There is a great deal of controversy over the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations. Hashimoto’s sufferers should become well-educated about the risks and benefits associated with receiving a yearly flu shot and make an informed decision. Those with compromised immunity are told to get a flu vaccine, however people suffering from an autoimmune condition may in fact put themselves in greater danger from the vaccine than dealing with the illness itself. Since the flu can be serious, it is best to talk with your practitioner about your potential risks in receiving the vaccination verses possibly contracting the flu.
What is the Flu?
The flu is a respiratory virus that is also known as influenza. Influenza strains differ from year to year, with some forms of the virus having more serious symptoms – although all forms of influenza can be serious or even life threatening for certain individuals. Flu season generally lasts from fall through the spring in North America, with most people getting the influenza vaccine – also called a flu shot – in October and November. People at the greatest risk of having serious symptoms associated with influenza include small children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with depressed immunity and those suffering from chronic diseases, according to the CDC.
What is the Flu Vaccine?
There are two main forms of influenza vaccine – the injectible variety that contains the dead virus and the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) known also as “FluMist” which is a nasal spray that contains a tiny amount of the live influenza virus. FluMist is only recommended for “healthy individuals” 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant and do not have a chronic disease. The injectible flu vaccine comes in single dose and multi-dose vials – the multi-dose vaccines contain mercury and should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women, according to Mark Hyman, MD. Since mercury is also linked to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and other autoimmune disorders, it is logical that you should avoid mercury in vaccinations if you have Hashi’s. Unfortunately, there are a limited quantity of single dose influenza vaccines available.
Concerns with the Flu Vaccine for Autoimmune Conditions
Since most vaccinations contain mercury along with other potentially toxic ingredients including aluminum and formaldehyde, people with Hashimoto’s should think seriously before opting to get a flu shot. For more information about how toxicity can contribute to the formation and severity of autoimmune disease, read the “Toxic World” article here.
Aside from issues of toxicity, concerns about getting the influenza vaccination for people with autoimmune disorders include the potential for triggering the T2 branch of the immune system and exacerbating or triggering an autoimmune attack. Vaccinations are rarely known to cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder which affects the immune system. There are also studies which indicate that vaccinations may be a trigger for other autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis. Thyroid expert Richard Shames, MD, cautions his Hashimoto’s patients from receiving vaccinations including the flu shot due to the immunological connection between vaccination and triggering of autoimmunity. Doctor Kent Holtorf, MD, also recommends against the use of vaccinations in patients with Hashimoto’s due to the stimulation of the T2 branch of the immune system which can worsen the autoimmune attack on the thyroid.
Other experts, however, believe that the risk for severe symptoms in patients with comprised immunity including autoimmune disease out ways the risks of exacerbating the autoimmune attack on the body. This may be particularly true for patients taking immune-suppressing drugs to treat their autoimmune disease, as these individuals are less able to naturally fight off the influenza virus and are at a higher risk for developing secondary infections like bacterial pneumonia. The vaccination issue is both complex and controversial, and each individual dealing with Hashimoto’s needs to make an informed decision with the help of his or her physician or healthcare practitioner.
How to Prevent the Flu
Whether or not you decide to get the flu shot, there are many ways to strengthen the immune system and prevent the flu naturally. Flu season is typically the height of unhealthy eating habits for many people – diet is also the best way to strengthen the body and balance the immune system. It is important to limit or eliminate processed sugar and other refined carbohydrates to keep the immune system functioning optimally. Drinking plenty of water and warm fluids like herbal teas, along with using a humidifier in dry climates, can help to prevent dehydration and the drying of the mucous membranes in the sinuses and lungs. Try adding garlic, ginger, onions and spices like turmeric to your meals – these culinary herbs are known to boost immunity. Eat a whole foods diet rich in multi-colored vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts and legumes. Choose high quality protein sources like organic meats and dairy, or grass-fed and wild meats and wild-caught fish.
Supplements can also help to support the immune system and prevent the flu. Many people with Hashimoto’s are vitamin D deficient – according to Dr. Hyman, those with a vitamin D deficiency are 11 times more likely to contract a cold or flu, while supplementing with vitamin D3 is shown to reduce the rates of colds and flu by 42 percent. Vitamin C is also crucial to immune health – opt for a buffered variety and take 500 to 1000 mg per day in divided doses. Zinc is also linked to immune health and can be taken as a supplement – look for zinc citrate – or found in foods like oysters and pumpkin seeds. Fish oils – particulary arctic cod liver oil – is an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins D and A, both important for immune function.
Herbs and mushrooms can also support immune function. Certain immune tonic herbs like astragalus, codonopsis, American ginseng and ashwaganda can be taken at the beginning of flu season for a few weeks to strengthen the immune system – these herbs should not, however, be taken during an acute illness. Other immune-supportive herbs include echinacea and elderberry, which can be combined with naturally fever-reducing diaphoretic herbs like ginger, yarrow, elder flower and boneset during an acute respiratory illness – including influenza. Elderberry has been scientifically proven to kill multiple strains of influenza and can be taken as a tea, tincture, standardized extract or syrup. Medicinal mushrooms like cordyceps, reishi and shiitake are also useful in strengthening and balancing the immune system.
When it comes to the prevention of influenza, adequate sleep and stress reduction cannot be overlooked. It is important to wash your hands regularly, particularly when in public or around infected people. Prevention is the best medicine, so if you opt to avoid the flu shot this year, be sure to take steps through diet, lifestyle and natural therapies to reduce your chance of contracting the flu. If you do get influenza, holistic therapies can help your body to fight off the virus naturally – be sure to work with a qualified practitioner to create a protocol that best suits your particular needs.