The pressure is on full bore now to go out and get your annual flu vaccine.
But as you know, I and many others are troubled by the flu vaccine side effects that are reported in other countries (but that only some people, including my readers, ever seem to hear about in the U.S.). Serious side effects like convulsions, narcolepsy, and compromised immune systems.
And then there’s the lack of evidence that this vaccine really works.
There is no evidence it really helps older people. There is no evidence it works in children. And last year’s vaccine did not appear to work at all in anybody, anywhere.
So here’s what I recommend. Every time a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist asks you to get a vaccine, ask them how much research they have done on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
I estimate I perform about 20 hours of research per month on the latest findings worldwide on vaccines, including the flu vaccine. That’s 240 hours per year. Does your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist do that much research on what he or she recommends?
If you really want to stump your healthcare providers, ask them why they’re pushing flu vaccines when there are 7 simple steps everyone can do to protect themselves from cold and flu viruses better than a flu vaccine can.
And then hand them the following list.
My top cold and flu fighters
1.) Don’t automatically shake hands. We have heard a lot about Donald Trump lately. But did you know The Donald practices germ avoidance by refusing to shake hands with others?
Maybe he just can’t afford to be sick. After all, cold and flu viruses are spread by contact, and who knows where someone’s hands have been? Among other unique characteristics, Trump may be the first politician not to shake hands—and he is still coming out ahead so far.
2.) Regularly wipe down your keypads and phones. Another presidential candidate is good at “wiping” things clean (or maybe not so good, according to the FBI)—like personal computer servers that hold government classified documents. But wiping down surfaces, in other contexts, can be a very healthy practice.
Phones and keypads can be germ-breeding grounds. And they come into close contact with mouths, eyes, ears, and hands—all of which are disease transfer and entry points. So wipe down these devices regularly with alcohol, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or slightly soapy water (do not soak!) regularly.
3.) Stay sanitary in public restrooms. You already know to wash your hands after using the bathroom. But public restroom sanitation goes beyond that. As I reported in the February issue of Insiders’ Cures (“The shocking source spreading cold and flu viruses”), public restroom door handles, toilets, faucets, soap dispensers, and hand driers are all loaded with bacteria and viruses.
After you wash your hands with soap and water, avoid the hand dryer. Research shows it just blows bacteria and viruses throughout the restroom. Instead, dry your hands with a paper towel and then use that towel to open the door when you exit the bathroom. Doorknobs are teeming with bacteria and viruses—especially in public restrooms.
In your own bathroom, close the lid before you flush to cut down on airborne germs.
4.) Carry hand sanitizer in your car. Now that we have to pump our own gasoline (except on the New Jersey Turnpike), gas pumps have become some of the most contaminated surfaces anywhere.
Visit the restroom and wash up after pumping gas, or clean your hands with sanitizer. In fact, you should always keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer (that doesn’t contain the toxic chemical triclosan) in your car. Spritz your steering wheel and stick shift (or run your hands over them while they’re still wet after applying gel sanitizer) whenever you get in the car—especially after pumping gas.
5.) Give your purse, briefcase, or bag a boost. Think of how many germs your satchels literally sit on when you put them on the floor in public places. And then how those germs can transfer to your hands when you pick up your bag.
Hang the strap or handle of your briefcase or purse over the back of a chair or other hook, or simply put your bag on a chair or bench—not on the dirty floor.
6.) Hold your breath. If someone in a public place is sneezing or coughing, just turn away and hold your breath for a few seconds. This will help keep you from inhaling the germs released into the air. Then, avoid touching surfaces—and don’t touch your face—until you can get to a less contaminated area.
This precaution reminds me of school sports physicals. To check for a hernia, the doctor says, “Turn your head and cough.” The cough increases the pressure inside the abdomen, which can cause any hernia to appear. I used to wonder about the complex pressure dynamics involved in coughing while turning the head. When I got to medical school and asked about it, the professor laughed and said the school doctor was just avoiding getting repeatedly coughed in his face.
7.) Don’t ever underestimate the importance of sleep. There’s plenty of evidence showing that lack of sleep increases your risk of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
And now a new study quantifies that risk. Researchers found that people who sleep less than six hours a night are over four times more likely to get a cold than those who get more shuteye. (The study was done in Pittsburgh rather than New York because, you know…it’s the “city that never sleeps.”)
The researchers sequestered 164 volunteers in a hotel. Each study participant was given a cold virus via nasal drops, and then monitored for a week. The researchers discovered that the people who slept fewer than six hours per night were 4.2 times more likely to come down with a cold compared to people who slept seven or more hours per night. And people who spent less than five hours sleeping were 4.5 times more likely to get a cold.1
In other words, just one extra hour in bed each night can help you avoid having to spend days in bed with a severe cold.
In fact, lack of sleep was the biggest risk factor for coming down with a cold in this study—more than age, stress levels, alcohol intake, ethnicity, education, or income. Even the great villain of government public health, smoking, was less likely to cause a cold than lack of sleep.
So if you’re wondering why it seems so many people these days always seem to have a cold, it may simply be because of lack of sleep. Something, as I mentioned last month, the CDC has identified as yet another public health “epidemic.”
Along with illnesses, the CDC says insufficient sleep is linked to motor vehicle accidents, industrial disasters, and medical errors. (When I was in medical training, we were told that young physicians don’t need sleep, but apparently, sleep-derived doctors finally “woke up” to the fact that doctors are human too).
The National Sleep Foundation did a survey in 2013 that found one out of five Americans get less than six hours of sleep on work nights, and more than half get less than seven hours’ sleep. The U.S. ranked lowest in total sleep hours among the six countries surveyed.2
Another new study sheds light on how the relationship between sleep and immunity works.3
It has to do with how your body has a built-in 24-hour “clock” that regulates hormonal functions, physiology, and behavior. This clock is called the circadian cycle. And this cycle is found in every animal and plant that has a lifespan longer than 24 hours, including single-celled organisms. It’s another factor that shows how closely we are tied to nature, or should be.
The researchers who conducted this study noted that disruption of the circadian cycle affects almost everyone in modern society, due to factors like artificial lighting, working at night and shift work, jet lag, and even the light emitted at night by cell phones and tablets.
In the study, the researchers disrupted the normal 24-hour clock of mice by putting them on 20-hour clock out of synch with the day-and-night, light-and-dark cycle.
The researchers found that even though the mice still got enough sleep, their immune response wasn’t normal. Which made them more vulnerable to illness. That suggests that for good health and immunity, not just the amount of sleep but the quality and timing of that sleep are important.
In other words, if you want to fight flu, colds, and other viruses, get enough sleep and go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. (This gives new meaning to the old Italian-American saying about “going to the mattresses.”)
And of course, help keep your immune system strong with a healthy diet and a supplement regimen that includes a high-quality B vitamin complex every day, 250 mg of vitamin C twice a day, and 10,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
1“Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold.” Sleep. 2015 Jan 17. pii: sp-00619-14.
3”Environmental disruption of the circadian clock leads to altered sleep and immune responses in mouse.” Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Jul;47:14-23.