Nell’s Corner: Do you need a flu shot, or is food good enough?

Woman With The Flu


Flu season is just around the corner. Have you gotten your flu shot yet?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between five and 20 percent of the U.S. population contract the flu each year, and as many as 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications. [1]

Is the flu vaccine the answer? Many of us seem to think it is. In fact, 43 percent of the American population choose to receive it each year, especially those who are ‘high risk,’ such as the elderly, babies over six months old, and pregnant women. [2]

So, what are the reasons to get it? There’s one rather obvious answer: to avoid getting the flu.

And the reasons not to? The CDC reports that mild side effects from the flu shot include soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever, and aches. Rare but serious side effects can occur, including allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, swelling around the eyes or lips, hives, racing heart, dizziness, and high fever. [3]

Another reason to reconsider the vaccine is that the strain of any given flu shot may not protect against other versions that rear their ugly heads.

Finally, it’s not just the flu vaccine that’s injected into your body when you receive it. [4] Other ingredients include:

  1. Antibiotics: To prevent bacteria formation during production and storage, manufacturers add antibiotics such as gentamicin or neomycin.
  2. Formaldehyde: This ingredient is used to deactivate and decontaminate the flu viruses and toxins in the vaccine.
  3. Chicken egg proteins: Historically, most flu viruses have been grown in fertilized chicken eggs, as this environment allows viruses to grow and reproduce. Viruses are separated from the egg and added to the vaccine after completing development; in the process, trace amounts of chicken egg protein are transferred. As a result, people with an egg protein allergy should rethink getting a flu shot.
  4. Canine (dog) kidney cells: Instead of being grown in chicken eggs, two vaccines, Flucelvax and Flucelvax Quadrivalent, are grown in a canine kidney cell line and inactivated with a detergent called cetyltrimethylammonium bromide.
  5. Gelatin: Pork-based gelatin acts as a stabilizer for the purpose of helping to maintain the flu vaccine’s effectiveness from production to use, and shields the vaccine from harmful heat- or freeze-drying effects.
  6. Thimerosal: This preservative contains approximately 50 percent mercury. While it’s no longer found in most pediatric vaccines, it’s used in multidose vials of flu vaccines to help prevent contamination by bacteria, fungi, or other germs, as the vial is repeatedly used.


Taking a more natural approach

So, what should you do if you want to arm yourself against influenza but prefer a more natural line of defense? Focus on optimizing your gut health, which is one of the most significant ways to reduce inflammation in the body.

When our bodies become inflamed, external factors that typically might not be problematic become much more of a threat. Since our guts are where sickness (and health) begin, reducing inflammation in our bodies through diet will help boost our immune systems, without the side effects. That means we can keep flu-free on our own.

A certain amount of inflammation in the body is a good thing. For example, the inflammatory process we experience after a tough workout helps the body recover. However, if infection or recurrent injury occurs, inflammation can become a chronic condition that can lead to other, more serious, health issues.

Chronic inflammation causes messenger molecules of the immune system to tell other parts of the immune system to kick into action. Once the immune system receives these messages, it will get to work by attacking bacteria and viruses, increasing blood flow, clearing out dying cells, and repairing unhealthy tissue; this is referred to as an “inflammatory response” (5).

There are many things you can do to reduce systemic inflammation, such as reducing overall stress levels and improving stress management, and improving how you sleep, rest, recover, and move. That said, if your eating habits aren’t optimized, you’re sacrificing a huge part of your health foundation.

By eating a diet rich in net-alkaline forming foods, while simultaneously avoiding foods that are known to create an acidic pH and lead to inflammation—foods such as sugar, processed foods, gluten, grains, and dairy products—we can set the stage for allowing the gut to begin to heal.

Next, by adding in regular doses of gut-boosting foods which specifically help to fight off the flu, we further allow the gut to flourish.

Below are my top-five preferred ways to fend off nasty colds and flus:

  1. Bone broth: The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid. It attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices. This helps support proper digestion and significantly inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses. [6]
  2. Raw garlic: By raising blood levels of T cells, garlic ensures that the immune system is well prepared to meet and disarm the viruses responsible for the common cold and the flu. [7]
  3. Oil of oregano: By thinning the mucous in lungs recovering from a bout of cold or flu, oil of oregano allows for easier breathing and faster removal of the virus. [8]
  4. Turmeric: This spice, belonging to the ginger family, contains curcumin, an important bioactive ingredient with several exceptional medicinal properties, including as a remedy for cold.
  5. Oysters: This seafood contains more zinc per serving than any other food, which makes it far superior to taking a zinc lozenge hidden in a candy.

The decision to get a flu shot for yourself, your aging parents, or your children is a personal one. Having a better understanding of what may be in that flu shot, as well as the knowledge of some naturopathic (and risk-free) alternatives, will enable you to make the best, most comfortable decision for your health.

The author of this article is not a physician. Here at the Paleo Diet we recommend maximizing your chances of fighting off the flu with diet and natural approaches, but we also do not recommend against vaccination. That is each person’s choice.
– The Paleo Diet Team



About Nell Stephenson, B.S.

Nell Stephenson, B.S.Nell Stephenson is a competitive Ironman athlete, personal trainer, and a health and nutrition consultant. She has an exercise science degree from the University of Southern California, a health/fitness instructor certification from the American College of Sports Medicine, and over a decade in the health, fitness and nutrition industry. To support her training for the Ironman Triathlon, Nell has tried many different nutritional plans and has found that the Paleo Diet is superior to all other ways of eating. She’s found that she’s leaner, faster, and fitter than ever before and uses her own experience to teach clients how to achieve optimal nutrition and health. Visit her website at Download meal plans tailored to you here.

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“1” Comments

  1. In addition to bolstering immunity with food, as suggested, maintaining a healthy vitamin D status is important too. This probably requires supplementation; seasonal influenza typically occurs when exposure to sunlight is at a relative low. There have been several studies suggesting those with higher vitamin D levels are less prone to upper respiratory infections. Some studies specific to vitamin D supplementation and influenza suggest it can reduce the number of cases of the infection during the usual seasonal epidemic.

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