Our sunshine state has been hit particularly hard by the flu this season. As reported in Florida Flu Review published by the Florida Department of Health (January 21-27, 2018), “Flu activity was at higher levels than at the highest points in previous flu seasons,” and deaths due to pneumonia and influenza “were slightly higher than expected and are expected to increase over the coming months.”

Photo © by Kinga Cichewicz | Used with permission from Unsplash

While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Florida Department of Health (FDH) recommend everyone boost their immunity to the Influenza virus by getting a flu shot, vaccines aren’t a silver bullet. According to the CDC, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine is between 40 and 60 percent; in other words, it works about half the time. And effectiveness can vary, because each flu season vaccines are developed based on predictions of what will be the three or four most prevalent flu strains for the coming season. If you’re exposed to other strains, the vaccine will be of little or no use. In addition, viruses frequently mutate and “dodge” the silver bullet.

Also, despite claims that flu vaccines are safe, they still carry risks, not the least of which is that the virus introduces foreign substances into your body that serve as stressors. After getting a vaccine, people often report a number of symptoms, including runny nose, low-grade fever, headache, nausea, and muscle aches. Worse, according to the CDC, “Some studies have found a possible small association of injectable flu vaccine with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS),” a serious condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves. The CDC claims that GBS is more likely after getting the flu than after getting the flu shot.

There are other ways to fight the flu virus and other infectious agents — more natural ways that don’t stress your body.

Boosting Your Immune System

While I agree with the CDC, the FDH, and conventional doctors that one of the best ways to combat the flu is to boost your immunity to it, we disagree over the best way to do that. Conventional medicine uses vaccinations to introduce components of the virus into the body in an attempt to trigger an immune response that improves the body’s ability to identify, destroy, and remove the virus. As a doctor who uses a functional medicine approach to diagnose and treat conditions, I think the best way to boost immunity is to strengthen the body’s immune system, not stress it.

I have checked thousands of patients over the last seven years for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including deficiencies of vitamin A, B, C, D and the mineral zinc, which are all important for optimal immune function. The majority of those people have been low in at least a few of the vitamins I checked.

As a result, the first step in boosting your immune system is to have your vitamin levels checked and address any deficiencies through diet, supplementation, or both. If any of your key vitamin levels is low, you will have a harder time recovering from the flu. Raising your vitamin levels will not necessarily prevent the flu, but they will enhance recovery, not only from the flu, but also from other infections.

If you do get the flu, Echinacea is a natural anti-viral and bacterial that has been researched to help fight the flu. As a preventive measure, consider taking Echinacea during flu season: October through March.

Limiting Your Exposure to the Flu Virus

Unless you live in a bubble, you can’t avoid contact with the flu virus — we’re all at risk — but you can limit your exposure to it. Here are a few basic health and hygiene suggestions to limiting your exposure to the Influenza virus:

  • Stay well hydrated, drinking about half your body weight in ounces daily; for example, if you weigh 140 pounds, drink 70 ounces. Caffeine dehydrates, so decrease caffeine intake, as well as sugary soft drinks.
  • Avoid sugar and sweets as they will weaken your immune system.
  • Wash your hands regularly, more than you would during other seasons.
  • Avoid people who have the flu, as much as possible. (The flu can be contagious before someone has symptoms and for some days after symptoms subside, so avoiding people with the flu isn’t the most practical or effective solution.)
  • Frequently clean and disinfect any touched surfaces at home, work, and school, especially if someone in these living spaces is ill.
  • Rest at least seven hours per night.
  • Reduce your stress. Stress is a huge contributor to immune defense. If you can avoid it, now is a good time.
  • Avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary.

On the Topic of Antibiotics

Most people overuse antibiotics, whether it’s for every single sinus infection, sore throat, and urinary tract infection, or for whatever else conventional medicine doctors are prescribing them for these days. While I don’t suggest leaving serious medical conditions untreated, most infections — like the ones cited above — often pass on their own without antibiotics. In short, antibiotics further weaken your immune system, and you wind up with chronic infections, needing more antibiotics — a vicious cycle that sets you up for a weakened immune system.

There is a way out of the vicious cycle of illness, followed by medication that makes you even more susceptible to illness, followed by more illness and more medication. In my Functional & Integrative medical practice in Tampa, I use a step-by-step process to strengthen the immune system. This may include probiotics, herbal antimicrobials, Allicillin, oregano oil, and dietary modification to support a healthy immune system. (Allicillin is an organic sulfur compound made from garlic.)

Patients who have worked with me over the years to optimize their health often report that they get sick less often and with less severity. That’s no surprise. The best defense against the flu and other viral and bacterial infections is a healthy immune system. All you need to do is give it what it needs to do its job.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®, nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

About the Author: Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®, specializes in diagnosing and treating the underlying causes of the symptoms related to chronic and unexplained illness through nutrition, lifestyle, chiropractic, and other natural approaches to whole-health healing in Tampa, Florida. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Shenandoah University, his Doctorate in Chiropractic from Life University, his Diplomate status in Clinical Nutrition from the American Clinical Board of Nutrition, his CFMP® from Functional Medicine University, and his certification as a Digestive Health Specialist (DHS) through the Food Enzyme Institute. Dr. Lewis’ passion for health and wellness stems from his own personal experience. With a family history of autoimmune conditions and diabetes, and his own lab tests showing his genetic susceptibility to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid), he has learned how to restore his own health and vigor to prevent the onset of these and other illnesses and live an incredibly active life. Through this process, he acquired a deeper understanding of health and wellness, which he now offers his patients in Tampa.