November 21, 2011

Don’t Shoot Me.

Apparently, it’s flu shot season again.















(Photo: expertinfantry)

Everywhere you go right now, you can get a flu shot.

Most grocery stores have a flu shot clinic. The library is doing a flu shot clinic. Drug stores, malls––I’m pretty sure by the end of the week Starbucks with be offering free flu shots with their Eggnog Lattes. It’s what we are supposed to do, right?

On their website, the Center for Disease Control explains that a flu shot is a good preventative measure and will help prevent the influenza virus. They stress that it  is especially important for young children and the elderly, because of their high risk of complications from the influenza virus. They go on to say that during years when the viruses in the vaccine and the viruses circulating nationwide are not a good match, the vaccine may not be effective. Also, they mention that it isn’t usually that effective for children and the elderly since their immune systems are weaker.

So let’s look at this:

The vaccine may not prevent you from what’s out there this year. They are guessing based on last year.

The people they recommend it for the most are the least likely to have it be effective.

This is from the CDC, not an anti-vaccination group.

Also of note are the possible complications and side effects: soreness, fever, aches, wheezing, headache, vomiting, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, allergic reaction, and “flu like” symptoms. Oh, and if you are including the H1N1 “swine flu” vaccine, may cause vasculitis, paralysis, anaphylactic shock, and death. This doesn’t even take into account the widely debated but not unreasonable concerns about injecting oneself and one’s family with heavy metals and preservatives.

This isn’t meant to be inflammatory or anti-Western medicine.  While some people take a staunch, anti-vaccination stance, I do believe that they have their place. I don’t think that place is the corner drug store, grocery store, library, school, Target or McDonalds. (Psst…I heard if you get your flu shot at Trader Joe’s you get a free bottle of two-buck Chuck!)

So what do we do then? Cross our fingers and hope for the best?  Go with an equally controversial and possibly unhelpful assortment of holistic remedies? For every article you read on how helpful Echinacea is, you can find three more saying it does nothing or (worse) it might actually make you sicker. There are so many natural remedies to fight colds and flu. Everyone has an opinion, a favorite tea, soup or supplement that is their miracle cure.

Instead of all that, here are eight non-controversial, non-invasive things you can do to prevent colds and flu this winter:

1. Wash your hands. You don’t need to go Howard Hughes with this. After the bathroom, before you eat and after blowing your nose or similar are fine. Use common sense. You don’t need anything fancy, just hot water and soap, or an alcohol based waterless cleanser if they aren’t available.

2. Stay hydrated. The human body is about 70% water. We lose about a pint of water a day from exhalation alone. If you want to keep everything flowing along happily, you need to stay hydrated. A good rule of thumb is to cut your body weight in half, and drink that number in ounces of water per day. Coffee is wonderful, but make sure you are compensating for its diuretic effects with extra water.

3. Eat your fruits and vegetables. There is new information every day about the miraculous effects of various fruits and vegetables. I’ve heard they will enable you to do everything from leaping  tall buildings in single bound, to being the world’s greatest lover, to having the skin of a five year old. I don’t know if I buy all of it. It’s not magical; it’s common sense. Eating a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables is good for your health. (P.S. they help you stay hydrated too.)

4. Move your body. Your circulatory system has your heart to keep things pumping. Your lymph system (one of your immune system superheroes) needs to you move to keep things flowing. Go for a walk, ride your bike, go to yoga, get a massage.

5. Breathe. Deep breathing boosts your immune system by lowering stress hormones and reminding your nervous system that you aren’t being attacked. Even  two minutes is helpful. Even better if it’s accompanied by meditation.

6. Get enough sleep. No sleep, no human growth hormone. We make less of this as we age. Once you’ve reached your full height, the main purpose of HGH is tissue repair. Want to look and feel horrible? Get less sleep than you need. Everyone’s “enough” sleep amount varies, but regularly getting at least seven hours of sleep is a good baseline for adults.

7. Go outside. Get some sunshine! Especially in the wintertime, every little bit helps your body make vitamin D and regulate serotonin levels. Getting out of stuffy, overheated, germ-filled rooms is a good motivator to go outside too.

8. Laugh. Laughing moves your lymph system, brings in oxygen, boosts lots of happy hormones like serotonin and interleukin. It lowers levels of stress hormones. It also helps in ways that science just doesn’t understand yet. (Crying helps too, in a different way, but for some of the same reasons.)

Bonus to help with number eight: in lieu of flu shot, a little Louis C.K.

(Some NSFW language and will result in massive laughter and possible rolling on the floor.)

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