Considering a Flu Shot?

Every year, millions of people across the country get a flu shot. Millions of others do not for various reasons. These reasons include concerns about thimerosal (a mercury-based compound used to disinfect the vaccine), Alzheimer’s disease, allergic reactions, Guillain-Barré syndrome , getting the flu from the vaccine, and whether the vaccine is up-to-date with the viruses going around at the time.

For those seeking alternatives to the flu vaccine, there are other options to enhance your immune system and keep you healthy during the winter season.

Some successful alternative strategies for preventing the flu include:

  1. Regular and thorough hand washing
  2. Medical foods
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Acupuncture
  5. Anti-inflammatory diet
  6. Regular exercise

Washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of illness.

Medical foods are specially formulated amino acid products, used under a physician’s care, to help prevent and manage illness (one such product is Lister-V, used for the nutritional management of the metabolic processes associated with viral infection).

Vitamin D

A clinical trial found that vitamin D was extremely effective at halting influenza infections in children. The trial appears in the March 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Am J Clin Nutr (March 10, 2010). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.29094)

A majority of Americans are vitamin D deficient, especially those of us living in the Pacific Northwest. Maintaining an adequate vitamin D level (at least 50ng/mL) is a key factor to preventing illness through the winter.

Taking vitamin D in doses of 5,000 IU/day is considered safe, but I generally recommend testing levels to get a baseline. I have had patients on vitamin D whose levels have been too high.


Acupuncture may help prevent or relieve symptoms of colds and flu by:

  • Enhancing natural killer cell activities and modulating the number and ratio of

immune cell types.

  • Reducing pain through the stimulation of nerves located in muscles and other


  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Increasing local circulation, which decreases swelling.

Anti-inflammatory diet

Adequate protein is necessary to keep your body strong. Lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, dairy, eggs, and nuts and seeds are good sources of protein, delivering vitamins B6 and B12, along with the minerals selenium and zinc. All of these contribute to a healthy immune system.

Flavonoids include about 4,000 compounds that are responsible for the colors of fruits and vegetables. They enhance the immune system and decrease inflammation.

One specific nutrient that’s found to strengthen the immune system so it can fight other infections is glutathione. Glutathione is found in cruciferous vegetables like kale, collard greens, broccoli, and cabbage.


Research shows moderate amounts of aerobic exercise such as jogging, brisk walking and cycling during the cold and flu season boost the body’s defenses against viruses and bacteria.  At a certain point, the physical stress of a long workout undermines the immune system and leaves the endurance athlete even more vulnerable to infection than before a workout.

The general consensus is that 30 minutes of exercise, three or four times a week, has positive effects.

A study showed that jogging about 10 miles a week was beneficial to the body’s defenses, but 20 miles was associated with an increased risk of infection. The intensity of prolonged exercise suppresses certain aspects of the immune system.

Other Helpful measures

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Try a little hydrogen peroxide on a Q-tip on the outside of your ear canal after showering
  • Fruit and vegetable food concentrates (e.g. Juice Plus)
  • Herbal supplements

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin