Summer is over and the question I am being asked most frequently in my practice is, "what do I do about Swine flu?" My patients are wondering whether or not they should get vaccinated and the simple answer I give most of the time is ..NO!
From what you may have read, you might think that the swine flu vaccine is the answer to swine flu. Unfortunately this is not true and until we know that the vaccine is safe, I cannot in good conscience recommend it to most of my patients.
From the outset, let me say, I am not anti all vaccinations, rather I am pro vaccine safety and freedom of choice.
This is why am I not recommending the swine flu vaccine
1) At this stage, for the most part the swine flu seems benign.
Over a million people in the US have already come down with swine flu, many of them without even knowing that they had it. The vast majority of people who get the swine flu recover after a week or so of high fever, aches, and respiratory distress. It's not pleasant, but except in rare circumstances, it is not fatal. Most people who've been infected by swine flu think so little of it, they believe they just had a really bad cold or a regular flu. So unless the swine flu evolves to a much more virulent form, there's no need for mass vaccination.
2) We don't know if the vaccine will be effective.
Vaccines are only useful against the specific viral strain that was available at the time of their manufacture. But influenza viruses mutate quickly, and as the WHO has already said, the real concern with H1N1 swine flu is that it will combine with seasonal flu in the Fall, creating a new strain that will of course be immune to all available vaccines.
3) We don't know if the vaccine is safe.
The FDA has authorized an expedited approval process for the swine flu vaccine but we don't know yet if it is safe. Even GlaxoSmithKline, one of the vaccine manufacturers has said, "The total population studied in clinical trials will be limited, due to the need to provide the vaccine to governments as quickly as possible. Additional studies will therefore be required and conducted after the vaccine is made available."
In other words, the only thing that is safe, is to say that no one knows. Since it's never been used before and they have not had time to conduct any sufficient human testing, by getting vaccinated you are being a human guinea pig.
4) Vaccine manufacturers have been insulated from liability by the government.
The Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius has granted legal immunity not only to the makers of the 2 drugs being used to treat swine flu, Tamiflu and Relenza, but also to the swine flu vaccine makers, for damages due to their use against swine flu. By effectively manipulating the legal system, the Pharmaceutical Industry through their powerful lobbyists have acquired almost complete and total insulation from any liability for their vaccines and adjuvants, which are additives added to generate a stronger immune response. It is believed that it is these adjuvants which often cause the problems. The last time the government embarked on a major vaccine campaign against a new swine flu was in 1976. Thousands filed claims for side effects such as paralysis caused by the vaccine and a number of people died. I am sure that the researchers know more now than they did last time and no one can say for certain that bad things will happen again or that you will suffer dire consequences if you get vaccinated. But this time you have no legal recourse even though this vaccine involves new factors, which makes it therefore experimental and unpredictable.
By shielding the manufacturers from any responsibility for any harm caused, the pharmaceutical firms have no financial incentive to make the safest product. In fact, they have a negative incentive to test it for safety, because if they are aware of problems, then they could potentially be held liable for willful misconduct.
Instead I advise my patients to build up and strengthen their immune systems to prevent viral infections.
Here are my top 10 recommendations:
1) Optimize your vit D level
Adequate levels of Vitamin D are essential for our immune systems to function optimally. Unfortunately there are no significant dietary sources of Vitamin D, most of our intake comes from exposure to sunlight. If you live far from the equator, you simply don't get enough sun through Fall and Winter to make all the vitamin D you need. So unless you supplement during this period, your innate immunity will be compromised. Vitamin D plays such a crucial role in so many aspects of your body's functioning, that supplementing with it makes sense whether you decide to get the flu shot or not.
We know that influenza always gets worse during the winter months. Now there is good evidence to suggest that this is because as sunlight hours lessen during the winter, the people living in the northern hemisphere become vitamin D deficient and are susceptible to influenza infections of all kinds. Here's a great article available at NIH pertaining to this topic.
There is also some evidence that supplementation with a sufficient amount of vitamin D can help to prevent the onset of a flu or cold.
The current recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine: from 200 to 600 IU/day depending on one's age, are way too low. These values were originally chosen because they were found to prevent osteomalacia (bone softening) and rickets. It is now recognized that vitamin D has many additional physiological functions, for which these levels are totally inadequate. A number of scientists are therefore calling for the Food and Nutrition Board in the U.S. and its counterparts abroad to reassess their current recommendations.
To optimize your vit D levels, you will need to
- Take at least 2,000 IU of a Vitamin D3 supplement daily.
- Get your 25 hydroxy Vitamin D level checked by your doctor (if that is not an option, you can self test your level with ZRT labs)
Although the current normal range is between 20 and 50ng/ml, this is much too low for optimal health. You want your level to be between 50 and 70ng/ml. This is the most important step you can take to prevent the flu!! It may require a number of months taking 5,000 to 10,000 IU of Vit D3 daily (especially during winter) under a doctor's supervision, to optimize your blood level. Monitor your 25 hydroxy vitamin D status every 3 months until you are in the optimal range, then cut back to a maintenance dose of at least 2,000 IU a day.
2) Get adequate sleep, this is an indispensable requirement for a strong immune system.
3) Get adequate exercise, this keeps you robust.
4) Take actions to lower your stress levels
Do breathing exercises, meditate, practice yoga, spend time doing something that makes you happy. Feeling spent, overwhelmed, and/or mentally run down has a causal relationship to your physical health.
5) Wash your hands frequently but not excessively
It decreases your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Be sure you don't use antibacterial soap because of the risk of creating resistant bacteria. Rather use a simple chemical-free soap.
6) Avoid sugar and processed foods as they decrease your immune function dramatically.
7) Eat phytonutrient rich meals (lots of colorful salads and dark greens)
8) Eat lots of garlic, it works as a broad spectrum antibiotic.
9) Take a probiotic daily (look for one with 10-20 billion organisms).
A strong immune system relies heavily on having a strong foundation in the gut.
10) Keep a supply of antiviral herbal supplements on hand.
As opposed to antiviral drugs, antiviral herbs do not cause resistant strains because they are multifaceted and contain literally thousands of different medicinal compounds. Thus they are able to attack viruses with a full spectrum of synergistic substances. Andrographis, Olive leaf extract, Grapefruit seed extract and Elderberry extract, all have antiviral properties. Use one or a combination of some of them as a prophylactic measure, for ex.whenever you travel (airports) or enter a potentially compromised environment such as a large office, auditorium, stadium, theater etc.
And if you really want to go all out, here are 4 more tips:
11) Take 1-2 grams of fish oils daily, its beneficial for immune function.
12) Take 2 grams of Vitamin C daily, yes it does help.
13) Stock your home pharmacy with an immune building formula.
Look for one that contains Cordyceps and Astragulus. Take it throughout the flu season.
14) Keep homeopathic Oscillococcinum on hand
Take it at the earliest sign of a cold or flu. Early intervention is essential. If you are exposed to someone with the flu directly, you can take one dose twice a day for two days. You can also take one vial once a week throughout the winter, and two or three times a week during flu season, as a preventative measure.
Frank Lipman MD is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of Integrative and Functional Medicine. A practicing physician, he is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC, where for over 20 years his personal blend of healing has helped thousands of people reclaim their vitality and recover their zest for life.
To bring his approach to a wider audience and not just his NYC patients, he recently created Eleven Eleven Wellness and Total Renewal, a leading edge integrative health program to get your health on track.
He is the author of REVIVE: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again (2009) (previously called SPENT) and TOTAL RENEWAL: 7 key steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long-Term Health (2003).
Dr. Lipman lectures throughout the world on chronic disease prevention and is very involved with and sits on the Board of two non profits from his native South Africa, the Ubuntu Education Fund and Monkeybiz. He also has an intense passion for World music and is a frustrated DJ.