efficacy of supplemental probiotics found that when combined with the flu vaccine, flu protection increased significantly over those having received the flu vaccine alone. Researchers in Wisconsin, publishing their results in the Annals of Family Medicine, found that while virus levels were similar across all populations in the study, those participating in regular meditation or aerobic exercise programs experienced fewer cases of upper respiratory tract infections and missed fewer days of work compared to those simply vaccinated against the flu. In short, the exercise and meditation equipped their bodies with a greater capacity to fight infection.

These examples are not about bashing the flu vaccine, rather they are about increasing your capacity for protection and providing you with greater infection control. If you are looking to cushion your remaining 40-50% vulnerability against winter infection, here are my top recommendations:

  • Cough into your sleeve and wash your hands. This is a basic public health intervention. It is tried, true and frequently forgotten.
  • Start on a broad-spectrum probiotic (many types of healthy bacteria in one product). Yogurt or Kefir are a good place to start, but enhanced protection will come from loading your system with a greater quantity of healthy bacteria than aren’t available from food alone.
  • Ensure adequate consumption of basic nutrients. Be honest with yourself, do you eat 5-10 servings of various fruits and vegetables everyday? No? Consider a multi-vitamin.
  • Supplement vitamin D. Vitamin D is a wonder nutrient responsible for many important physiological functions, including immune support. No Canadian can escape a potential deficiency in the winter. From the time the leaves fall from the trees in October, until the appear again in the spring, add 1000i.u of vitamin D3 to your daily routine.
  • Exercise and/or meditate. The evidence is unequivocal, your health and immunity will benefit from these practices in so many ways.
  • Avoid sugar and processed foods. Sugar and food additives have a detrimental impact on your immune health both acutely and in the long-term.

I don’t expect scientists to be able to predict the precise compliment of influenza viruses from year to year, nor do I believe that we can fight the flu across our population with complimentary therapies alone. I do however feel strongly that a multi-factorial problem requires an equally dynamic approach. Until we start having that conversation, the believers and non-believers will just have to fend for themselves.

Photo Credit: Mehrad.HM via Compfight