Why I’m Not Getting The Flu Shot: Natural Flu Prevention

This could be a controversial post, considering I work at a hospital and they very strongly encourage all the employees to get a flu shot every year. In fact, we have to proactively opt-out of it and agree to wear a mask in patient care areas should we decline the shot. (I’m almost never in patient-care areas as a member of HR and am fine with wearing a mask if I need to.)

I have never received a flu vaccination and if I’ve ever had the flu, it hasn’t been in the last 6 years. In fact, in the last year or so, I’ve managed to avoid getting sick almost entirely, with the exception of two horrific bouts of  food poisoning and one head cold. One of those horrific bouts was this week, so this might be a short post because I just want to drink my bone broth and go back to sleep … 

flu shot

recipe linked! just click through

Disclaimer and Warning:

This is not a generalized anti-vaccine post. I do not in any way support the anti-vaccine movement that’s going on in certain parts of this country (especially one just north of where I live). There is no evidence that routine vaccinations cause autism. I do not consider the flu vaccine to be in the same category of necessity as any of the standard vaccines recommended for the safety of our collective society, including MMR, hepatitis, pertussis, etc. Feel free to disagree with me on that opinion, but I’m just stating right now, for the record I am not an anti-vaccine advocate. 

Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s continue.

Why I don’t want to get the flu shot

The CDC recommends the flu shot for high risk groups, including the very young and very old, those with compromised immune systems, asthmatics, diabetics, and heart disease patients. I do not fall under any of those categories and I take very good care of myself. That being said, the reputable websites I’ve scoured (including Harvard Health and WebMD) in my quest to justify my desire not to get the vaccine still insist that even healthy adults should get the shot, and they claim that it’s a myth that healthy adults don’t need it.

Why? 

  • If you have young children in your home (especially infants too young to be vaccinated), you should get the shot. (not me)
  • If you have elderly folks in your home, you should get the shot. (not me)
  • If you regularly come into contact with either of those two categories of people or very sick people, you should get the shot. (not me)
  • The flu is miserable, and getting the shot will save you the trouble of potentially getting the virus. (…ok)

I agree that ensuring the safety of at-risk folks around you is a great reason to get the vaccine, and I’d get it if I worked directly with patients or interacted with them regularly. But I don’t. I also agree that actually getting the flu is horrible, and it’s a great idea to avoid it if possible.

I just don’t agree that getting the vaccine is the only way (or the most holistic and beneficial way) to avoid it. 

flu shot

imaged sourced from Creative Commons: Rueters 2012

Thimerosal in the Flu Shot

Most flu vaccines use thimerosal as a preservative, which contains mercury, a known and documented neurotoxin that bioaccumulates in our bodies over time and is difficult to clear from our systems. The FDA acknowledges the potential ill-effect of thimerosal in vaccines and has been working with vaccine manufactures to reduce or eliminate its use, but the work is not complete by any stretch. In order to get a flu vaccine free of thimerosal, you have to specifically request it, and there’s a limited supply made each year.

Question: Why not just make them all without it if the technology is there to do it successfully?

Answer: $$.

This bothers me a lot.

A Holistic Health Expert’s Take

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I love the work of Dr. Mark Hyman. He’s a functional medicine doctor who takes a systems-approach to human health and illness. Functional Medicine doesn’t just focus on the symptoms of illness, it treats the dysfunction in the body that’s allowing these symptoms to occur — a whole-body approach to healing.

“As a Functional Medicine physician, I approach the flu like all imbalances in the body, which is to say I don’t assume the human body is subject to illness when the proper diet and lifestyle precautions are taken.  When a patient is sick, some detective work is necessary to find out what missing pieces are interfering with the efficacy of their immune system.”

Check out this video for Dr. Hyman’s take on the flu shot and make your own decision. 

—-> More details on the safety and efficacy of the flu vaccine from a Functional Medicine perspective <—-

 

7 Ways to Prevent the Flu

Recommendations for preventing flu infection are predictably similar to recommendations for general good health. The bottom line: take good care of your health and your immune system will be ready to fight for you when invaders come your way.

  1. Stay hydrated. Typical recommendations for hydration are to shoot for half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 100 lbs, drink 50 oz of water throughout the day.
  2. Eat the rainbow: Proper diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables every single day. Try to fill at least half your plate with both raw and cooked vegetables in order to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and fiber to feed that healthy bacteria in your gut. 
  3. Load up on herb and spices: Herbs and spices are the closest things to wild foods we have in our diets these days, which means they haven’t been stripped of their natural phytonutrients that help us fight off disease. Garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, cilantro, oregano, and parsley are all great herbs and spices to add to your daily meals. Garlic and onions even have antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties! Check out this post on how to boost your intake of phytonutrients.
  4. Get some sun or take vitamin D: Vitamin D is a major component to a health immune system, so adequate amounts in the system are vital during flu season. Of course, in the winter months it’s hard to get enough sun for most people not living on the equator. I’m not big on making a broad recommendation for supplements, so I won’t say that every single person should supplement with vitamin D in the winter months, but it’s not a bad idea to find out your numbers to know for sure if you need a little boost. 
  5. SLEEP! I can’t express enough how vital sleep is to the health of your immune system. I’ve written two recent posts on the importance of sleep and how to get more of it here and here. Check them out to get your sleep routine under control.
  6. Steer clear of processed sugars and flours: White sugars and flours are pro-inflammatory foods that weaken the immune system by their very nature. They also wreak havoc on your gut (the next item on the list.) This can be problematic considering flu season and holiday season overlap considerably. Just be smart about your treats this time of year and try to balance them out with numbers 2 and 3 above!
  7. Take care of your gut: Sing it with me now! I will beat this dead horse into the ground and keep beating forever. Gut health is number one for your immune system. Heal your gut and the rest will follow. What goes into your mouth determines so much of how we interact with the world around us, including how often we get sick. Drink bone broth, take a probiotic, maybe even make your own kombucha!  

Ghee: What is it and Why Should You Make it Yourself?

grassfed ghee

Making your own ghee is simple. All it takes is a little bit of time and attention, a mesh strainer, and a few paper towels to get it right.

Before we go there though, I’ll tell you what ghee is, why it’s a great ingredient to have in your kitchen, and why you should make it yourself. You’ve probably noticed that I use it in some of my recipes, but I haven’t actually taken the time to explain why I use it or how I make it until now. I think you’ll find this helpful.

What is ghee?

Traditionally used in Indian cooking, ghee is simply a type of clarified butter. It’s plain, unsalted butter that’s been heated until the sugar and protein separate from the fat and are skimmed off leaving only the fat behind. Basically, it’s the goodness of butter without the potential digestive or allergic reaction to the casein and lactose that are found in dairy products. (Butter is actually quite low in casein and lactose, but for those who are VERY sensitive, it’s great to get them out of there and still enjoy all the flavor and health benefits of butter!) For more in-depth information comparing butter vs ghee, check out this post by Michael Joseph from Nutrition Advance

Ghee also has a higher smoke point than butter, which means you can cook with it at higher temperatures without running the risk of burning it. We’ll talk more about smoke point on Friday when I share the Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oils. Get excited about that post, by the way!

Now that ghee is growing in popularity, you might see it in jars next to the butter in the refrigerated section, but it actually doesn’t need to be refrigerated if handled correctly. Correctly just means that you’re careful not to use dirty or wet utensils to scoop it out when you use it, otherwise it could get moldy.

Why Should I use Ghee?

If you haven’t already seen it, you should check out my post Fatty Doesn’t Equal Fattening, which explains why incorporating healthy fats into your diet is actually beneficial to your health, and even your waistline if done wisely.

Saturated fat gets a bad rap, but it’s an extremely important part off a healthy diet. Your cells need saturated fat to maintain their structural integrity. Your brain needs saturated fat to function properly. Our bodies need saturated fat, and unfortunately it’s been demonized for decades. You might have noticed the recent TIME Magazine cover featuring a curl of delicious looking butter entitled “Ending the War on Fat.” This article is a major leap forward in the mainstream thinking about saturated fat and fat in general. Check it out if you can, and if you would like some free information on this subject, Chris Kresser has a great article you can read as well.

Ghee is is also rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, CLA, and Omega 3 fats. All of these nutrients are vital to our health but aren’t often included in the Standard American Diet in adequate quantities.

Why Should You make Your Own Ghee?

The catch to get all the awesome benefits I just mentioned is that the butter that you start with needs to come from a cow raised on pasture in the sun eating grass. Most of the awesome health components of both butter and ghee are stripped away if the cow is not doing what cows do. Just like humans, cows need to be in the sun to synthesize vitamin D. The milk they make only has vitamins A and K2, CLA, and Omega 3s if they’re eating grass. Cows that eat grains end up producing milk that has a higher concentration of Omega 6 than Omega 3, which is much more plentiful in the Standard American Diet, and not something we should be actively seeking out too often.

While I haven’t specifically noticed ghee in the grocery store that mentions being sourced from grass fed or pastured cows, I did find this one for a whopping $23 a jar on Amazon. I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to pay anything close to that for a 14oz jar of cooking oil unless it’s made of gold and magic. Most brands available in the grocery store range between $9 and $14, but do not guarantee that they’re from grass fed cows. My solution to this expensive conundrum is to simply make my own.

Kerrygold grass fed butter is available at most grocery stores and runs $3 each. I use two at a time to create a 13 oz jar of ghee. This saves me between $3 and $8 a jar, depending on which brand I’m comparing.

make your own ghee

How to make Ghee

  • Start with two 8oz sticks of unsweetened grass fed butter and a medium saucepan.
  • Heat butter on medium to high on the stove top until the butter completely melts, then turn it down to low (once you get the hang of this, you can make speed up the process by keeping the fire a bit higher, but burning it is a HUGE bummer, so start slow until you get the hang of it).
  • Set your kitchen timer for 5 minutes and go do something else.
  • Come back and check on it every 5 minutes, making sure it’s not burning. You know it’s going well when milk solids start to float to the top and/or sink to the bottom. I use a tiny mesh strainer that cost me $1 to skim the milk solids off the top as they accumulate. The paper towels* come in at this point, because when I rinse the strainer off between skims I don’t want to add any water back into the ghee. I dry the strainer very well between skims.
  • Once the liquid is a clear yellow without a bunch of white streaks or chunks floating in it (usually takes about 20 minutes but could take longer your first time if you keep the stove on low), turn the fire off, set your timer for 10 minutes, and go do something else until it goes off.
  • Carefully pour your pot of separated butter through the mesh strainer and into a jar that can hold at least 13 oz of liquid. Paper towels might also come in here because the solids could clog the strainer, which you’ll need to rinse out and dry thoroughly before proceeding (remember that mold I mentioned earlier).
  • Let the ghee sit open or lightly covered with a paper towel on the counter to cool before placing on the lid and storing in your cupboard.

*It might seem wasteful to use paper towels for this project instead of cloth, but this is butter we’re talking about. Unless you’re doing your laundry that same day, you’re going to have a greasy nasty mess on your towel (whether it’s in your hamper or in your kitchen) that could attract unwanted creepy crawly visitors). In general, I try to mind my paper towel usage, but in this instance, I use them without hesitation.

grassfed ghee

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