This is the time of year when thoughts turn to flu season, helped on by all the pharmacies and grocery stores shouting “Get your flu shot here!” Actually they start shouting in August, which is stupid, because flu season runs roughly November to April, and the flu shot’s effectiveness wanes after about five months. Get the flu shot too early and you have no protection in the latter part of the season.
For that matter, the effectiveness of flu shots varies from season to season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own data, effectiveness since 2004 has varied from 10 to 60 percent. In fact, for nine of those 13 years, vaccine effectiveness has been less than 50 percent. Not what I would call a real successful medical treatment. In comparison, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine are both in the 80 to 90 percent effectiveness range. The other thing is that flu shots are specific to the type of flu viruses expected to be circulating in any given year. There are still plenty of other viruses and bacteria wandering around out there for which a flu shot does nothing. I think it makes better sense to bolster the whole immune system. Here’s how:
1. Eat a healthy diet. That means minimal (or preferably no) refined foods and sugar in any form, and lots of fermented foods to keep your gut in good shape (the gut is a big player in the immune system).
2. Get enough sleep. Turn off the electronics at least one hour before bedtime and go to bed early enough to sleep about eight hours. If you wake up before the alarm goes off, you’ve had enough sleep. If not, go to bed earlier.
3. Get regular aerobic exercise (bet you didn’t know that was an immune system booster).
4. Manage your stress. The above suggestions will help, as will yoga, tae chi, meditation, massage and aromatherapy. So will counseling – if you need it, get it.
You can also make and take immune system boosters such as fire cider, blackberry or elderberry syrup. The latter two do contain honey, which is a sugar, but in small enough quantities that it doesn’t seem to affect the immune system. Here are some recipes. Ideally, you want to start making these about August (I’m a little behind in getting this posted – my apologies). They will keep in the fridge all year.
These quantities are approximate and you can play with the ingredients. Most can be grown in your own garden.
½ cup each peeled diced ginger root, horseradish root, onion and turmeric
¼ cup garlic cloves, minced or crushed
2 chopped hot peppers – jalapenos, cayenne, habanero, etc.
Juice and zest from two organic lemons
Raw (unpastuerized) apple cider vinegar is preferred, but you can use pasteurized if that’s all you can find
Optional: a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme (both have antiviral properties) and ½ tsp of whole black peppercorns
Pack all the ingredients down into a wide mouth glass jar until the jar is about ¾ full. Herbs and peppers go on the bottom as they will otherwise float. Pour the apple cider vinegar over the top so the other ingredients are completely covered. Cover with a lid and let the jar sit in a dark, room temperature cabinet for a month. Some recipes recommend shaking well once a day. Strain (the veggies and herbs can be used in stir fries). Add honey to taste and store the fire cider in the fridge. Shake well before using. Usual dose is ½ to a tablespoon a day for adults, ½ to 1 teaspoon a day for kids up to age 10.
Elderberry or Blackberry Syrup
2/3 cup dried or one cup raw elderberries or blackberries
3 ½ cups water
2 Tbs fresh grated ginger root
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
Bring all ingredients except honey to a boil in a saucepan; let simmer about one hour or until the liquid has reduced by half. Let cool until slightly warm (so the honey will dissolve; but don’t add hot syrup to the honey), strain and add honey to taste. Store in the fridge. Shake well before using. Usual dose is ½ to a tablespoon a day for adults, ½ to 1 teaspoon a day for kids up to age 10. If you do get a bad cold or the flu, take the standard dose two or three times a day until symptoms disappear.