Medicine Cabinet: Flu Season Fandango

Medicine Cabinet: Flu Season Fandango
As the flu season arrives, its time to prepare your body and mind.
Quick Facts:
The Flu shot is NOT recommended for everybody and
does NOT protect against all types of the flu.

Antibiotics offer NO protection or treatment for the flu.

Choosing between flu shots and alternative remedies can dance you in
circles. Here are the pros and cons of each.

With flu season upon us, it''s time again to face that annual dilemma-flu shot or
no flu shot? Conventional medical circles embrace it as a simple, slam-dunk
solution: Get the shot and you can walk into a room full of flu germs with near
impunity. But if this is the case, why do so many alternative medical practitioners
distrust it? And if such mistrust is justified, should you get one, or could it wind up
doing more harm than good?

Pierre Brunschwig, MD, a holistic doctor at Helios Integrated Medicine in
Boulder, Colo., and a charter fellow of the American Board of Holistic Medicine, is
wary. He says that each winter''s flu formula is reformulated based on strains of
flu that arrive in the Southern Hemisphere during its winter, which is our summer.
Brunschwig says there''s no guarantee that the Southern Hemisphere formulation
will match the strains active in North America by the time our winter rolls around.

But making the decision to get a flu shot goes well beyond this issue. While
some holistic practitioners do think the harm always outweighs the good, others
feel the shot could prove helpful, depending on your age, health and
circumstances. Regardless of whether you get the shot or not, natural
alternatives can help keep you healthy this winter.

The flu shot controversy
If you''re debating whether to get a flu shot, consider the advice of Sherri
Tenpenny, DO, of Middleburg Heights, Ohio: Become informed about the specific
substances being delivered through the needle, she warns.

For example, Tenpenny says, "during the flu vaccine manufacturing process,
antibiotics such as neomycin, polymyxin B and gentamicin are added to eliminate
stray bacteria found in the mixture." The final solution can contain additives such
as Triton-X 100, a detergent; polysorbate 80, an emulsifier that is a potential
carcinogen; and additives such as formaldehyde to inactivate the virus as well as
gelatin and residual egg proteins used to nourish the cultures. Bottom line,
according to Brunschwig, "if you have an egg allergy, you simply can''t get the
vaccine." Not all flu formulations are alike, either, so if you decide to get one, ask
your doctor about the specific ingredients.

One of the most worrisome issues is that some flu shots contain a substance
called thimerosal, an organic form of mercury used as a preservative. "Many
influenza vaccines still contain thimerosal," Tenpenny says, which is being
investigated for its link to brain injury and autoimmune disease. Several studies
have found significantly increased odds of neurodevelopmental
disorders-including autism, mental retardation, speech disorders, personality
disorders and thinking abnormalities-in children (not adults) following
thimerosal-containing vaccines.

Brunschwig says that further risks with the injectable flu shot include local
reactions at the injection site and anaphylaxis (a sudden, severe allergic reaction
to the vaccine components). Two more serious, but fairly unlikely, responses are
vasculitis (a severe inflammation of the blood vessels due to an autoimmune
response) and Landry-Guillain-Barré syndrome (LGBS, a disorder in which the
body damages its own nerve cells). In 1976 the swine flu vaccine was associated
with LGBS, but several later studies evaluated other flu vaccines, and only one
showed an association with LGBS-in that case one person out of 1 million may
have been at risk.

Debra Brammer, ND, associate clinical dean at Bastyr University in Kenmore,
Wash., says other possible contraindications include past incidences of either
becoming seriously ill or contracting a high fever within 48 hours of the shot. She
also cautions those who have a history of seizures or a seizure disorder, or who
have ever had a reaction of any kind to a vaccination. If you fit this profile,
consult with a physician before proceeding with a flu shot.

Should you get the shot?

Brammer says that from a naturopathic point of view, getting the actual flu may
not be such a bad thing. "I sometimes think getting the flu isn''t the worst thing,
unless you have an impairment-conditions like diabetes, a lung dysfunction like
asthma, pulmonary disease of any kind, emphysema, frequent pneumonia or
impaired immunity-then you need to think about having the flu vaccine," Brammer
explains. She adds that there may even be an advantage to getting the flu while
you''re relatively healthy because it may make you more resistant to the flu later
in life. "Exposure to germs when you''re healthy is a good thing," Brammer says.
"When I''m 70 and not as healthy, I''ll be glad I had some of these influenzas when
I was 23 and got the flu. My body would know that flu. Even though viruses
change and mutate, new viruses will come along that are similar to past ones,
offering some limited immunity." Brammer also says that getting the flu is an
opportunity for the body to detoxify. "It''s a good way to exercise the immune
system and tells us how well it''s working," she says.

Flu shot alternatives
If you''ve decided the flu shot isn''t for you, what can you do so you don''t get
sick? Or if you do get the flu, how can you ease your symptoms?

For those who don''t want the shot but want to get a flu vaccine, Brunschwig
recommends a nasal spray version of the vaccine called FluMist. "It''s
thimerosal-free, intranasal, appropriate for people from 5 to 50 years of age and
has a lower side-effect profile," Brunschwig says. "But because it''s a live virus,
you can get mild transient flu symptoms." However, those with egg allergies be
warned: FluMist still contains egg proteins.

Of course, sometimes the simplest preventive actions yield the most immediate
results: Wash your hands and remember what your mother said-get enough
sleep and eat your fruits and vegetables. Both these keep your immune system
fit. And Brammer adds, "One of the best flu preventatives is making quiet time to
ratchet down the stress and restore serenity in your life."