Question: There is so much pressure on us to get a flu vaccination. Is this wise, or are there better ways of preventing and treating the flu?
Answer: True influenza is an infectious disease, transmitted through the air in infected secretions (i.e., mucus), caused by an RNA virus in the Orthomyxovirus class of viruses. There are three subtypes of viruses in this class, called A, B and C with the subtype A associated with the most severe symptoms in humans. The global influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed millions of people all over the world, but especially in Europe, was supposedly a type A influenza virus. There have been lesser outbreaks of other type A viruses occurring from time to time since then.
It is important to note that not all cases of sickness in the winter are the “flu” type, and it is virtually impossible for a doctor to tell an individual patient whether he is suffering from illness caused by the true influenza virus or some other variation of the common cold. Typically the distinguishing features of true influenza versus the usual cold are higher fever, body aches, sore throat and the tendency to get pneumonia. While these may occur in the common cold they are more severe in classic influenza.
It is important in understanding influenza to go over some basic principles of infectious disease and how our immune system functions. We have two immune systems, the cell-mediated or Th1 (thymus derived) immune system is responsible for eliminating intracellular (meaning inside the cell) organisms. It primarily works through the production of white blood cells that essentially digest and then excrete cells (for example, in our throat or bronchial tubes) that have been infected with a virus or bacteria. The consequences of a cell mediated response, that is, the digestion and excretion of dead and infected cells, are what we call sickness. In other words, fever, rash, cough, mucus and so forth are not caused by the virus but by the body’s response to the virus.
In contrast, the humoral or Th2 immune system targets extracellular (i.e., outside the cell) infecting agents (such as worms) or foreign proteins and produces antibodies that call for a killing response before the offending agent gets into our cells and makes us sick.
There are several important points to note here. First, with every naturally occurring infection both immune systems respond, first the cellmediated to clear the virus, then the antibody or humoral system to make antibodies to remember what happened so our cells don’t get infected with the same pathogen more than once. Second, the severity of any particular illness is a function of how many cells are infected and the strength of our cell-mediated response. Finally, whether we get repeated sickness is related to whether we can make an effective antibody response.
The influenza virus, being an RNA virus, can only replicate inside other mammalian cells; this is why it causes illness. If we haven’t encountered a particular strain before it gets into our cells and replicates, the cell-mediated response comes into play and leads to sickness.
The cell-mediated response usually lasts a week to ten days; then the virus is cleared, we make antibodies and are immune for life. This is what happens in the vast majority of cases. In the process of the cell-mediated response, a kind of cellular house-cleaning takes place, in which a lot of weakened and otherwise diseased cells are cleared from our tissue. This is why we say after the flu that “we are better.” In fact, the cell-mediated exercise is largely responsible for immunity to cancer, auto-immune disease and other chronic conditions. In other words, the dictum “give me a fever [that is, the cell-mediated response] and I can cure any disease” speaks to the power and efficacy of the cell-mediated immune system.
In contrast, when we give a vaccine, any vaccine, we are deliberately trying to bypass the cell-mediated immune system and only provoke a humoral response. (If a vaccine provoked the cell-mediated immune system, it would just make us sick and no one would agree to them.) Although in theory this process might work, the problem is that this shifts the vaccine recipient into what is called a Th2 dominant mode, an imbalance in which the humoral immune system is too strong and the cell-mediated immunity is suppressed.
This leaves us with no avenue to clear the poisons that we have just been injected with from our tissues; it leaves us with chronic inflammation as our bodies struggle to clear these inflammatory toxins, such as mercury, formaldehyde, and dead viruses, and an increased susceptibility to chronic disease. An overactive humoral immune system often leads to auto-immune disease, where the humoral immune system attacks our own tissues.
In all, flu vaccines have too many problems to recommend them against an illness that should be fairly straightforward to overcome.
As far as flu prevention, the best approach is, of course, a nourishing traditional diet with an emphasis on good fats, lacto-fermented foods and gelatin-rich bone broth. Sugar and refined carbohydrates both blunt the immune response and should be avoided as much as possible. High vitamin cod liver oil, rich in fat-soluble vitamins, helps the immune response, the dose is one-half to one teaspoon per day. The other proven preventative is some elderberry extract, my favorite being elderberry/thyme syrup from True Botanica, one teaspoon twice per day.
If you should get the flu, increase the cod liver oil to one teaspoon three times per day while you are sick, and give the elderberry extract one tablespoon four times per day until better.
I recommend two homeopathic remedies for the first three days or as long as you have a fever. The first is Oscillococcinum from Boiron, given one tube of little pills twice per day; the second is meteoric iron/prunus from Uriel pharmacy, five pills four times per day. The meteoric iron should be continued at this dose until all symptoms are gone. Of course, you should take plenty of bone broths and nourishing soups as appetite permits.
The important point to remember about the flu is that this is a annoying but self-limiting disease which, through its activation of our cellmediated immune system, strengthens us and prevents us from going down the road of chronic disease. Vaccines do just the opposite and should be avoided. When it comes to the flu, we need to keep our eyes on the big picture and the true road to good health.
Also see our podcast here – https://www.westonaprice.org/podcast/166-say-no-to-the-flu-shot/
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2013.🖨️ Print post
Jenny Foster says
Do you have a specific recipe that you might include with this article in which to make the elderberry extract? I have just received my order of 3 pounds of elderberries and am ready to make an extract, just not sure if one recipe is more superior in quality than another. Thanks!!
Here’s a recipe of elderberry syrup from a website with lots of ressources : http://wellnessmama.com/1888/elderberry-syrup/
Where did you purchase your elderberries?
Susan Green says
I buy my elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs.
You said doctors have no way of distinguishing flu from other illnesses. But now there is a test for flu. Doctors can know now.
I was just going to mention that as well, there is a way for doctors to tell if you have influenza and what type. Myself, my husband, and my 18 month old daughter are just getting over the influenza type A. We took my daughter to her pediatrician and she was able to tell that it was the influenza type A by doing a nose swab.
Information from the CDC:
– The flu kills thousands of people each year
– A very recent, large study of over 8,000 hospitalized people with diagnosed influenza showed that vaccinated adults (age 18+) had a 52-79% reduction in hospital death and 37% reduction in ICU admission compared to adults WITHOUT the vaccine (source: Arriola C et al. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Oct 15;65(8):1289-1297. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix468)
So yes, as mentioned by commentators above, doctors can tell the difference between a cold and the flu (I work in a hospital and see this test ordered all the time). And no – the flu is not just an annoying disease – it is deadly, especially for vulnerable populations like children and the elderly (CDC.gov).
Dr. Cowan, the article you wrote in 2013 is powerful because your textbook breakdown of immunology makes it sound convincing. But the information you provide lacks legitimacy. If you truly believe in the power of Alternative Medicine, please be transparent. For example, please provide evidence that the use of elderberry is a “proven preventative” of the flu.
Now that it is flu season again, perhaps it is time to update this article with real information?
a natural mama says
Do these help?
The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.
Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.
Oscillicoccinium works for me. The key is to start at your first symptoms. And as homeopathy is not dose-dependent on quantity, such as taking 325 mg of aspirin, you don’t have to take the whole vial at once. Tap pellets from an open vial into the lid and pop 3 – 4 pellets under your tongue. Repeat every 15 minutes until symptoms subside then another two doses about an hour apart. Within a few hours I have complete relief. And a vial lasts all winter.
AmyS – I also use Oscillicoccinium when I come down with a cold. But it’s kind of hard I find recognizing that’s what is going on, I definitely miss the beginning of it. Anyway, I normally take the whole tube (in spite of it being more than what I would normally take of a regular homeopathic medicine) – but it never donned on me to just take a few pellets. I’ll have to give this a try next time and see how it works. Thank you!
Common sense says
While it is true that a doctor can tell the difference, if they were to perform a test, in reality, most people who get sick do not get a test. There is little therapeutic value in a test, and currently most infected so not get tested.
Second, recently the flu vaccine has been coming in at 50% effective rate… Specialized studies that compare hospitalized versus non hospitalized are far more specialized than a generic population study… They only show that the vaccine is more effective in helping the sickly than the general population.
Third, all allopathic intervention come at a cost… I had never heard the discussion of t1 V’s t2 responses. Was he off base in his discussion? If so, correct that. If not, then please recognize that there is a lot about the vaccine process that has not been proven safe. I believe the cases of autoimmune diseases are sky rocketing, and vaccine interference sounds like a plausible reason ( hypothesis generating only). It is incumbent on vaccine manufactured to determine to a far more reasonable degree the safety of their vaccines over the course of a lifetime.
In once done to an arrogant doctor who got upset about the number of children who go blind because they don’t receive the hep b vaccine at birth… He got so yet at how preventable their blindness was, it was an tragedy… I went through the math, apparently there are less than 10 children a year who have this specific complication. Yet there are more than a hundred doctors who doesn’t every year from ski accidents. Ski accidents are 100% avoidable. Their deaths by skiing are preventable…
Do you suggest the same supplements for a 3 year old, if so what doses?
Our daughter has had two febrile seizures from fevers. Any recommendations for how to prevent those during a potential flu? Thank you!
That article referenced above about the flu vaccine helping people to avoid hospitalizations from pneumonia has been deconstructed. The data from that study also suggest that having an influenza vaccine, makes it MORE likely that if you get some sort of, “flu-like illness” you will end up hospitalized with pneumonia — as compared to those who don’t get the vaccine and then get a, “flu-like illness.”
I’m glad to have come across this article. I just read Vaccines, Autoimmunity, and the Changing Nature of Childhood Illness, and I wanted to just put out there that a book by Thomas Cowan M.D. that guides parents through how to care for a child dealing with the illnesses that are often vaccinated against would be so great! Some of those illnesses my grandmother may have known what to do, but I sure don’t. Since the book discussed the value of being able to guide a child through those childhood illnesses, I’d love to know how Doctor Cowan would advise a parent to do that.
Travis Mansfield says
Is a person/child has lymph nodes in the neck the size of a pea. Does it mean the white blood cells in the immune system is eating whatever pathogen to get rid of it, or does it mean that it is a sign of infection? Or is it both?
Greta Green says
Please send the recipe for elderberry syrup. Thanks
Michelle T says
Wow, relevant now more than ever. Thank you for your article and for allowing the comment section to run free—whether or not commenters agree or disagree, you clearly allow them to speak freely.