Fighting Back Against The Flu

Every year there is concern about the upcoming flu season. Mostly the discussion centers on the composition of the latest flu bugs and what type of strains would be included in the latest vaccine recommended. The first flu case of the season has just been reported in a child. Here I am going to review what you can do to minimize your probability of getting the flu, or if you get it, how to minimize the severity of the illness.

The immune system

We know for some time that the antibody-mediated immune system is what helps overcome flus. The body’s immune system produces antibodies against the flu via T-helper cells that recognize the glycoprotein (hemagglutinin) of the flu virus and pass a signal on to B cells (bone marrow derived lymphocytes), which in turn are turned on to produce a lot of antibodies (Ref.1). These protect you from future flus of this type. If you have pre-existing antibodies that fit the bug in circulation you are OK ,and you will usually not get the disease.

The factors that protect you from the flu

However, there are many other factors that support your immune system. I will discuss the most important factors in more detail here.

1. We do know that vitamin D3 strengthens the immune system. I would recommend 1000 to 2000 IU per day in the wintertime, but up to 4000 IU or 5000 IU per day during an active epidemic would be reasonable. There is less flu when people are taking Vitamin D3 supplements.

Influenza A was reduced in school children supplemented with 1200IU of vitamin D3. This study recommended higher doses of 2000 to 7000 IU of vitamin D3 per day; but it also stated that as a precaution serum vitamin D levels should be monitored (technically it is serum 25-hydroxy-vitamin D levels that are measured) to avoid vitamin D toxicity. Normal levels are between 40-70 nanograms per ml. Toxic levels are above 100 nanograms per ml. Your family doctor can order a serum 25-hydroxy-vitamin D level for you.

2. Eating fruit and vegetables is important for maintaining a healthy immune system. In a randomized study from Belfast, UK elderly volunteers (82 of them, aged 65 to 85) were assigned to either eat 2 portions or 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day over 16 weeks. At 12 weeks into the trial both groups received a Pneumovax II vaccination, and the antibody response was measured at the end of the 16th week of the study.  There was a significant increase in antibody binding capacity to pneumococcal capsular polysaccharide in the 5 portion fruit and vegetable group compared to the 2 portion group that had no such increase. The authors concluded that there is a measurable improvement of the immune system when an older population increases their fruit and vegetable intake.

3. Avoid stress, because stress has been shown to weaken the immune system. This review shows that the immune system is weakened by the stress response via the elevated corticosteroid hormones (the stress hormone ACTH stimulates cortisol release from the adrenal glands). The stress of social isolation is also contributing to the weakening of the immune system in older people.

Fighting Back Against The Flu

Fighting Back Against The Flu

4. Exercise moderately and your immune system will get strengthened. Over exercising should be avoided as too much cortisol is released from your adrenal glands, which is toxic to lymphocytes thus weakening your immune system.

5.  Socializing is good for you as studies have shown that you live 2 ½ years longer. This study here is from Connecticut, but other studies confirmed this as well.

6. Make love. The endorphins that are released in the process stimulate the immune system.

7. Take probiotics, because they help your gut flora to stay normal. A normal gut flora promotes a stronger immune system as the Peyer’s patches (clumps of immune cells) in the gut wall are intimately linked to the immune system. In this way probiotics indirectly support your immune system.

8. Avoid smoking.  Smokers have more upper and lower respiratory tract infections than non-smokers. Here is information that explains this as well.

9. Get enough sleep. The circadian rhythm of your hormones ensures that your hormones function at their optimal level. Melatonin from the pineal gland is important in triggering the circadian rhythm, but melatonin itself supports the immune system as well. Your adrenal glands need resetting overnight so that cortisol is secreted according to your stress level, not too much and not too little. Overstimulation from performance sports, grief reactions, car accidents, injuries etc. lead to a surplus of cortisol and weakening of the immune system.

10. Take your flu shot (but without thimerosal) every year, but take it as a single shot (without thimerosal as a preservative). This CDC link explains that single shot flu vaccines are available without thimerosal. I recommend this type of flu vaccine. The central nervous system is extremely sensitive to nanograms of mercury, and it is for this reason that I would not buy into the argument of the CDC that one should not be concerned about safety of thimerosal. The newest for this flu season is the quadrivalent (or four-strain) flu vaccine, which is now available in pharmacies throughout the US.

11. Vitamins and supplements support your immune system, particularly vitamin D3. DHEA, which is available over the counter in the US stimulates antibody production when the flu vaccine is given, particularly in the elderly, in other words DHEA strengthens the immune system Vitamin C is known to support the immune system and is rapidly depleted in those who suffer from any viral infection. There are other nutrients that are useful to stimulate your immune system.

12. Consider herbs: Echinacea, Siberian ginseng, Asian and American ginseng, astragalus, garlic, and shiitake, reishi (also called “lingzhi mushroom”) and maitake mushrooms have all been shown to stimulate the immune system with negligible side effects.

13. Wash your hands, particularly when there is a flu going around. Door knobs for instance are known to keep live viruses for 2 to 8 hours, so washing your hands will reduce the amount of virus you are exposed to.


There is no single solution to prevent the flu, but we can all minimize our exposure to the virus and strengthen our immune system. Although it is wise to get a yearly flu shot to boost your immune system (without thimerosal as a preservative) just before the epidemics come around, this alone is not as good as combining the non-specific factors mentioned here with it. Particularly vitamin D3 (2000 IU to 4000 IU per day) and the old stand-by vitamin C (1000 mg to 2000 mg daily) will stimulate your immune system. Spice up your dinners with mushrooms that stimulate your immune system (maitake, shiitake, reishi mushrooms). Go to bed early enough to allow your circadian hormone rhythms to be reset overnight as you sleep. This will stimulate your immune system (from melatonin and DHEA of your adrenal glands).

More info on the Flu: http://nethealthbook.com/infectious-disease/respiratory-infections/flu/


1. Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 4th ed. Prevention. Vaccine. © 2012 Saunders

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014


News About The Flu

Every couple of years new influenza strains seem to develop in Asia and spread thru the rest of the world. When summer comes, the flu season is forgotten and the cycle repeats itself in fall and winter.

Recently there were local outbreaks of two avian influenza strains that according to the name should only affect birds (the “asian bird flu”). Based on research from these two bird flu experiences there seems to be a new way of looking at the development of human influenzas. It appears that new strains of human influenza are born in the bird population of Asia where the virus mutates into new strains. From there it spreads into human care takers (bird-to-human spread) and their contacts. Eventually the virus adapts to the human host and effective human-to-human transmission is incorporated into the DNA of the virus. Now the time is ready for a flu epidemic. It is not clear yet how long this human-to-human transmission switch takes (how many months or years). Here are more details regarding the recent two local outbreaks of asian bird flus:

1. Recently Dr. Arnold Bosman published a study in Holland. He was the health officer in charge of investigating an outbreak of influenza A, type H7N7, affecting a number of chicken farms in Holland between March and May 2003. This was the time of the SARS epidemic that caught all of the media attention at that time. About 86 poultry workers had been infected with flu like illness that caused a viral conjunctivitis of the eyes. However, one veterinarian who was in close contact with the infected birds died from respiratory distress syndrome. Using very sensitive PCR facilitated DNA test they were able to show that these infected people had all the same bird flu with the influenza strain A (type H7N7). When contacts of these people were tested a surprisingly large number, about 1000 with an estimated total of about 2000, people were also positive for antibodies to this particular more harmless strain of bird influenza.

2. The second development is regarding the recent infection of a bird flu in Vietnam that has caused many deaths. This is a much more aggressive influenza A (H5N1), which is the other bird flu that is of concern for the rest of the world. In Vietnam this bird flu type has a mortality of 76%, in other words with this new type of flu 3 out of 4 people die who get it. It all started in December of 2003 and here are the latest details about this flu type.

News About The Flu

News About The Flu

With the new study from Holland the concern among infection specialists is that there likely are a lot more healthy appearing people who become carriers of the disease (like the 2000 contacts in Holland). Experts feel that this type of flu presently might be in the stage of adapting to the human-to-human transmission mode (so far mostly bird-to-human transmission has taken place, which is still a barrier to mass transmission). When the virus has learnt to adapt to human-to-human transmission, there could be a flu pandemic with a new human strain of influenza A (type H5N1) that would rapidly sweep the world.

A Quebec/Canada company (ID Biomedical) is working on an influenza vaccine for the H5N1 virus, in preparation for a possible pandemic. The demand will be so great when a pandemic would happen, that the company is thinking of stockpiling this vaccine so that it would be available when bad news should strike.

In the meantime antiviral antibiotics such as Tamiflu (=oseltamivir) at a dose of 75 mg twice per day for 5 days started within the first two days of the flu aborts the flu effectively according to the experts. Unfortunately this antiviral antibiotic directed against the N1 component of the virus is expensive.

More background information about the flu (medically termed “influenza”): http://nethealthbook.com/infectious-disease/respiratory-infections/flu/

Reference: The Medical Post, Jan. 18, 2005, P. 2 and 56

Last edited October 27, 2014


Flu Shots For Young Children And Pregnant Moms

It may be summer, but next winter will be there and along with it the threat of flus.
Flu shots are offered in fall, and especially people with health problems (like asthma or diabetes, just to name a few) and seniors have been the primary target groups for public vaccination programs. U.S. health authorities now have also added young children under 2 to the program.

This step has been taken, as babies and young children are at a substantially increased risk for influenza-related hospitalizations.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has just release a new recommendation, that all women who are pregnant during the influenza season should get flu shots. Pregnant women who contract influenza frequently have an increased rate of complications, including pneumonia, tachycardia (rapid heart beat), and contractions.
Even though most pregnant women are young and healthy, their hospital admission rate during the flu season is similar to what you see in the elderly.
Statistics show that generally only 12% of women with uncomplicated pregnancies get vaccinated. With the threat of a severe strain of influenza A, which showed its aggressive and widespread activity last winter, it can be expected that there will be an increased demand for flu shots this year.

Flu Shots For Young Children And Pregnant Moms

Flu Shots For Young Children And Pregnant Moms

References: The Medical Post, May 18, 2004, pg. 8 and 9

Last edited December 8, 2012