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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Flu Shot Alternatives

A recent study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet found that flu shots are not as effective as most people think. Infectious disease experts conducted a meta-analysis, which is a study of studies, and found that flu vaccines were only 59 percent effective overall in adults aged 18 to 65. Efficacy varied and fell as low as 35 percent.

Healthy adults don't need the flu shot.

Influenza vaccines never prevent colds and aren't always effective against the flu either. Furthermore, vaccines carry the risk of adverse effects and there is growing concern that their over-use is contributing to the increasing resistance of viruses.

Instead, follow these 7 tips to stay well this winter:

#1  Get More Sleep

Adequate sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. Experts recommend 9.5 hours per night in the winter, when days are naturally shorter and nights naturally longer. If you can't get that much sleep, aim for at least 8 hours. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that healthy adults who slept at least eight hours each night had a higher resistance to upper respiratory infections than those who slept 7 hours or less.

#2  Manage Stress

Stress hormones activate the body's sympathetic nervous system responsible for "fight or flight" reactions. This natural response to stress prepares the body for instant action and inactivates functions that aren't essential for immediate survival, including immune surveillance, the body's defense against abnormal cells like viruses, bacteria and cancer.

Stress can be unavoidable but if you manage it well, it doesn't have to suppress your immune system. Learn to manage stress through activities like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong.

# 3  Exercise

Studies show that regular exercise is associated with fewer upper respiratory infections and less severe symptoms. Aim for 2.5 hours each week and a combination of aerobic and strengthening activities. Don't forget to stretch, but do it only after your muscles have warmed up, and again at the end of your workout.

#4  Wash Your Hands

Viruses that cause colds and flu are transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces (and also by airborne droplets produced from coughing and sneezing). Reduce your risk of acquiring colds and flu by washing your hands several times each day, especially after touching shared surfaces and before touching your face. Rub hands together vigorously with soap and hot water for thirty seconds or more, and teach kids a song to sing while they wash to ensure a thorough job.

Avoid anti-bacterial products because they aren't necessary (soap is naturally anti-bacterial) and can contribute to bacterial resistance.

#5  Eat Your Vegetables

A diet high in fruits and vegetables will provide nutrients necessary for a strong immune system. Onions, garlic, chili peppers and ginger root are especially helpful for cold and flu prevention, as studies have shown that these foods can stimulate immunity.

#6  Consider Probiotics

Studies show that having the right balance of healthy bacteria can reduce the risk of colds and flu. Include cultured and fermented foods in your diet like yogurt, tempeh and miso. Some people may benefit from a probiotic supplement.

#7  Test Vitamin D

Healthy levels of vitamin D are important for a strong immune system. If you don't know your number, ask your doctor for the simple blood test that will determine whether or not you need to supplement and, if so, how much you should take.

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