I can’t drive 2 miles in this town without seeing a sign urging me to get a flu shot. Every pharmacy – and now even grocery store - are offering them. Some even give you an incentive: Get Your Free Flu Shot And Receive $10 off Your Purchase.
Of course in some cases, like people with compromised immune systems, getting a flu shot is imperative for surviving the season. But for the rest of us basically healthy people, is the flu shot a great idea?
The flu virus is smart. So smart that it morphs into a new strain every winter, just in case you got it last year and still have antibodies for it. And last year, for the first time in history, the virus actually mutated during a single season. Scientists speculate that this is because of overuse of the vaccine.
Another thing that not many people know is that the vaccine is made to fight last year’s flu strain, since it needs to be made and administered before the start of flu season. There is no way to know what mutation the virus will take before people start getting the flu. This means that you could get a flu shot, and STILL GET THE FLU! Plus, the more years that the shot is offered to the general public, and the more people that get the shot, both increase your chance of the vaccine not working.
Of course the decision is always up to you as to whether to get the vaccine or not. However, if you’d like to go a different route, try a few of these options to boost your natural immune system and keep healthy all winter.
1. Traditional Foods
The traditional food movement was started by Dr. Weston Price, DDS, in the 1930’s. Dr. Price traveled all over the world to find traditional cultures that hadn’t been exposed to modern food processing. He found that they were quite healthy, had very few cavities, great bone structure, and rarely got sick. He studied their diets, and found some specific foods and nutrients that were present in all of them, as well as foods that were absent.
What he found was a highly anti-inflammatory diet, free of sugar and refined foods. When these people ate grains, they soaked them, sprouted them, or made them into real sourdough breads – all techniques that make grains easily digestible. The dairy they consumed was not homogenized, and was processed into butter, yogurt and cheeses in order to preserve it.
In addition, they ate lots of soups and stews made with bone broths, especially in fall and winter. Most of the Northern cultures also added cod liver oil. Cod liver oil might sound icky – but it’s full of natural Vitamin D that is easily assimilated into your body. Since these Northerners didn’t get much sunlight in the winter, it helped keep them healthy.
2. Onion Honey
The herbalist Rosemary Gladstar tells a story of when she was living in rural Vermont, in a cabin with no heat or running water. There was a stream nearby, and a big wood stove in the middle of the kitchen. Every fall she would make Onion Honey, and keep it in a small pot on the very edge of the wood stove. She thinly sliced a few onions, placed them in a pot and covered them with raw honey. They got heated on a very low heat, to preserve the healing properties of the honey, and the onions released their juices into the honey. Every day she would take a spoonful, and if it was getting low, pour in a little more honey.
I made my own onion honey last fall, and it kept me healthy all winter long. Just cook your sliced onions and honey for a few hours on the lowest heat possible. Once the onions have broken down, you can take it off the heat, put the whole mess in a big jar, and store it in the fridge. Take a teaspoon every morning, even more if you start to feel the sniffles or a sore throat. You can take it throughout the day to soothe a sore throat as well.
The taste is a little sweet, a little spicy and a tad savory.
Back in my pre-acupuncture days, I got a cold every spring and fall. By the time I got to my mid 20’s, that cold would last 10 days or more, with a hacking cough that persisted for months. I started getting weekly acupuncture treatments in September, and in November of that year came my first cold. I told my acupuncturist of my history, she added a few points to my treatment that week, and in 5 days that cold was gone! I continue to get monthly treatments for whatever comes up, or just for prevention, and I haven’t had a single cold in all these years.
4. Stay Close to Nature
Fall and winter months have more darkness and less light. Traditionally, these were the easy, restful months when most people hibernated. The big harvest was over, all the food preservation was done, and it was too darn cold to do anything but huddle by the fire.
Now we have electricity, heat and the internet. So many distractions that keep us from being connected to nature. And we suffer from it. There’s really no way for most of us to avoid our modern world (nor would we want to) but there are a few things that we can incorporate into our day to remind us that we are still a part of nature, and not separate from it.
Two of these have specific benefits to your immune system. The first is taking a brisk walk in the daytime. Bundle up, make sure to stay warm, and get some fresh air. The two main immune system organs are our lungs and skin, and this practice engages both of them. Deep breathing in the fresh air keep your lungs healthy, and the cold air activates the pores on your skin to keep pathogens out.
The second practice is to get more sleep in the winter. As I mentioned earlier, with the change of seasons it gets dark sooner, so getting to bed early is a great way to connect with that. Not to mention all the immune boosting benefits that come from 8-9 hours of good quality sleep a night.
With a little bit of self-care, you too can enjoy great health, and no colds or flu during the fall and winter months.
Elizabeth Allen is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of AcuMed Spa, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.