Flu Shots… To Have or Not to Have, THAT is the Question!
by Nadia Gazzi
“Tackle the root cause, not the effect”
~ Haresh Sippy
It’s that time of year again! Everyone is offering flu shots and encouraging everyone to get them. Here at Bing’s Natural Health (BnH) many clients ask, “Should I get a flu shot?” So I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I’ve been sharing with people when they ask.
Although I personally do not get a flu shot, there may be a perfectly good reason for you to do so. After talking with you, and examining you I might even recommend it.
My personal decision is to not get a shot because I spend most of my days working closely with people and many of them are sick, so my immune system doesn’t need any extra stress. Some people do get side effects and a reaction when their immune system detects the flu shot. The flu shot might give them a bit of a fever and make them a bit achey and headachey for a few days. Flu vaccines are not necessarily bulletproof, and vaccines are no guarantee to protect people from a potentially fatal strain of the influenza, because unfortunately the virus can mutate to the point where it doesn’t match the vaccine very well at all.
Instead, I do as much as possible with Chinese herbs, diet, acupuncture, sleep, and self-care to keep my immune system in tip top condition all year round, and especially during flu season.
Common Arguments for Getting a Flu Shot
- Promotes community immunity and protects the vulnerable from exposure to the virus. People aged over 65 usually get an enhanced vaccine, which has a component in it which also boosts their immune system.
- A weakened immune-system, children, elderly (over 65), pregnant women, asthmatics, HIV, heart disease and cancer patients all fall into the high risk categories.
- Lowers the risk of infection by introducing antibodies
- Reduces severity of attacks and complications
- Minor risk of side-effects in comparison with actually getting the flu
- Getting the flu jab makes others safer by reducing the risk of transmitting it to others
The vaccines are egg based. So, the primary reason why you may be advised against the flu shot is if you are vegan, or if you have allergies to eggs, antibiotics, gelatine, or other ingredients of the vaccine.
And an Individualised Approach
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on protecting the body from attack by strengthening the five major systems of the body. TCM assesses health in a similar fashion to Western Medicine by evaluating a person into one of three broad groups:-
Healthy: no discernible health issues or symptoms at all;
Unhealthy: definite signs of disease of a greater or lesser kind;
Sub-Optimal Health: not unhealthy, but there are minor symptoms – runny nose, sniffles, tiredness, etc – that indicate imbalances that may develop into disease. Most of society falls into this third group.
In relation to getting a flu shot, the TCM response would be that a healthy person doesn’t necessarily need it because their immune system is well-balanced and resilient, so that it can respond to whatever demands are made on it. Therefore, their immune system will marshal it’s defences effectively against a virus or bacteria by attacking it and building immune responses against the threat.
A person whose health is generally poor is much more likely to need the flu shot as their immune response is already compromised. The risk is that the shot will divert immune resources from other organs, so this impact needs to be reduced and relieved from a TCM perspective.
Most of the population is probably classed as having sub-optimal health and they are the ones who need to weigh up the risks and benefits. However, they are also the ones who will gain the most from TCM interventions that help to balance and strengthen their five organ groups. The five major organ groups in TCM are the:
These are not the same as the western medicine organs of those names, although there is a relationship between them. There are specific TCM indicators that signal deficiency or blockage of the Qi energy running through each organ/channel and they are all closely related, so strengthening one channel promotes the health and energy balance in others.
The more you work on strengthening the energy flows in all the channels and promoting balance, the better your body will resist the onslaught of germs, bacteria and viruses from the outside world. Here are a few things you might choose to do instead of (or in addition to) your flu shot:
- Reduce / Eliminate Stress: common stressors include… sugar, hydrated fats, drugs, alcohol, shallow breathing, lack of sunlight and lack of sleep, as well as over work and tense relationships.
- Stimulate the Thymus Gland: the thymus gland produces your fighter cells and is just behind the breastbone. Drumming this with your fingers for 60 seconds twice a day stimulates the gland and opens the pathways to build your immune response.
- Exercise: 30 minutes of low-impact exercise (swimming or walking) each day reduces the inflammatory effect of stress hormones. N.B. If you are feeling tired you should consider whether that is because you have been active all day and should rest, rather than exercise; or whether you have been sitting all day and your tiredness is the result of energy stagnation. Like all symptoms you need to take a personalised approach and be in touch with where you are currently at.
- Cupping / Gua Sha: are very effective ways of stimulating the circulation of energy from the outside and dispersing toxins that may have stagnated in certain areas of your body. This is often used in conjunction with acupuncture to further stimulate your organ function.
- Herbs: custom herbal medicine prescriptions in conjunction with dietary therapy recommendations will help you nourish and support your entire system and strengthen vulnerable areas of your constitution.
In summary, my general answer is: “It depends?”
Flu can be life-threatening in some people and can cause serious complications like pneumonia, so definitely see a GP if you’re concerned, especially if you are at higher risk due to age, pregnancy or chronic health problems.
You need to make an individual decision based on your own constitution, circumstances, exposure to germs, your doctor’s recommendation and your personal convictions. As with everything in this world, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. There is only the answer that is best for you.
In the meantime, there are some simply measures to protect yourself and others. Wash your hands routinely, cough into your elbow to slow down the spread of infected droplets and if you are unwell, please stay home.