RHR: The Truth About Flu Shots (and What to do Instead)

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Vaccination is a highly polarized and controversial issue. However, in the case of the flu shot, the evidence is relatively straightforward. Several large reviews have been published in the prestigious Cochrane Library on the efficacy of influenza vaccine in various populations. It’s difficult to reconcile the almost hysterical promotion of the flu shot by medical “authorities” with the results of these studies, as you’ll learn when you listen to this episode. I hope this radio show clarifies what the scientific literature actually says about influenza vaccine and helps you to make an informed decision for yourself and your family.

In this episode, we cover:

2:47 What did Chris eat for breakfast?
5:23 Does the flu shot really prevent sickness and death in adults?
19:07 Does the flu shot really protect young kids and the elderly?
35:22 How to prevent colds and flus naturally
44:36 What to do if you get sick

Links We Discuss:

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Full Text Transcript:

Steve Wright:  Hey everyone.  Welcome to another episode of the Revolution Health Radio Show.  This show is brought to you by ChrisKresser.com.  I’m your host, Steve Wright from SCDLifestyle.com, and with me is integrative medical practitioner, licensed acupuncturist, and healthy skeptic, Chris Kresser.  How is everything going, Chris?

Chris Kresser:  It’s good, Steve.  I’m feeling a little cooped up.  It’s been raining for several days, and according to the weather report, no sign of stopping.  And being a Southern California native, I’m just not a big fan of constant rain.  I like it for a little bit, but then I start to go a little bit stir crazy.  I think I’m gonna have to put on some rain gear and just get outside anyway later today.  But otherwise pretty good.  How about you?

Steve Wright:  I’m doing well.  It’s also raining in Michigan, but it’s about 35 degrees, and I’m sure snow will be right behind it.

Chris Kresser:  Uh-huh.  I actually prefer snow to rain.  I think it would be easier for me to live in a snowy place than a rainy place.

Steve Wright:  Oh, I 100% agree.  I mean, living in Michigan — I couldn’t live in one of the middle states.  Like, I would rather — if it’s gonna be below 45, I want some snow.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Steve Wright:  Otherwise, there’s nothing to do.

Chris Kresser:  Because you can get out there in the snow and, yeah, ski, snowboard, move around.  There’s just something about the rain that it makes it, for me at least, pretty unpleasant to be outside, but I love being out in the snow.

Steve Wright:  Yeah, here in Michigan we have some sweet trash hills that we ski on.

Chris Kresser:  Haha.  Not that I’ve been doing much skiing or snowboarding lately.  I’ve been a little too busy.  I imagine this is probably good for the snow in Tahoe, though.  I might have to check it out.

Steve Wright:  Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever done it.

Chris Kresser:  Oh, lots of times, but having a 16-month-old daughter hasn’t been all that conducive to it so far, and I didn’t get up there even once last season.  So maybe it’ll be different this time.

Steve Wright:  A couple more years, and she’ll be one of those little crazy kids I always see with the helmet on that just bomb past me.

Chris Kresser:  Oh yeah.  She’ll be tearing it up.  I already got her on a surfboard when we were in Costa Rica earlier this year.  So, you know, surfing, snowboarding, all that stuff.

What did Chris eat for breakfast?

Steve Wright:  Amazing.  OK, well, before we get into the hot topic of the day, which is gonna be flu shots, vaccines, and all of the sickness that ensues, what did you have for breakfast?

Chris Kresser:  Oh right.  Yeah, so this morning I had chicken soup actually.  It was kind of a Southwestern-style chicken soup that we made the other day.  So I had some sweet potatoes, celery, collard greens, carrots, homemade chicken bone broth made with heads and feet, so extra gelatinous, and then some Southwestern kind of spices.  Yeah, it was good.  Chicken is my least favorite of all the meats, but one way that I do like to eat it is in soup.  And on a rainy day, nothing beats chicken soup for breakfast.  You should try it if you haven’t.

Steve Wright:  Haha, all right.

 Chris Kresser:  I know you have, Steve, being an SCD/GAPS kinda guy.

Steve Wright:  Yeah, I’m kinda chuckling because that’s actually what I ate today as well.  I made like an extreme version of chicken soup where I just emptied every spice I had into the crockpot to see what would happen, and I made this crazy, spicy concoction with turmeric overflowing everywhere, so everything is stained yellow, and I gotta clean it up later.

Chris Kresser:  Haha, right.  Soup’s a good way to manage leftovers, too.  You know, if you’ve got a little bit of this, little bit of that from different dishes and you can put it together with some broth and some spices, it usually turns out pretty well.

Steve Wright:  Yeah.  It’s pretty tough, I feel like, to mess it up.

Chris Kresser:  Haha.  Oh, I’ve seen it done, believe me.

Steve Wright:  Yeah.  Watch out with the fennel seed.

Chris Kresser:  Speaking of chicken soup, that’s probably a pretty good segue for the topic today, huh?

Steve Wright:  Yeah, I think it is, but first you should probably get some more broth and do a little meditation session, and in the meantime, I’m gonna let everybody know about your program, Beyond Paleo.  So if you’re new to this radio show, you’re new to the paleo diet, or you’re just somebody interested in optimizing your health, you’re going to want to check out what Chris has put together.  It’s a program called Beyond Paleo, and it’s a free 13-part email series that Chris is gonna send right to your inbox on his best tips and tricks for burning fat, boosting energy, and preventing and reversing disease without drugs.  So if this is something you’re interested in — remember it’s free — head on over to ChrisKresser.com, look for the red box, and go ahead and put your name and email in there and sign up.

OK, Chris, are you ready for the subject of today’s show?

Does the flu really prevent sickness and death?

Chris Kresser:  I’m ready.  Today we’re gonna talk about the flu shot, vaccination to prevent influenza.  Some of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter might have noticed I posted a link to an article by Dr. Briffa, who I sometimes link to.  He’s a physician in the UK and shares a pretty similar perspective, and he was commenting on a study that was done at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, which I’ll talk about a little more in a second.  And the gist of the article was that vaccination is — and this is not his quote.  This is a quote according to the researchers who did the study — “over-promoted and over-hyped.”

And it’s always really interesting to see the response.  You know, I talked about vaccination before on another show and discussed just how controversial and heated and polarized it really is, and it’s one of those issues where it’s not just about calmly discussing what the research says.  There’s a lot of emotion behind it.  There’s a lot of belief and dogma that is not evidence based, and I’m always curious about people’s reactions when I post things like this, and it happens on both sides of the spectrum, so I’m not just saying that this is present in the pro-vaccination crowd.  There’s a lot of hysteria and dogma on both sides.

But you know, I posted the study, and a lot of people have a kind of angry response and indignant response and accuse me of being silly or irresponsible in some way for linking to a study that clearly casts doubt on the efficacy of the flu shot.  And I have no problem with someone disagreeing with me, but I would like to at least see some discussion about the evidence rather than just kind of parroting the conventional viewpoint that flu shots save lives and that they’re necessary and we should all get them.  And I kinda wonder where people are getting that information and what they’re basing their strong opinions on.  Is it based on evidence?  Is it based on something they’ve heard from somebody else?  Is it based on fear?  Is it based on a belief system that modern medicine is somehow infallible?  Or is it based on an idea, like a distrust of alternative medicine or a distrust of people who challenge modern medicine?  I don’t know.  I’m genuinely curious about it, because the reactions that I get whenever I post anything about vaccination are much stronger than just the actual information would suggest.

Steve Wright:  You know what’s crazy about this, too, is you also have some professions and especially what we’re talking about, some health professions.  I looked at an article from 2009, but I’m sure I saw it again this year, where Spectrum Health Group here in Michigan, which is a really big provider, basically requires everyone in their staff to get these flu vaccinations.  And it’s grounds for firing if you don’t comply.

Chris Kresser:  That’s right, and you know what the other side of that that’s even in some ways more interesting is that where those flu shots are optional in healthcare settings, a very low percentage of doctors and nurses actually volunteer to get them, something like 26% to 28%.  So what do they know that the general public doesn’t know?  Why do doctors and nurses who have more exposure to evidence and information on this subject choose not to get the flu shot?

So, let me just preface the rest of this discussion by saying what I always say when I talk about these kind of polarized issues, is that obviously the decision can’t just be made based on the information and the data alone because the data are somewhat equivocal.  I actually think that for flu shot they’re not that equivocal, and I’ll talk about that more in a second.  But in the case of vaccination overall, you have to consider the information and the evidence.  I think any decision made about any health choice should be evidence based, but there are some cases where the evidence is just not clear enough to be the only reason behind a decision that’s made, and personal values come into play and what’s most important to you and which risk you feel is the one that you want to take, because there is risk on both sides.  But let me go through some of this information here about the flu shot, and then everyone can decide themselves whether it makes sense for them, based on their values and based on their interpretation of this information.  But my goal, as always, is to just give you the facts in as unbiased a way as possible, and I’ll freely admit that I don’t get flu shots myself, and since I’ve looked at the evidence, I don’t feel that it’s necessary, and I don’t think the potential risks outweigh the potential benefit.  So if that constitutes bias, then I am biased, but to me, that just reflects my interpretation of the evidence.  I didn’t enter into that decision-making process with a strong feeling one way or another.

So, this report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy was really interesting.  They started off by saying that:

“In an effort to reduce influenza morbidity and mortality, over the last three decades the ACIP [Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices] has expanded the populations recommended to receive influenza vaccine.  These recommendations, however, often were based on professional judgment and not on scientifically sound data.”

So, in translation, they’re saying that over the past few years, there’s been a lot of pressure on people to get the flu shot with the idea that it’s gonna prevent sickness and death, but that recommendation has been based more on professional judgment than data.  And Tom Jefferson, who has done a lot of work in this area, he’s been the lead author on several of the papers, the meta-analyses and reviews that were published by the Cochrane Collaboration, which is an independent group that does meta-analyses of studies on various topics to try to reach some consensus.  And over the last several years, Tom Jefferson and his group have published a number of papers in this area, so he says:

“We have conducted four reviews since the late 1990s.  We calculated that you need to vaccinate between 33 and 99 people to prevent a single case of flu, depending on the match between the vaccine and the circulating strains of the virus.  I want people held accountable for wasting taxpayers’ money on these vaccines.  The reviews have been available for years and nothing has been done.”

Now, those are really strong words from an independent researcher.  For anyone who’s read scientific papers, you will know that that kind of strong language is seldom used, and even in interviews outside of the papers themselves, researchers are very wary of using language like that because, of course, if their viewpoint evolves over time, then that could look bad.  Just the nature of science, a good scientist is to keep an open mind, and so that will sometimes preclude making a strong statement like that, but nevertheless, that was the statement he made, and he’s the one who’s been doing these reviews.

So, this leads to one of the main problems with vaccine research, and that’s bias.  In a 2010 review that Jefferson and his group at Cochrane published, they actually included a warning in bold text that was underneath the authors’ conclusions, and I want to quote from this as well.  It says:

“Warning:  This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry (four had no funding declaration).  An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found that industry-funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size.”

Meaning the rate at which studies were cited had nothing to do with how good they were.  It had everything to do with whether they were funded by the industry or not.

Steve Wright:  No!

Chris Kresser:  Haha, yeah.  He goes on to say:

“Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favorable to the vaccines.” 

That is a well-known phenomenon in the world of medical research.  There’s something called the “file drawer” phenomenon where if a drug company does a study and the results are not favorable to the drug, then that study will end up in, you guessed it, the file drawer.  He continues:

“The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin, but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies.  The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding.”

So, basically he was giving a huge caveat to the results of this study, but even with that caveat, even considering the fact that we very likely can’t take the results of those trials at face value, they found that you would need to treat between 33 and 99 people to prevent a single case of flu.

Now, one of the problems with flu vaccination is that it tends to not work very well if the strains of flu in the vaccine don’t match the strains of flu in the environment, but even when the match is perfect, 1% of flu-vaccinated individuals end up with an infection, compared to 4% of unvaccinated individuals, but that’s very rare actually to have a perfect match between the strains of the flu and the vaccine because viruses adapt and evolve very quickly, and it’s hard for vaccine producers to keep up.  So, when there’s only a partial match of the vaccine with infecting strains, which is usually the state of affairs, the figures are even worse.  One percent of vaccinated individuals end up with an infection versus 2% of unvaccinated individuals, so in other words, the true reduction in flu risk in the population in the vast majority of cases in healthy adults is a mere 1%.

So, let’s put this in perspective.  I’ve talked before about the difference between relative and absolute risk reduction.  The news media report on this study might say:  Flu vaccine cuts your risk of getting the flu in half!  Now, that’s technically true because the risk relatively went down from 2% to 1%, but what they don’t tell you is that the absolute risk reduction went down from 2 in 100 to 1 in 100, which is an overall absolute risk reduction of 1%.  So this means that you’d need to treat approximately 100 people to prevent a single case of flu, or put another way, of 100 people that get the flu shot, 99 of them won’t benefit at all.

Now, in the words of a physician who blogs at Frugal Family Doctor, if the number needed to treat, which we’ve just been covering, the number of people you need to treat to get one outcome, is above 50, it’s at best “a lottery-type bet that you might be the lucky one who is benefited more than you are harmed.  If you are of that mindset, you would probably also play the horses, vacation in Vegas, and not wear seat-belts.  You are gambling.”

So, if the stakes are really high, like preventing death, and there’s a nonexistent risk and the treatment has no cost either to the patient or the health care system, you might be able to justify a number needed to treat of 100.  And the argument is often made for the flu shot that it prevents complications like pneumonia or transmission to other people, you know, this idea of herd immunity that if healthy people get vaccinated, that will protect people that are less healthy.  But the Cochrane review actually found that “There’s no evidence that flu vaccines affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission” in healthy adults, so that kind of eliminates that argument.

Does the flu shot really protect young kids and the elderly?

But what about the idea that flu vaccine protects the most vulnerable populations?  This is another reason that people — You know, they might say:  OK, well, maybe adults don’t need to get flu vaccines, but young kids and the elderly should because they’re at the biggest risk if they get the flu.  Well, what does the research say about this?  According to Jefferson’s group, they actually published a study just in 2012 a few months ago on influenza vaccine in kids both over 2 years old and under 2 years old.  Now, in kids over the age of 6, there was a slight decrease in influenza with the flu vaccine, but in kids under 2 years old who are thought to be the most vulnerable, they had this to say:

“Inactivated vaccines in children aged two years or younger are not significantly more efficacious than placebo.” 

“We could find no evidence of effect on secondary cases, lower respiratory tract disease, drug prescriptions, otitis media [aka ear infection] and its consequences and socioeconomic impact.”

They also said:

“Extensive evidence of reporting bias of safety outcomes from trials of live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIVs) impeded meaningful analysis.  One specific brand of monovalent pandemic vaccine is associated with cataplexy and narcolepsy in children, and there is sparse evidence of serious harm (such as febrile convulsions) in specific situations.”

So, this suggests that these are not free of risk.  These vaccines are not completely benign, and you’ll know that if you look in the insert of the packages for the vaccine.  They go on to say:

“It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given current recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months of age in the USA, Canada, parts of Europe and Australia.  If immunization in children is to be recommended as a public health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes and directly comparing vaccine type are urgently required.  The degree of scrutiny needed to identify all global cases of potential harms is beyond the resources of this review.”

So, translation:  Why are we recommending routine vaccination to kids 6 months of age in the US when there’s no evidence to support it, when there are very few studies confirming that it’s safe?  That’s not an evidence-based recommendation.  That’s a recommendation based on a belief system.  And kids’, very young children’s health is potentially being put at risk by doing this.

Steve Wright:  Sounds like a billion-dollar question.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, exactly.  So to me, it’s like if we’re gonna have an informed discussion and debate about the validity of this practice, we need to understand what the evidence actually says, and it actually says that there’s no evidence that supports flu shots for kids that age, and there’s some evidence that suggests that they could cause harm.  Now, that’s not conclusive, but the authors of this review are clearly suggesting that we need more safety data before we start recommending this as a routine practice.  It’s not an insignificant risk, and the stakes are high when you have kids that are that young.

Let me actually read one more paragraph that was part of that study for kids.  The authors wanted to reiterate that:  “This review includes trials funded by industry.”  They go on to remind us of that systematic review of 274 studies that showed that vaccine studies that were funded by industry were cited more than independent ones, and then they said:  “The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies.”  Again, I think I already read that, but good to be reminded!

Steve Wright:  Haha, write it down.

Chris Kresser:  So, the elderly.  There was another review actually just published, I think in 2012, by the Cochrane, except instead of being on kids, this one was specifically on people over 65 years of age.  And they wanted to find out not only if the influenza vaccine prevents influenza but if it prevents complications, like hospitalization and death, because that’s, of course, the main argument used for using the flu vaccine in elderly people.  So here’s the conclusion:

“The available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy, and effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older.  To resolve the uncertainty, an adequately powered publicly-funded randomized, placebo-controlled trial run over several seasons should be undertaken.”

So, basically they’re saying there’s not enough evidence either way to say anything about the efficacy of vaccines in this population.  And this is what’s really interesting to me:  The way that the FDA is set up in theory — in practice, it’s much different than this — but in theory, the burden of proof is on the manufacturer of a treatment.  So, it’s not that all treatments are considered safe until they’re proven unsafe.  That would be a disaster.  Think what would happen if a drug company could just introduce a treatment and then just find out, you know, a year or two later that they were unsafe because people were dropping dead after taking their treatment.

Steve Wright:  I’ll keep my mouth shut, but yes, go on.

Chris Kresser:  That has actually happened several times, of course.  We could name many examples of that.

Steve Wright:  Yeah.

Chris Kresser:  But that’s not how the process is supposed to work.  The process is supposed to be a company introduces a treatment.  They have a hypothesis that it has a certain effect.  They go through an extensive, long period of trials.  You know, animal trials, then going into clinical trials of different phases to prove not only the efficacy of the treatment versus placebo, but also in many ways more importantly, the safety of that treatment.  And the mandate of the FDA is to protect the health of consumers, people like us.  Unfortunately, because of massive conflicts of interest in the medical system, it often does not happen like that, and when you start to read the flu vaccination literature, you’ll see several comments by people suggesting that somehow vaccines, in particular, have completely escaped this normal process of drug development and drug approval.  In many cases, the vaccines that are used do not have the quality of evidence, the standard of evidence that would be required for other kinds of drugs.  In fact, someone left a comment on my blog or Facebook — I can’t remember which — who is actually a former FDA employee, and he said — You know, this is anecdotal, of course, but he just said what a joke the approval process for vaccines is, that they don’t put them through any of the same protocols that they would for normal drug development.

One of the main problems — getting back to the research in the elderly, in particular — with vaccine research is that it’s epidemiological in nature.  We’ve talked a lot about this.  If you’ve been listening to the show or you read my blog, you know that epidemiological studies are very good for generating hypotheses but not for confirming them, because there’s just a high potential for confounding.  An example of this would be if an elderly person who gets a flu shot is less likely to get the flu — You know, if we see an association between elderly people getting flu shots and lower rates of flu, that does not prove that the flu shot was the cause of those lower rates of getting the flu.  It might seem like that’s the case, but there’s nothing that can prove that in an epidemiological study.  For example, it could be that the elderly people that get flu shots happen to be more health conscious than those that don’t get them.  And there’s actually some evidence that suggests this is the case.  Some studies have shown that flu vaccination is associated with a lower risk of death even outside of the flu season.  Now, deaths from flu outside of flu season are so low they’re almost nonexistent, so getting the flu vaccine outside of the flu season should not cause a significant reduction of deaths.  The fact that there is an association between flu vaccine and lower risk of death outside of the flu season suggests that there’s another factor causing reduction of deaths in elderly that get the flu shot, like, for example, what I just mentioned, a higher health consciousness.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine attempted to take this into account.  The researchers looked to see whether flu vaccination reduced the risk of hospitalization due to flu and/or pneumonia as well as the overall risk of death.  Now, in contrast to the Cochrane review, this one study found that vaccines led to a slight reduction, 14% I think, in the composite outcome.  So, a composite outcome is when you put all of the different outcomes that are measured together into one, so hospitalization due to flu and/or pneumonia plus the overall risk of death.  But when they analyzed the risk of death separately, there was no difference in people who received the vaccine and people who didn’t.  So, this directly contradicts the argument that flu vaccine saves lives in the elderly, which again is one of the main arguments that’s advanced for giving them to elderly people.

Finally, what about antiviral drugs like Tamiflu for people who have already acquired the flu?  There was a large review of studies, 74 studies, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that found that Tamiflu “may provide a net benefit over no treatment of influenza.  However, as with the randomized trials, the confidence in the estimates of the effects for decision making is low to very low.”  And they issue a similar caution to what was issued by the Cochrane Group, which is that:

“The studies were probably biased because of confounding.  Neither cost nor targeting strategies were evaluated.  The studies focused on drug-sensitive infections, so the results may not be applicable if resistant viruses are prevalent.” 

Regarding that last bit, they went on to say:

“The included studies focused on antiviral treatment of drug-sensitive influenza virus infections; therefore, caution should be used when applying these results to the current treatment of circulating influenza viruses, which are generally resistant to [these drugs], or in the future, when the prevalence of antiviral-resistant viruses could increase substantially and unpredictably.” 

So, let’s summarize everything that we’ve covered so far.  Number one, in general, flu vaccines are not effective for adults.  You have to treat between 33 people when the vaccine and infecting strain are well matched, which is rare, and 100 people when they’re not well matched, which is much more common, to prevent a single case of flu.  Nor have vaccines been shown to prevent complications or transmissions.  Vaccines have not been shown to be more effective than placebo in kids under 2 years old and may have significant risks that are not yet well understood.  As for the elderly, the most recent Cochrane review suggested that there’s no evidence vaccines are effective, and randomized clinical trials are needed to clarify the issue.  So, almost all of the evidence in the case of the elderly is epidemiological in nature, which as we know, is not sufficient to prove the safety or efficacy of a drug.  The FDA could never come out in public and say — You know, imagine for a drug like an antidepressant or something for heart disease that they would just take two groups of people and give one group the drug — or just let the drug out in the general population and then 10 years later do a study and see, did the people who took the drugs fare any better than the people that didn’t?  That’s not how drug approval works.  That would be a disaster for all the reasons that we already said.  And yet that’s exactly what’s happening in the case of flu vaccine and the elderly.

As always, you have to make your choice.  But it’s important that you have the right evidence before you do make a choice.  And unfortunately, I just don’t think that that’s happening.  I think a lot of the people have the wrong impression about what the evidence actually says about the efficacy of the flu shot.  So, I hope that this has been helpful in that regard.  And there’s no judgment here about what decision you make around it.  I just really want people to have the accurate information before they do make that decision.

Steve Wright:  I think you’ve provided an amazing overview of what’s been published, what the facts are.  And I think one thing that, from my perspective anyway, probably the biggest fear is what you hit on with the elderly, but we didn’t really talk about it for young children or adults, which is the fear of complications leading to death from the flu.  And I was curious if you had any statistics on the percentage of people who get the flu and end up dying.

Chris Kresser:  I did mention that in both the studies on young children and the study on adults that I opened with that there was no evidence that the flu prevented complications or transmission.  So, that would suggest that getting a flu shot isn’t gonna make you any less likely to develop complications from the flu.

Steve Wright:  Makes sense.  And because I didn’t hear you say it, I went to the CDC’s website while you were talking, and I pulled up the numbers, and they’re saying that between 15 and 60 million Americans, so 5% to 20%, will get the flu on average per year and that they don’t really know how many people die from the flu, but over the last 30 years, the range which might die in any given year is 3000 to 49,000.  And so if you do a little dividing, you take the 15 million and the 49,000, your risk of death would be 0.0032.  And if 60 million people get it and 49,000 die, your risk is 0.00084.

Chris Kresser:  That’s three-tenths of a percent and less than that, which is — You know, we could do some interesting comparisons on risk of death from other things, like car accidents and flying in a plane and stuff.  That’s some good detective work there, Steve.

Steve Wright:  Well, yeah.  I think it’s important because when you talked about the risk of — I’m big on thinking about the risk of taking a treatment route.  And so you talked about, especially in young kids, that there’s definitely evidence that there are some severe side effects here.  And so when you’re talking about risk this low, I think it’s very important to think about that.

How to prevent colds and flus naturally

Chris Kresser:  The risk for those side effects is probably very low too, but if the risk of side effects is equal to or greater than the risk of benefit, then that doesn’t bode very well for a treatment.  You know, a treatment like that would not be approved if it went through the normal regulatory process.  So yeah, once again, I’m completely open to looking at more evidence about this if people have evidence that suggests otherwise.  A single trial that suggests vaccines are effective that’s sponsored by a drug company that makes the vaccine, however, is not that convincing.  That’s why I prefer to rely on independent reviews.  I will give more weight to independently done studies for that reason.  So, if you do send evidence, just keep that in mind.  And if you’re looking at evidence, keep that in mind yourself.

So, one of the obvious questions that can come up in this discussion is, all right, so I’m not gonna get a flu shot, I never did get a flu shot, or maybe you’ve convinced me not to get a flu shot, but I don’t want to get the flu, so what should I do?  A while back, I wrote an article on my blog called How to Prevent Colds and Flus Naturally, and you can look that up, but I’ll give you some of the tips that I put in there as well as some additional tips for what happens if you get the flu and other things that I’ve found to be helpful both in my own life and in my practice with patients.

So, the first step is pretty much always the first step when we talk about preventing illness, and that’s a nutrient-dense, low-toxin diet.  So, that means avoiding foods that tend to weaken the immune system such as excess sugar, refined flour, unprepared grains perhaps and legumes, industrial seed oils, and other highly processed and refined foods.  And it means favoring foods that are extremely high or very high on the nutrient density scale.  So, we’re talking about organ meats, which pretty much blow almost every other food out of the water in terms of nutrient density.  I just read a very interesting study about that that I’m gonna include in my book, by the way.  Organ meats are between 7 and 10 times more nutrient dense than whole grains, according to this study, which is really great to see that in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.  But organ meats, cold-water fatty fish are extremely nutrient dense, red meat, all different forms of meat, vegetables, fruits, starchy tubers, and then nuts, especially if they’re soaked to break down the phytate and make the minerals more absorbable.  These are the foods that you want to focus on.

Fermented COD Liver Oil with or without the butter oil are good choices.  We’ve talked about this a lot.  It’s rich with fat-soluble vitamins, particularly retinol.  Retinol, which is the active form of vitamin A, plays a really important role in the immune system.  And it’s been shown that people who are vitamin A/retinol deficient, which is actually a significant number of the American population, are more susceptible to infectious disease.  So, that’s really important.  I’ve personally found that just as a prophylaxis, taking fermented cod liver oil helps keep me from getting sick.  But if I feel like I’m starting to get sick, if I double or triple the dose for a few days, it usually knocks it right out.  The cod liver oil also has fatty acids like EPA and DHA that can be helpful in that situation.

Bone broth is another good choice.  It’s rich with easily absorbable minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, and trace minerals that are difficult to obtain elsewhere.  There’s, of course, a big anecdotal tradition, Grandma’s chicken soup when you’re sick, and there’s definitely something to that from a nutritional perspective.

Fermented foods and/or a commercial probiotic.  Seventy to eighty percent of our immune system is in our gut, the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT.  So, if you have intestinal dysbiosis or poor gut flora, that’s gonna make you more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections and thus colds and flus.

A lot of people swear by a neti pot, which is something you can use to irrigate your nasal passages.  This isn’t something that I do personally, but a lot of people swear by it.

Vitamin C is really important for immune function.  I don’t supplement with it throughout the year, but when cold and flu season rolls around, I’ll often take about a gram a day as a precaution.  A food-based form is preferable.  Something from rose hips or Acerola cherries is a good idea.

And then vitamin D plays a potent immunoregulatory role.  For some people, the fermented cod liver oil/butter oil blend is enough to maintain adequate D levels, but other people require additional synthetic D3 to keep their levels in a range of maybe 35 to 50.  And this is especially true of people with obesity or inflammation because those conditions can impair the conversion of sunlight to vitamin D.  So, someone who is overweight and/or dealing with inflammation, they could spend the exact same amount of time in the sun as someone who doesn’t have those conditions, and they won’t convert as much sunlight to vitamin D, so they’ll tend to need more supplemental vitamin D.

And frequent hand washing makes a huge difference.  I’ve seen this personally.  I posted a little question on my Facebook page about what people’s best tips were for preventing colds and flus, and a large percentage of people said that they’ve had a lot of success with just washing hands frequently.  Of course, haha, one of the other most popular comments was stay away from children!  Which is easier said than done for some people, right?  I don’t get colds that often.  I’ve had more since Sylvie was born, definitely, and especially when she’s around a lot of her friends, so I think there’s some truth to that.

Steve Wright:  When Sylvie’s having her tea parties and her friends come over, you should probably pick up some zinc gluconate because I was just in the zinc rabbit hole the other day, and if you’re dealing with a cold, you can definitely, according to the research, lower the duration by a couple days, like one to three days, if you start either doing zinc lozenges or just supplementing with oral zinc gluconate.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, you must have read my mind.  That was my next thing to talk about.  And that tends to work better when you catch it early than it does if you’re already further advanced into the cold.  But there’s definitely solid research on that.

It probably goes without saying, but getting adequate sleep and rest is one of the most important things you can do to optimize your immune function.  Just a few nights of not sleeping well has been shown to elevate inflammatory markers and reduce the protective capacity of your immune system.  The natural rhythm, if we’re gonna talk about things from an evolutionary perspective, would have been for humans to go to bed earlier during the winter because we didn’t have artificial light, so once it got dark, we would probably just have eaten and gone to bed shortly thereafter.  So, it’s a good idea to try to have some approximation of that natural rhythm since that’s the one we evolved in over millions of years.

The last thing for prevention, there’s a formula in Chinese medicine called Yu Ping Feng San.  My Chinese is terrible, so I apologize to any of you who are Chinese and just heard me slaughter that.  It’s an immune system tonic.  The Western name for it is Jade Windscreen, which is a pretty cool name, I think.  And it’s made up of botanicals that enhance the immune system and have antiviral, antimicrobial properties like astragalus, atractylodes, ledebouriella.  Those are the traditional ones, but the modern preparation usually includes cinnamon and silver root, Chinese yam, and white peony.  You can usually buy Jade Windscreen at a health food store like Whole Foods or something where they have all the supplements, and you can also buy it online.  A good company for Chinese herbs is Kan, and they have a tincture.  You take about 10 to 20 drops of that two or three times a day.  This is contraindicated during pregnancy.  And in some people with autoimmune disease it’s probably not a good idea because it stimulates the immune system.  So, if you already have an overactive immune system, it may not be the best idea.

What to do if you get sick

So, let’s talk about a few things if you find yourself with a cold or the flu already.  Now, of course, all the things that we mentioned for prevention are also helpful for treatment, so you could just bump up all of those things.  For example, instead of taking 1 gram of vitamin C a day, you could bump that up to 3 grams.  Some people swear by taking a big dose of vitamin D for three or four days, like 25,000 IU per day.  I’ve never seen any evidence that supports that in the scientific literature, but anecdotally I’ve heard a lot of people say that it helps them, and I don’t think there’s that much danger to that, especially if you’re just doing it for three to four days.  You wouldn’t want to do that for any significant period of time.

But also there are a few additional things you can add to your routine.  One is lactoferrin.  Lactoferrin is a protein that’s present in mother’s milk, and one of its roles in mother’s milk is as an antiviral.  It also chelates excess iron, which can be harmful to the fetus.  I’ve talked about lactoferrin before in the context of a way of reducing iron overload for people who can’t donate blood or even for people who can who want to further reduce their iron levels.  But studies have shown that lactoferrin is able to inhibit the replication of rotavirus in a dose-dependent manner.  It hinders the virus attachment to cell receptors since it’s able to bind to viral particles and prevent both rotavirus hemagglutination and viral binding to susceptible cells.  And one study showed that lactoferrin markedly inhibited rotavirus antigen synthesis and yield in a cell culture.  And I’ve, again, heard some really strong anecdotal reports from people that when they started taking lactoferrin when they had a flu or even for prevention, it made a huge difference for them.  I’ve been experimenting with it myself, but I haven’t had a cold or flu lately to really know if it’s helping or not.  It’s always difficult to tell when you’re doing different things.

It’s really important to take the apolactoferrin form.  There are different forms of the lactoferrin protein, and the apolactoferrin form is the one that you want to get.  And there are different options.  The one I tend to use in my practice and myself is from Life Extension Foundation, and I think it’s even called apolactoferrin on the bottle, but even if it’s not, you’ll see on the label that it says apolactoferrin.  If it doesn’t specifically say apolactoferrin, then it’s probably not, and you should avoid it.

Lauricidin, which we’ve talked about several times before, is an antiviral.  It’s monolaurin, and monolaurin is an extract of lauric acid, which is another substance that’s found in breast milk.  Nature is very smart, you see?  And it’s found in coconut products, too, but it’s more concentrated and has a stronger antiviral effect.

And then you’d want to up your intake of probiotics, fermented foods, kombucha, things like that.  Ginger, garlic, those things are antiviral.  So like a ginger, lemon, honey tea.  Honey has some antiviral effects, especially manuka honey.  And adding extra garlic to your food.  Some people even eat raw garlic.  I’ve never really been able to tolerate that, but if that works for you, you can do it.  And if your partner and everyone else in a two-mile radius around you doesn’t mind, haha, go for it!

Steve Wright:  Yeah, it makes you smell pretty bad, for the record.

Chris Kresser:  So, those are a lot of options.  And many of them are evidence-based in the modern scientific literature.  Some of them are more anecdotal and more along the lines of traditional wisdom.  But when you put them all together, I think that you could argue that their efficacy would be superior to the flu shot, which hasn’t proven to be very efficacious at all.  And the risk is extremely low.  Everything that I mentioned is very safe.

So, I think that’s it.  That’s a good place to stop.  I hope this was helpful to everybody.  And again, I’m open to any good-quality, peer-reviewed research on this topic, and I’d like to hear about everyone’s experience with flu shots and just with natural flu prevention in general.  Come leave a comment on the show.  We’ll put all of the studies that I mentioned in the show notes.  We’ll link to the previous blog post that I wrote about preventing colds and flus naturally.  Make sure to check the comments.  There are, I don’t know, 60, 80 comments or something with other people sharing their recommendations, which is the great thing about being part of a community like this.  Yeah, I think that’s it.

Steve Wright:  And they can also find you, Chris, on Facebook at Facebook.com/ChrisKresserLAc, and you can also tweet Chris at Twitter.com/ChrisKresser.  You probably check those on an often enough basis, right?

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, we’ve never really talked about that.  If you’re on Facebook and Twitter, you should definitely come check me out there because there is a lot of information that I share on Facebook and Twitter that never gets shared anywhere else, because I tend to write a couple blog posts a week, and they’re more research-based and in-depth, but if I come across a study that I think is really interesting or one of my colleagues does, I might just link to that on Facebook and provide a little comment.  And then other people join in, and we get into a really interesting discussion.  The same thing happens on Twitter.  So, if you want to stay really current and know what I’m thinking about and get my feedback or reflection on current events, health-related stuff, Facebook and Twitter are good tools for doing that.

Steve Wright:  Awesome, well this has been a great podcast.  I know that I’ll be forwarding this to a lot of people that I know to hopefully get through the flu and cold season of 2012/2013.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.  Good luck with that, and I’ll be curious to hear how all of these natural prevention and treatment strategies go for people if they start doing it.

Steve Wright:  Awesome, well, we want to thank everyone for listening today.  We hope that you keep sending us your questions at ChrisKresser.com.  Use the podcast submission link, and we’ll get those.  And if you enjoyed listening to the show today, please head over to iTunes and leave us a review.  Leaving us reviews gets us more exposure to people who might need these types of tips to have a better health and a better life, so we really appreciate you taking the time to do that.  And as always, again, thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you on the next show.

Chris Kresser:  Thanks, everyone.  Have a great holiday period.

Note: I earn a small commission if you use the links in this article to purchase the products I mentioned. I only recommend products I would use myself or that I use with patients in my practice. Your purchase helps support this site and my ongoing research.

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Comments Join the Conversation

  1. says

    Great discussion.

    If you take a little time to explore the flu evidence you may come to these conclusions on “the flu”.

    The bottom line on the “Seasonal Flu” is you do NOT want protection from ONLY the seasonal flu virus. You want protection from ALL VIRAL infection. The “Seasonal Flu” is a minor, UNKNOWABLE apriori, subset of VIRAL INFECTION.

    Vitamins D and C, in ADEQUATE AMOUNTS will protect you from ALL VIRAL INFECTIONS.

    It is just this simple and difficult.

    http://healthyprotocols.com/2_flu_shot_intro.htm

  2. Jess says

    Hi Chris
    Can you please tell me why you prefer the apolactoferrin version of lactoferrin? What is the difference?
    thank you

  3. says

    Chris,
    Thank you so much for delving into the research! I live in Utah. I am a physical therapist and in 2011 the healthcare company that I worked for instated the policy that ALL employees need to get the flu shot or they would be fired (unless they had a medical note from their doctor or religious leader).
    I couldn’t find any good research to prove to me that I should get one…so I quit! My health is very important to me and I take care of myself with proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, etc.
    I have not been sick once since I left that company!

    Thanks for the great information, Susan

  4. Toby says

    Yes, go to VaccineRights.com and contact Alan Phillips. He can give you legal advice right over the phone or email. It is a violation of federal civil rights, but you still need an attorney to help you.

  5. Danielle Durante says

    HELP!! My company, a large health/nursing/rehab company, is making me get a Flu Vaccine OR I will be forced to wear a mask for the entire length of the flu season (or will be terminated!). This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I am a Speech Pathologist and my patients need to be able to see my mouth while I give therapy! I do NOT want to get the vaccine and don’t know how to approach my company. Any advice?! Thanks so much in advance! (and also for this podcast!)

  6. valerie says

    Chris, I am researching the risks associated with flu shots in the elderly but more importantly to me is risk to children with Chrone’s Disease. I have a friend who’s son is taking Humira, I think he is probably 10 yrs old. Any information you can provide is greatly appreciated. Thanks Chris!

    • Tim Lundeen says

      Excellent article, thanks for posting this.

      One interesting thing is that the mortality rate was higher relative to baseline in the vaccinated group (their mortality rate was 0.67 of the non-vaccinated during the flu season, versus 0.625 during the summer, so getting the vaccine increased their mortality rate by 0.045) — if that effect is real, then a controlled study would show the vaccinated group as having higher overall mortality. That would certainly end the debate about whether you should get vaccinated!

      No wonder the vaccine makers don’t want a study done :-)

      • Laurence says

        I may be missing something, but what I saw in the above Atlantic article (quoting Jackson and the Cochrane Group again) was that the non-vaccinated group had a higher baseline mortality than the vaccinated group outside of the flu season, and that was being used to suggest that there was a “healthy user effect” going on. I wonder, but don’t find quoted, what the in-flu season mortality stats are like, for comparison.
        Anyway, there’s a lot of confounding variables to be teased out of any epidemiological studies before we all jump on the conspiracy train.

        • says

          Hi Laurence,

          Yes, I do think you are missing something.

          I think you are rolling into a common intellectual sandtrap. So many people ‘think it out’ this way: “oh, those positions on both ends of the spectrum sound so radical, so the truth must be somewhere in the middle!” But it just doesn’t work this way. Do you think Chris would recommend that people who do best on a high-fat diet and tolerate butter well eat it “in moderation”? The ‘everything in moderation’ model is DEAD. [see article http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/fuck-everything-in-moderation.html The truth is what is important, and the truth isn’t always down the middle path.

          I’m not suggesting anyone jump on any train, but I have come to understand that there is, indeed, a grand and malicious conspiracy in the works known as the New World Order. I think that if you do your homework, you will come to the very same understanding. But I don’t want you to jump on board – I want you to to do your own research and come to your own conclusions. I recommend you learn more about vaccines from Dr. Russell Blaylock. Vaccines as we know them today are one aspect of the medical tyranny arm of the NWO conspiracy. This is not a theory – this is a fact, my friend.

          The fascist Orwellian surveillance state isn’t coming – it is here. Today, if you buy a new rice cooker, dishwasher, refrigerator or other appliance, it now comes with a chip, installed for under $1.00 (price included in your purchase), which has an Android operating system and hooks up to a wireless network to listen to you and your family. Petraeus bragged about it: “We’ll spy on you through your dishwasher” – [see article http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-real-petraeus-scandal.html And of course, EVERYTHING that you do on your computer or phone is stored forever (and the same is true of your automobile if it is new). I challenge you or anyone to argue that this is NOT sinister.

          Chris Kresser has stated on his website “I’m no conspiracy theorist,” which provoked a LONG rebuttal by myself (see article “Are GMOs safe?” – http://chriskresser.com/are-gmos-safe). I suggest you take a look.

          – John (The Calm Canary of http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/)

          • j says

            dear mr. calm
            Orwell also wrote “politics and the English language”
            Laurence has an inquiry
            “jump on any train”
            “”jump on board”

            what are the in-flu season mortality stats
            in comparison

            More than awareness of “big brother” orwell taught us to consider the specificity of our language,

            If I am not mistaken, Laurence is saying that things seem a bit muddy

            Orwell, I think is best read for his essays first, and popular fiction second

            The flu shot seems to me to be a clear case of “shooting and Elephant” not 1984

      • Laurence says

        I have just listened to this podcast and similar considerations came up for me as are voiced in the above link:

        Chris gives the flu vaccine some pretty serious criticism, based on the quoted report, but no such rigor seems to be used in recommending the alternatives like mega dose vitamins, Chinese herbs, and what “some people swear by”. Many common remedies are not proven efficacious or even safe. People used to swear by the zinc nasal gel Zicam Cold Remedy, and that got pulled of the market after other people swore that it caused permanent anosmia (loss of smell).

        Also, how about a shout-out for the vaccines that have prevented a host of diseases and deaths from polio, tetanus, diphtheria, etc. etc., or does Chris have doubts about those as well?

        • j says

          I think that you will find that Mr. Kresser has done his due diligence in this area.

          He is not suggesting that the hoards and masses of Americans run to the pharmacy and buy Zinc

          There are no “zinc or die” posters at my pharmacy

          There are however “flue shot or else” like advertisements at every pharmacy I have been too

          There is a difference between “a lot of people swear by….”
          and an approved or mandated treatment

          There is a body of evidence to support the role of vitamin C in immune function and yet Mr. Kresser talks about what he does, not what is proven.

          It seems to me like he has done his research painstakingly, and only reports that which is not factual as opinion, or acclaimed

          My understanding of the article is that the flu shot it hiding behind scientific evidenced as it’s supports yet it is very lamely supported

          He leaves the old wives that told tales of chicken soup and vitamins just where they were
          take it or leave it

          He does not in any way suggest that chicken soup or cod liver oil has survived the rigors of the scientific method, but

          he is trying to help people, and these remedies have worked.

          me I would like to give the silver star to a few old wives

          Never had a flu shot

          Take clove of raw garlic in 1 cup boiled water
          perhaps chop in some onion, dash of cayenne
          off the heat add a squeeze of lemon
          plenty of rest, water, and warm blankets
          sweat it out
          back to work

          it works
          that’ s my scientific method

          All Best

          • pam says

            vitamin C does nothing for me to ward off flu/cold

            flu vaccine sometimes helps (it may be a placebo)

            but if i dont’ get vaccine, i definitely get twice (at least) each winder, each time is ONE month long)

            so i still get vaccine (from a no preservative source)

  7. Cheryl says

    John, I hope that didn’t sound conceited to say! I listen to Alex Jones, Robert Scott Bell, Liam Scheff, (the latter 2 on Natural News Radio), G. Edward Griffin’s books, the guy who wrote “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, Jesse Ventura, etc. So, I’m an info nut. But the octoxinol 9 & 10 is like, WHAT?! What the hell is that in there for? A pharmacist friend looked it up on her database at work because the internet says that what it is, but I wanted an official definition. She says “I guess it’s used as a sterilizing agent.” I’m like, “Yeah, to sterilize people!”

    You can read about German New Medicine, but it’s a very long, long, read. I don’t want to be censored for advertising it, but there’s no other way to get the website into to you since I don’t want to leave this screen to see if clicking on your name shows an email address. It’s http://www.LearningGNM.com Sorry Chris, don’t mean to lobby! German New Medicine pretty much describes the root cause of cancer, the biological shock that happens to you when something shocks you that strikes first in your psyche, then the brain, then the corresponding organ. Something like being told someone you love has suddenly died. Oh man, it’s way too long to get into now, but the flu of 1918 is the healing phase of millions of people who experienced a death fright, fear in their territory, fear of bombings, fear of their loved ones dying. The people who got “the flu” were the ones more closely connected to the war and it’s ramifications. And the ones who were just scared to death about the whole thing.

    OK, that’s it. Sorry again, Chris, thanks for the forum and truth about flu shots!

    • says

      Yes, I listen to Alex Jones sometimes, too, though the gravelly sound of his voice can be a little much for me at times because of status migraine. Alex Jones IS Admiral Ackbar!

      Some people may criticize Alex Jones for getting very upset about such things as tyranny, NWO, etc. on his broadcasts, but this is partly because he avoids apathy-inducing fluoride and vaccines, and partly because he cares! Alex Jones may get upset, but he has every reason to be upset, and he is also a “badass” for crashing Bohemian Grove and taping the Cremation of Care ceremony. Anger is not evil, folks.

      “Anger is a propulsion system to make you stand up for your species!”

      “We’re meant to get upset at a biological level and say no to this tyranny!”

      “This [behavior-modifying vaccination agenda] is a hack against the human mind, a hack against the human soul, and we must stand up and resist it!”

      – Alex Jones

      Chris Kresser has stated on his website “I’m no conspiracy theorist,” which provoked a long rebuttal by myself (see article “Are GMOs safe?” – http://chriskresser.com/are-gmos-safe).

      I hope that Chris and other people who come across this sort of information face it with an open mind and are encouraged to do their own research. If Chris doesn’t ever “out” himself as a conspiracy theorist, though, I will understand, since doing something like that can tend to narrow one’s audience! Don’t I know it! And it is clear to me that it is his goal to reach as many people as possible with excellent health information. But if one looks not so far into the future, there is about to be a big flip/flop: conspiracy theorists will soon be the norm and the “weirdos” will be the straightedge folks that can’t seem to recognize what is going on, and even the most fluoridated and calcified amongst them will eventually figure it out. It will happen like a landslide! Ventura’s show is pretty popular and is on its third season. The Rebel Alliance may yet stand a chance!

      John (The Calm Canary of http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/)

  8. Cheryl says

    Great info, Calm Canary! I’ve been aware of all of the above, and I’m glad Chris has finally had a topic about the flu vaccine that’s scientifically based, and well, common sense. People who get flu shots are always less healthy with chronic auto immune disease. Allergies, asthma, arthritis, these aren’t ‘normal’. This is auto immune disease, and it’s pretty common, and a common side effect of all vaccines. But the public is pretty stupid, and have some sort of religious following of the drug company propaganda. They refuse to even read the ingredients of all vaccines that’s easily found of the CDC website. Did you know that octoxinol 9 & 10 (found in 3 of the 6 flu vaccines) is a vaginal spermicide? What systemic effect do you think a spermicide will have on someone trying to get pregnant? Duh!!! Read it on the CDC website! It’s right there! Christ!

    The great flu of 1918, which the drug companies propagandize as a legitimate reason to still get a flu shot, here’s a little bit of info you most likely don’t know: That flu began exactly 2 weeks after the end of WWI was announced. Millions of people all over the world, who were scared to death for themselves or the life of someone they love who was involved in the war, were suddenly relieved that it was all over. This points to an observation that what the flu was, was a healing of a biological conflict of a death fright. It’s called German New Medicine, and yes, it has been scientifically proven.

    • j says

      This is interesting
      because illuminates something subtle in conclusions
      I have heard twice that such and such statistic might be off because people who opt for a flu shot might be more attentive to their health

      I think the opposite might be true, if you are truly concerned or informed about your health, you might be less likely to lean towards a store supported treatments like flu vaccination, because you might have begun to read the source material that we base our policies, our abbreviations of the truth, and our rose colored versions of the truth on

  9. says

    Hi Chris,

    Good RHR show, as usual. Since the title is “The Truth About Flu Shots” I thought I should “inject” a little truth of my own. Most Chris Kresser readers are already very health-conscious, so many may already know this information, but for those who don’t: It is a myth that vaccines no longer contain mercury. Eli Lily’s Merthiolate (a.k.a. thimerosal, an ethylmercury derivative) has been used in vaccines for many years, and while it is true that this substance has been removed from most childhood vaccines, it is a myth that “vaccines no longer contain mercury”. The multi-dose vials of flu shot still contain Merthiolate. Surely this is an important part of the truth about flu shots? Also, what about the other nasty ingredients that most people are completely unaware of? The aluminum? The MSG? (many people, including myself, go to great lengths to avoid being exposed to MSG in food) The polysorbate 80 (“Tween 80″) in the 2009 Swine Flu shot? [The “Tween Times” is the period between 2009-2012 – for more information about the link between Tween Wave music and vaccine-induced Asperger’s, please see South Park episodes “You’re Getting Old” and “Ass Burgers” (the second one continues where the first left off)]:

    part 1: “You’re Getting Old” – http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s15e07-youre-getting-old
    part 2: “Ass Burgers” – http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s15e08-ass-burgers

    You know what they say: if you can’t laugh, you might as well chew your toes off.

    You might also like some of Dr. Russell Blaylock’s work on vaccines and immunoexcitotoxicity. He has lots of papers, video presentations and interviews, all available online. If you don’t know where to start with Blaylock, there are some convenient links at my article here:

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/vaccines-are-bad-mmkay.html

    I must recommend another vaccine-related episode of South Park, which is quite prophetic. It touches on putting white people in camps, end of Mayan calendar and end of white Americans being the majority, compulsory vaccination, banana vaccines, vaccination for behavior modification, urine therapy/urine drinking for self-vaccination, etc.

    South Park – “Pee”:

    http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s13e14-pee

    What’s that about putting white people in camps, you ask? If you are unfamiliar with FEMA camps, I recommend watching Jesse Ventura’s episode of his show Conspiracy Theory regarding these camps, which is available here:

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/children-are-probably-very-happy.html

    If you want more information about banana vaccines, check out this post:

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/eat-banana-or-we-have-to-put-you-down.html

    If you want to learn about permanent viral methods of altering the brain and modifying human behavior, check out this Daily Mail article, which has been around for a LONG time:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1299540/Jab-stop-stress-slowing-down.html

    On a similar vein, you might like to see my article about vaccine drones, the anti-vaccine surveillance and alert system, and other Gates Foundation “supply chain innovations”:

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/vaccine-drones-thanks-george.html

    I recently learned that Morarji Desai, former PM of India, who lived to 99, practiced urine therapy the last 30 years of his life. I also learned that Linus Pauling did it. But I was first introduced to the concept of urine therapy by listening to Andrew Norton Webber of http://www.aquariusthewaterbearer.com/ speaking about distilled water. I recommend this video by ANW, which alleges that distilled water and urine therapy are the secret of Alchemy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpbKuhxBr_w

    ANW may be a nonscientist but I found his ideas fascinating and compelling.

    So, what do you think, Chris Kresser? Is there anything to this urine therapy thing? I am seriously considering it for my migraines. It sounds gross, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe and it might help or just make my skin very nice. :) And what about distilled water? After I listened to ANW saying that urine therapy and distilled water are the secret of Alchemy and help to decalcify the pineal gland, I decided to test his claim by looking over alchemical texts and artwork, and found many quotes and pieces of art to support that claim. So you might say that I have come to agree with ANW’s idea! You can find some alchemical artwork to support distilled water and text to support urine at my article here:

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/who-i-wouldnt-trust-with-glass-of-water.html

    (article still under construction)

    The Stone [that is, the Philosopher’s Stone] “is familiar to all men, both young and old, is found in the country, in the village, in the town, in all things created by God; yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle it every day. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it. Yet no one prizes it, though, next to the human soul, it is the most beautiful and the most precious thing upon earth, and has the power to pull down kings and princes. Nevertheless, it is esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things.”

    – Waite, Gloria Mundi, 1526

    Anyway, distilled water is a very important topic, and the opposition, as far as I can tell, is composed primarily of the World “Health” Organization and Dr. Mercola. ANW says that Mercola is a disinfo agent who EXISTS solely for the purpose of being the #2 spot on a google search for “distilled water” (test it yourself – as of posting this comment on 12/17/2012 it is #2 behind the wikipedia page). ANW also says that Mercola is an 80/20 disinfo agent in that he gives 80% good info (e.g. vaccines, fluoride are bad) and 20% disinfo (distilled water early death article). I tend to agree with ANW’s idea, strange as it may sound. It would be worth it for Mercola to be such an agent to be the #2 spot on google. And the WHO anti-distilled water document recommends adding fluoride alongside recommendations not to drink distilled water. This destroys their credibility, in my opinion (not that I wasn’t suspicious of the WHO before – they seem to be a UN/NWO globalist organization).

    Chris, I think I remember you saying that you drink RO water. If the WHO is right about demineralized water, your bones should have melted away long ago! I certainly think reverse osmosis is the best way to clean your water that you are going to bathe in. But RO only removes 80% of the fluoride on a good day, maybe 85% if you have a super high-end professional system, and I don’t think this is “good enough.” Distillation is the only way to remove 100% of the fluoride from your water, and, like RO, it will also remove all of the minerals from your water, which is probably a good thing, too. But for my drinking water I now choose only steam-distilled water that has gone through carbon pre-filtration. Andrew Weil has been doing the same for decades, and he hasn’t melted. But fluoride isn’t just bad – it’s really, really bad, and it has to be removed completely.

    F calcifies the pineal gland, which is the only part of the brain outside the BBB, and accumulates there at up to 22,000 ppm:

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/fluoride-deposition-in-aged-human.html

    F also reduces fertility and disrupts thyroid function by displacing iodine. 80% removal isn’t good enough. You might be inclined to say that there are special fluoride filters that you can add to your system that remove fluoride. Well, this is true, but they are made with activated alumina. I have seen at least two papers to suggest that aluminum in drinking water is more toxic at very low concentrations than at higher ones. I’ve also seen a paper that showed the AlF3 complex was more toxic in water at 0.5 ppm than at 5 ppm or even 50 ppm.

    Water fluoridation also increases osteosarcoma risk in young males by about 550%.

    See this article to learn about lead-silicofluoride connection (very important):

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/david-kennedy-on-water-fluoridation.html

    But it is important to note that lead and silicofluorides are not acting on these populations in isolation. One must consider the effects of synergistic toxicity (what I call SynerTox for short). Not only do silicofluorides bind lead, but the populations that are exposed to these toxins are also exposed to mercury and aluminum from vaccines, dental amalgams, infant formula, chemtrails, etc. F, Pb, Al, and Hg all work together.

    Absent the transcendental – setting aside all notions of mysticism, spirituality, and the third eye – the pineal gland is the master gland, a critical center of serotonin and melatonin production, and “the pivotal mover of MS”. See article:

    http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-pineal-gland-pivotal-mover-of-ms.html

    The new Alchemists are those that seek to use chemical and physical means to heal the body (and especially the pineal gland) to facilitate spiritual healing. Maybe soon enough within the Paleo 2.0/Paleo Template community we’ll be talking more about healing diseases of calcification more than diseases of civilization (DOCs) (thanks, Kurt Harris).

    Speaking of which, do you know anything about borax or other boron supplementation for arthritis or removing fluoride from the body? What about Dr. Rex Newnham? Borax is supposed to be able to help decalcify the pineal, regulate Ca/Mg metabolism with Mg, raise low T in men and low estogen in postmenopausal women. I head it was used in China on skeletal fluorosis patients. But since you’re the gut man, I thought I would ask what effects drinking carefully measured dilute borax solution or boron supplements in pill form might have on gut flora and health. Any ideas?

    Also, any thoughts on ratfish/skate liver oil versus other fish liver oils for K2? I saw a fascinating video by David Wilcock on this oil in which he made some amazing dental health claims and said that skate liver oil was a “psychic supplement.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xEh8Tk6Wb8

    I see that it is Green Pastures’ Blue Ice skate liver oil that he is recommending. I know you’ve recommended their products here on this site. Is this Blue Ice really a safe product? Aren’t bottom feeders toxic?

    I don’t want to overemphasize the physical aspects of the spiritual path, but I can’t ignore them. Actual spiritual practice (meditation) is the most important part of the path. Bill Hicks said that watching TV is like taking black spray paint to the third eye. And I am convinced that there is an international conspiracy against enlightenment – a secret society determined to keep us all asleep within their Monsters, Inc.-style nightmarish fear extraction matrix and unable to connect to our higher selves and spirituality. So if there is anything that I can do to help safely squeegee my third eye clean, I want to do it and help others learn, too.

    And just remember, whenever you’re making hamburgers, sing softly to yourself as Cartman does:

    “Turn on your heart light,
    Let it shine wherever you go,
    Let it make a happy glow.”

    Thanks for reading,

    John (The Calm Canary of http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/)

    P.S. I’m in a gold mine of new ideas right now. You might like to spread this video to everyone in the alternative health/Paleo 2.0 community because it truly does not have enough views. (But note that any physician prescribing raw nonpsychoactive cannabinoids must inform their patients that the treatment can increase fertility dramatically and trump birth control methods) See video here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uF3QSECiTlY

    I will have a new blog post out soon called “MariNoia, Vol. VII” about my idea for a “Medical Marijuana Harm Reduction Pyramid,” which is not so much like the USDA’s (deadly) food pyramid!

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————–

  10. Matt says

    Interesting to see other healthcare workers on here with the same problem of mandatory flu shots. Has anyone found a way around this? I know I signed in when I got my shot, but I am unaware of signing something releasing the hospital from future liability. I will have to pay more attention next year.

    This whole mandated shots or you lose your job seems shifty, but from what I can find online, it is legal unless you are in a union and this was not agreed upon with collective bargaining. I also couldn’t find a 100% definitive answer to who is liable if you are injured or become unable to work due to complications from the shot. It will take a large lawsuit and/or a serious injury though for this practice to change. Sad, but seems this is the way healthcare is trending……..

    Great podcast, as usual, Chris.

  11. says

    Chris, this has been a topic of debate in my family lately. We have a newborn baby and of course we are very concerned about the flew with another child in school and my wife works in a school so there’s lot so opportunity for infection. So given that situation, even if the flew shot reduced the risk of getting the flew by a miniscule amount, it’s still a reduction right? The potential risks of passing on the flew to our newborn child seem to far outweigh the potential risks of getting the shot. Do you disagree?

    • Tim Lundeen says

      The best thing you can do for your baby is to make sure that your resistance to infection is high. This will give you a lot more protection than the shot, and with no risk. Chris has the basics on his blog, and these nutrients will dramatically reduce your risk of infection. If your wife is breastfeeding, this will also help protect the new baby because he/she will get them through the milk.

      What we are doing is 2 tsp per day of fermented skate liver oil from Green Pastures (for 9,000 IU of A, 4,500 IU of D, quinones, and K2), plus 4-12 drops per day of the Thorne Vit D/Vit K2 drops (during the winter), 300-400 mg of chelated magnesium, 1 gram per day of Vitamin C, 200 mcg selenium, 12 mg iodine (ramp up to this level after cutting out grains for 3 months, but even on grains you can take 1 mg/day to start), and 3 egg yolks per day for choline, biotin, selenium, etc. We never get sick, and our three-year old rarely gets sick, and then just for a day or two.

  12. Johnny B says

    Good stuff as usual, Chris. I read this recently and saved it for my parents:

    ‘Since 2009, Roche, the maker of Tamiflu, has refused to release data from eight of 10 clinical trials on the drug. To address the dangers inherent with withholding of clinical trial data, the Cochrane Collaboration group in collaboration with the British Medical Journal has created the BMJ Open Data Campaign
    There is currently no scientific basis for the worldwide recommendation to use Tamiflu for the prevention or treatment of influenza. It is believed, however, that the missing trial data may reveal potential harms, and/or verify the drug’s ineffectiveness.’

  13. Laura says

    Chris, in discussing lactiferrin, you referred to its impact on rotavirus. Is there support for using this to treat influenza? Thanks.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Not directly, but because of the way lactoferrin works (hindering virus attachment to cell receptors), it’s certainly plausible that it would have activity against viruses other than rotovirus.

  14. gwong says

    Another great way to stop a cold or flu in it’s tracks is to gargle with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 1/2 cup of warm water as soon as you feel a sore throat. Gargle and spit the first sip, then gargle and swallow the next. Alternate between the two till the 1/2 cup is gone. When I’ve done that the minute I feel a tickle in my throat, I have found the sore throat gone with in 30 seconds and never develop any further. If you don’t catch it right away, do it several times a day and the infection will be shorten and be much less damaging. I promise this works immediately.

    • Dean says

      Gargling is actually a great preventative measure too. It’s something I have started doing since living in Japan. The Japanese routinely gargle with just water when they wash their hands, after coming inside it’s something that is taught to pre-schoolers and drilled in. I used to get at least 2 nasty throat infections a year for a long as I could remember, but after starting a gargling regime, I have had one sore throat in about 5 years. I speculate the gargling removes a percentage of bacteria and viruses in the throat, enough that they never get out of control, not causing tonsils to get overworked leading to throat infections.
      After arriving a work, before lunch after teaching classes, after getting home I wash my hands and gargle.

      Back to flu shots. The Japanese love their flu-shots; they are big fans. I get the “Leper look” when I always opt out, I have never been convinced and this excellent summary podcast has validated my own thoughts. I had the flu once in 1994, knock on wood, I intend to never get it again.

  15. Tim Lundeen says

    We can also look at the cost of taking a flu vaccine: most people who get one feel bad for some time and are not at 100% for maybe 1/2 to 1 day. So if 100 people take the flu shot and average 1/2 day of lost time per person, that is 50 person-days lost, compared to the 7-21 person-days saved by protected individuals not catching the flu. This makes it a very poor bet, especially given the risk of serious complications from the shot, and the unknown long-term effects on your health and immune system.

  16. Laurel says

    Don’t forget elderberry (Sambucol). We make our own combinations of elderberry + honey or elderberry + vodka and consume a little bit every day during cold/flu season. It really works.

  17. Misa says

    Hi

    I would like to know if you suggest skate liver oil too. We take FCLO buuter oil blend and eat salmon twice a week so I do not know if skate liver oil is necessary, some folks say it is better to combine both. What do you think?
    We also love duck fat and duck liver we have it homemade from my fatherś garden and olso orange yolk eggs. He has also sheep on pasture so I make raw kefir from sheep milk that is very thick cause fatty sheep milk

  18. Kim says

    I’ve also heard of elderberry for cold and flu care (or was it bilberry?). Is that a safe and effective option, and is it OK for children?

  19. Kristen says

    Hi Chris, Great info. What would the doses of Vitamin C, D, lactoferrin and Lauricidin be for children (ages 6-9)? Thanks, Kristen

    • Chris Kresser says

      The upper limit for vitamin C for children that age is about 1,200 mg according to most mainstream organizations. I think that 1 gram in divided doses is probably good for cold/flu prevention if they can tolerate it without loose stools. 1,000 – 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D is fine for a short period; 500 IU might be better long term, but vitamin D dosing depends on several factors so it’s hard to make a blanket recommendation. Lauricidin would be maybe 1/4 scoop 2x/d max. Lactoferrin would be 100 mg a day max, but I probably wouldn’t use it in kids.

  20. Myles says

    Actually, a reduction from 2% to 1% (in the case of a poorly matched vaccine) is a 50% reduction in the number of people contracting the sickness, not a 1% reduction. And in the case of a well matched vaccine, the reduction from 4% to 1% is actually a 75% reduction.

    But this brings up a good point. Shouldn’t the percentage of UN-vaccinated individuals contracting the sickness remain constant in both cases? Why would the percentage for vaccinated individuals remain constant in both situations while the percentage for the unvaccinated individuals goes down? I think your numbers must be off somewhere.

    • says

      Read the excerpt a little more closely, and you will see that he addresses the difference between relative risk and absolute risk:
      “One percent of vaccinated individuals end up with an infection versus 2% of unvaccinated individuals, so in other words, the true reduction in flu risk in the population in the vast majority of cases in healthy adults is a mere 1%.

      So, let’s put this in perspective. I’ve talked before about the difference between relative and absolute risk reduction. The news media report on this study might say: Flu vaccine cuts your risk of getting the flu in half! Now, that’s technically true because the risk relatively went down from 2% to 1%, but what they don’t tell you is that the absolute risk reduction went down from 2 in 100 to 1 in 100, which is an overall absolute risk reduction of 1%. So this means that you’d need to treat approximately 100 people to prevent a single case of flu, or put another way, of 100 people that get the flu shot, 99 of them won’t benefit at all.”

      • glenn says

        1% of 128 million is 1.280,000 people who don’t get the flu and in bad flu years this means 13,000 or more people who don’t die. Simple mathematics.

        • Nicole says

          It’s actually NOT simple mathmatics. You have to remember that not all 280K have the same risk of death. The people that usually die from the flu are the elderly and the very young (under 2). Chris has pointed out in the study review that those 2 groups are the least likely if at all to benefit from the flu vaccine. Therefore, you’d need to determine what % of the population that are not the elderly, under 2…. would die from the flu. You could go a step further and say, even that population left over could be people that have a compromised immune system, who would not be able to get the flu vaccine anyways because it wouldnt be safe. So who is left to beneft?

    • Chris says

      I’m glad someone else brought that up too. That part made no sense to me either. Why would the percentage of unvaccinated people who got the flu change from 4% when the vaccine matches to 2% when the vaccine doesn’t match – it shouldn’t matter if the vaccine matches in that population because they didn’t get the vaccine at all!!

      Can someone please explain this?

  21. Kristie says

    Thank you for posting this. I recently left my healthcare job in Oakland, CA after eight years due to the mandatory flu vaccine for healthcare workers. Fortunately I have a lot of experience and was able to get another job right away at a smaller clinic that doesn’t require this, but most of my former coworkers were pressured into complying for fear of losing their jobs, benefits etc. This is so wrong! Where is the published evidence about what the long term effects are from having the annual flu shot over a 30-40 year healthcare career? I think it is really frightening that these healthcare mandates are happening and wonder where it will go next? No flu shot, no health insurance?

  22. gibson says

    I really enjoyed this topic! Since I’ve improved my D3 levels, I don’t get ill, even when family members do. I don’t take a flu shot. I’m T2 diabetic and try to manage it properly.

  23. Sage says

    So it’s very difficult to determine the best thing as to do as far as flu shots go: I’m an RN, and I refuse it when it comes around. However, my last hospital (a major Level 1 trauma center) requires all their staff to get one, or wear a mask when caring for patients the entire winter. I left there, for one reason, because I did not want to be forced into violating my own HIPAA by wearing a mask. The thing is, I deep-down don’t believe in the influenza vaccine, but I don’t have time to sit around studying journal articles for proof either. Thanks for your podcast; I will look into the Cochrane Collaboration.

    • Kari says

      Sage,
      I’m a nurse, too, and have always been on the fence about flu shots. One year they were requiring it and I was about to get it, they’d already swabbed my arm with the alcohol, but they wanted me to sign a release form that included me not holding the hospital responsible if I developed permanent paralysis. I said I was okay with getting the shot but not with signing the release, and that if I got permanent paralysis they should be responsible for my care, lost earnings, etc., since I was only getting the shot because it was a condition of continued employment. They said the flu shot doesn’t really cause paralysis, and I said then you don’t need to worry that I won’t sign the release. But they just decided I didn’t have to get the shot.

  24. Rebecca says

    Thanks for this transcript! I follow a lot of your work and this topic is timely! I’m going to pin this post and get the word out, and I’m going to stock up on some of those recommended products.

    Thanks again for all the information you share!

  25. Meesha says

    Loved this post, especially the discussion of how to prevent/treat colds and flu (and the reference to your previous post on the same). After just suffering through the stomach flu, I would be interested to know if these treatments still apply, or if there are a few specific things more appropriate to stomach distress. My solution was not eating all day and drinking a cup or two of bone broth. I had one bad day, staying mostly in bed, but was 80% recovered the next day.
    I’ve also read about raw apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water and maybe honey to calm an upset stomach.
    I would be interested to get a practitioners view on what works for the stomach flu.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Your approach is similar to what I recommend; I suggest allowing your appetite to be your guide. If you don’t feel like eating much broth and perhaps kombucha are good choices, as is honey-lemon-ginger tea.

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