It's that time of year again. The leaves are changing, temperatures are falling, and the Fall season is officially making its way. With the change in seasons, we often see a spike in illnesses as people must adapt to the new environmental conditions. This sets the stage for what has become known as 'Flu Season'.
The question comes up every year: Is it worth it?
A Cochrane review published in March of 2014 determined that 'Influenza vaccines have a very modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost in the general population, including pregnant women.' 1.
In many studies, relevant clinical outcomes are ignored in favor of immunogenicity (ie, the ability to elicit an antibody response). "Influenza-like illness" (ie, cold symptoms) is frequently measured instead of serious outcomes, such as pneumonia or death. When these more serious outcomes are examined, there is often a failure to control for healthy user bias—the propensity for healthier people to do such things as receive annual check-ups, eat healthier foods, etc. So, although it's true that people who get flu shots live longer, it may have nothing to do with actually getting the flu shot.
Even the CDC agrees. On their website, they state that " The vaccine’s effectiveness also can vary depending on who is being vaccinated. At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or “match” between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community. However, even during years when the flu vaccine match is good, the benefits of flu vaccination will vary, depending on various factors like the characteristics of the person being vaccinated, what influenza viruses are circulating that season and even, potentially, which flu vaccine was used. "2.
What about the elderly?
A study published in the Cochrane Systematic Review in 2010 stated that there was no scientific evidence to prove that regular or seasonal flu shots protect people over the age of 65. The study concluded: “Evidence for the safety and efficacy of influenza vaccines in the over 65 is poor, despite the fact that vaccination has been recommended for the prevention of influenza in older people for the past 40 years.”
It further states, "Our findings show that according to reliable evidence, the effectiveness of trivalent inactivated influenza vaccines in elderly individuals is modest, irrespective of setting, outcome, population and study design. Our estimates are consistently below those usually quoted for economic modelling or decision making."3.
In summation, there may be some positive benefit to receiving the flu shot, mainly to those who are in poor health, but most likely not anywhere near what is being perpetuated through society.
3 Natural ways to boost immunity and fight the flu
1. Increase your Vitamin D!
Vitamin D, specifically D3 (aka cholecalciferol), plays a major role in calcium regulation, metabolism, and immune function. We mainly make it from cholesterol in our bodies through a reaction that depends upon sunlight (hence why we become deficient more in winter).
A recent study published this year found that "Daily or weekly supplementation halved the risk of acute respiratory infection in people with the lowest baseline vitamin D levels. However, people with higher baseline vitamin D levels also benefited, although the effect was more modest (10 per cent risk reduction). Overall, the reduction in risk of acute respiratory infection induced by vitamin D was on a par with the protective effect of injectable 'flu vaccine against 'flu-like illnesses."4.
2. Get good Sleep!
Sleep plays a profound effect upon our immune system. One reason our immune system function is so closely tied to our sleep is that certain disease-fighting substances are released or created while we sleep. Our bodies need these hormones, proteins, and chemicals in order to fight off disease and infection. Sleep deprivation, therefore, decreases the availability of these substances leaving us more susceptible to each new virus and bacteria we encounter. 5.
Most of the research on exercise and immunity has been done with colds and there's a considerable amount of research showing that regular, moderate exercise enhances the immune system.6.
There is a growing body of research to support the positive effect that chiropractic care has upon immune system function.7.8.
Have you ever heard of the Great Spanish Flu of 1918?
Between 1918 – 1919, an estimated one-third of the world’s population (~500 million) were infected by what public health researchers now believe was a mixture of H1N1 and swine flu pandemics.
This was a major event which gave Chiropractic a major place in healthcare. The Texas Chiropractic Association highlights this in their historical account of the epidemic.
The data that they reference is quite remarkable:
- In Davenport, Iowa, 50 medical doctors treated 4,953 cases, with 274 deaths. In the same city, 150 chiropractors including students and faculty of the Palmer School of Chiropractic, treated 1,635 cases with only one death.
- In the state of Iowa, medical doctors treated 93,590 patients, with 6,116 deaths – a loss of one patient out of every 15. In the same state, excluding Davenport, 4,735 patients were treated by chiropractors with a loss of only 6 cases – a loss of one patient out of every 789.
- National figures show that 1,142 chiropractors treated 46,394 patients for influenza during 1918, with a loss of 54 patients – one out of every 886.
- Reports show that in New York City, during the influenza epidemic of 1918, out of every 10,000 cases medically treated, 950 died; and in every 10,000 pneumonia cases medically treated 6,400 died. These figures are exact, for in that city these are reportable diseases.
- In the same epidemic reports show that chiropractors 3,490 cases of influenza with only 7 deaths. But the best part of this is, in Oklahoma there is a clear record showing that chiropractors were called in 233 cases where medical doctors had cared for the patients, and finally gave them up as lost. The chiropractors saved all these lost cases but 25.9.
Like all illnesses, prevention is key. What are you doing today to promote your health?