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.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2013.