By Dr. Mercola
The video above gives a wonderfully clear illustration of what happens when someone nearby you sneezes... and you end up inhaling the virus. It's said that a single sneeze may produce up to 40,000 droplets, which may leave your mouth at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour.1 While some of the heavier droplets will fall to the floor, others remain airborne and are quickly circulated around the room. If the droplet is infected with a virus, and you inhale it, the video shows how a single virus can quickly begin producing millions of copies within your cells.
It's a frightening prospect, until you realize that your body has more than 1 trillion cells – making 1 million viruses a mere drop in the bucket.
Also important, your body is equipped with its own highly effective defense system – your immune system – that starts killing viruses almost as quickly as they are produced. As long as your immune system can stay one step ahead of the virus, you'll feel better again quickly… and in some cases may not even know you were "sick."
It's Flu Season… What's the Most Important Step to Staying Well?
If you listen to public health agencies, you'll quickly hear the message that 'the first and most important step in protecting against the flu' is yearly vaccination. But upon what data is this strong recommendation based?
During the 2012-2013 flu season, the flu vaccine's effectiveness was found to be just 56 percent across all age groups reviewed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) —in essence, the statistical equivalent of a coin toss. In seniors, aged 65 and over, the US flu vaccines were only 9 percent effective.
The "gold standard" of independent scientific evaluation and analysis, the Cochrane Database Review, has issued no less than five reports between 2006 and 2010, all of which decimate the myth that flu vaccinations are "the most effective flu prevention method" available.
In real-world and not laboratory conditions, when a flu vaccine at least partially matches the circulating virus, 100 people need to be vaccinated in order to avoid just ONE set of influenza symptoms, according to Cochrane's findings.
Yet as another flu season approaches, all these facts are conspicuously ignored by conventional medicine and media alike, and you'll certainly never see them mentioned in any flu vaccine promotion campaign. What else won't you typically see mentioned?
The fact that the status of your immune system is the most powerful determinant of whether or not you'll get sick this flu season… with flu or one of the hundreds of other flu-like illnesses going around.
Your Flu Might Not Actually Be the Flu
When it's fall or winter and you start to feel feverish with a cough, sore throat, fatigue and body aches, most people automatically think "flu." If you've had the flu vaccine, you may wonder how you still became sick. If you didn't, you may wish you had. Yet, how many of these illnesses are actually the flu?
Most physicians don't bother to do the laboratory testing required to find out, because the treatment for most flu-like illnesses is the same.
Only about 20 percent of all influenza-like illness that occurs every year is actually associated with influenza viruses because many types of respiratory illnesses with flu-like symptoms can be mistaken for influenza. About 80 percent of cases of suspected influenza sent to the CDC for analysis lab test negative for type A or type B influenza.
What is also not widely shared is the fact that "most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks" (this is a direct quote from the CDC2).
Those who do not are much more likely to be those with compromised immune systems who develop flu-related complications, like pneumonia or bronchitis. Most deaths attributed to the flu are actually due to bacterial pneumonia, and these days, bacterial pneumonia can be effectively treated with advanced medical care and therapies like respirators and parenteral antibiotics.
Natural Immune-Boosting Strategies Give You Widespread Protection Against Viral Infections – Flu Vaccine Does Not
The CDC doesn't even know how many people die each year from the flu, putting their estimates at between 3,000 and 49,000 people a year – and that is for "flu-associated" death, which means "deaths that occur in people for whom seasonal influenza infection was likely a contributor to the cause of death, but not necessarily the primary cause of death." The reality is the vast majority of these deaths are due to pneumonia -- not flu -- which likely accounts for only a few hundred. Yet the CDC continues to use tens of thousands as a scare tactic to drive people towards flu shots.
Again, hearing about flu deaths (which are actually typically pneumonia deaths) further contributes to the fear-mongering urging Americans to get vaccinated against the flu… without letting the public know that they're still entirely susceptible to all of the other flu-like illnesses going around. And also keeping quiet about the fact that a flu vaccine does not protect against the "primary cause of death" in most flu-associated deaths, which is pneumonia.
A far better approach would be to educate people about the importance of healthy eating, exercise and vitamin D levels – as, unlike the flu vaccine, these natural strategies do help protect against all of the viruses and bacterial infections going around since they work by bolstering your body-wide defense against all disease: your immune system.
Vitamin D: Are You Taking Advantage of This Flu-Fighting Nutrient?
A universal vaccine being developed by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi is based on the finding that people who have more virus-killing immune cells, known as CD8 T cells, either don't get sick or experience only mild flu symptoms.3 The idea behind this vaccine is that by stimulating your body to produce more CD8 T cells, it may protect you from getting the flu, or at least from having severe symptoms.
However, while the drug company researchers brag that they know how to use a vaccine to stimulate the immune system to produce more CD8 T cells, they fail to mention that vitamin D is also known to have a direct immune-modulating effect on CD8 T cells. This was revealed in a study published in 2010.4 Other research has proposed that deprivation of sunlight and vitamin D at higher latitudes worsens CD8 T-cell deficiency.5 So, it may be, then, that a "universal flu vaccine" doesn't need to be created at all because it essentially already exists in the form of vitamin D!
Vitamin D is an important player in overall healthy immune function, but it's also an effective antimicrobial agent in its own right, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Another 2010 study6 that didn't get any widespread attention also demonstrated the effectiveness of vitamin D as a preventive strategy against influenza. In fact, children taking just 1,200 IUs of vitamin D3 per day, which is considered a low dose, were shown to be 42 percent less likely to come down with the flu. I firmly believe that optimizing your vitamin D levels is the single most important and least expensive action you can take to help strengthen immune function and protect against getting sick during the flu season, and would STRONGLY urge you to have your vitamin D level monitored to confirm your levels are therapeutic at 50-70 ng/ml year-round.
Have You Thought About What You're Eating?
If your diet contains a lot of refined sugars, grains and processed foods, you're not doing your body any favors this flu season. Instead of giving your body the fuel it needs to function optimally, which means being healthy enough to fight off infectious viruses, you're giving it more toxic elements that it must overcome.
For instance, too many carbohydrates in the form of sugar and grains is very unbalancing for your gut flora. Sugar is "fertilizer" for pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi that can set your immune system up for an easy assault by a respiratory virus. Most people don't realize that 80 percent of your immune system actually lies in your gastrointestinal tract. That's why controlling your sugar intake is crucial for optimizing your immune system.
Additionally, making sure you're ingesting plenty of beneficial bacteria in the foods you eat (specifically fermented foods) is also crucial. In one study, 3- to 5-year-old children who received either a single strain or combination of beneficial bacteria called probiotics twice a day for six months had:7
- Reduced fever by 53 percent and 73 percent respectively
- Decreased coughing by 41 percent and 62 percent
- Reduced runny noses by 28 percent and 59 percent
- Reduced antibiotic use by 68 percent and 84 percent (which is a major gain in and of itself because antibiotics are vastly overused in children and also devastate your gut flora)
It's worth noting that each mouthful of fermented food can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria—far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement, which will typically provide you with colony-forming units in the billions. I thought this would be a good analysis, so I tested fermented vegetables produced with our probiotic starter culture to determine their probiotic potency and was astounded to discover they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic! Fermented foods also give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, so all in all, it's a more cost effective alternative. Fermenting your own foods can provide even greater savings, and is actually easier than you might think.
How's Your Sleep Schedule and Your Stress Level?
These are important questions that your physician should be asking around flu season, and really all year long, as they also play a key role in helping you stay well. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you're tired and stressed, if your body is overly fatigued or burned out it will be harder for it to fight the flu. Be sure to check out my article "Guide to a Good Night's Sleep" for some great tips to help you get quality rest, and be sure you're thinking about your stress levels, too.
When researchers from Carnegie Mellon University infected study participants with a common cold virus, those who had reported being under stress were twice as likely to get sick.8
Chronic stress also exerts a powerful negative influence on your epigenetic health, turning on and off the expression of genes that directly influence your likelihood of getting sick. Using techniques like energy psychology, you can correct the emotional short-circuiting that contributes to your chronic stress, which helps to optimize your genetic expression. My favorite technique for this is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), but there are many others, such as yoga, journaling and prayer.
Exercise Can Help You Have a Flu-Free Flu Season
If you are exercising regularly the likelihood of your acquiring a cold or other viral illness is significantly reduced, and studies have clearly shown this. In one such study, staying active cut the risk of contracting a cold by 50 percent, and cut the severity of symptoms by 31 percent among those who did catch a cold. The researchers noted that each round of exercise may lead to a boost in circulating immune system cells that could help ward off a virus.
It is actually a well-known fact that exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body. The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and other pathogens that may otherwise opportunistically overrun your body.
Due to the key role that exercise plays in supporting your immune system, it's crucial to treat exercise like a medicine that must be properly prescribed, monitored and maintained for you to enjoy the most benefits. Essentially, you need to have a varied routine that includes high-intensity interval training (HIIT) like Peak Fitness.
Five More Steps to Avoiding the Flu Naturally
It's a fact that disease-causing viruses and bacteria are all around us. Whether you come into contact with the flu or another variety, you need to focus on maintaining a robust and well-functioning immune system to avoid getting sick. As mentioned, I believe optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the most potent preventive strategies available, followed by diet (including fermented foods to optimize your gut flora), stress relief, exercise and sleep.
There are other factors that can come into play too, of course. The following guidelines will also act in concert to support your immune system and help you avoid getting sick:
- Take a High-Quality Source of Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats. Increase your intake of healthy and essential fats like the omega-3 found in krill oil, which is crucial for maintaining health. It is also vitally important to avoid damaged omega-6 oils (think vegetable oils) as it will seriously damage your immune response.
- Wash Your Hands. Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Be sure you don't use antibacterial soap using synthetic chemicals for this – conventional antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary, and they cause far more harm than good. Instead, identify a simple chemical-free soap that you can switch your family to.
- Tried and True Hygiene Measures. In addition to washing your hands regularly, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, ideally with the crook of your elbow (to avoid contaminating your hands). If possible, avoid close contact with those who are sick and, if you are sick, avoid close contact with those who are well.
- Use Natural Immune-Boosters. Examples include oil of oregano and garlic, both of which offer effective protection against a broad spectrum of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa in your body. And unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, they do not appear to lead to resistance and the development of 'super germs.'
- Avoid Hospitals. I'd recommend you stay away from hospitals unless you're having an emergency and need expert medical care, as hospitals are prime breeding grounds for infections of all kinds. The best place to recover from illness that is not life threatening is usually in the comfort of your own home.