Discovering the Flu and Your Neuro-Immune System
‘Tis the season! Not just for holiday and New Year’s celebrations, but for the infamous season when awareness of the influenza (flu) virus and the symptoms associated with the infection skyrockets. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) mounts a well-orchestrated campaign each year to generate interest and demand for flu shots. Along with posters for the public, flyers and health care provider materials, the government encourages an urge for the flu shot. There is a strong push for families to receive this vaccination, but how much education is shared with the general public? Do we see as strong of a push for families to address lifestyle factors in order to make a greater change for health and immune system? My goal with this article about the flu is to empower you by giving knowledge to ask better questions about how you should proceed to make decisions for your family’s health during this season. The purpose of this article is not to instruct you whether or not to vaccinate, or to make any specific health-care decisions for your family. I always say that it is only your best-informed decision made from your heart which knows the appropriate path to take in any situation. I simply want to ensure that certain information is shared with you and is in your vision to aid you in the process.
In 1957 and 1958, there was a pandemic where many people were dying due to complications of the flu. In 1960 as a response to this increase in morbidity and mortality, the U.S. Surgeon General had recommended influenza vaccination for groups with chronic, debilitating diseases, people aged 65 years or older, and for pregnant women. Let it be clear that this decision was made in an effort to deal with the pandemic. Furthermore, let it be clear that this decision was made without any data for vaccine efficacy or effectiveness for these high-risk populations. In 1964, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the CDC noted that there was an absence of efficacy data but, yet, still reaffirmed this recommendation. Since then, this has become a long-standing recommendation and has not only included just these high-risk populations, but has absolutely crept its way to include the ages of children and of the elderly. Every year depending upon the type of influenza vaccine, influenza vaccination is recommended for all individuals aged 6 months or older. But on what grounds? Why?
Let’s take a look at how your immune system works. There are two major categories of your immune system: one known as “innate” or “cell-mediated” immunity which employs white blood cells to balance infections, and one known as “humoral” which focuses on the powers of antibodies to neutralize infectious agents. Both paths are utilized during the influenza infection; however, it is important to realize that the innate, cell-mediated immunity is your primary defense against most viruses including the influenza virus. Do you know which path is stimulated when one undergoes the vaccination procedure? The humoral, antibody response. Think about that. It was just mentioned that the effective way your body neutralizes the influenza virus is through the cell-mediated response, and that the vaccination procedure stimulates not that path, but the other humoral antibody response. (This is analogous to someone giving you a hammer when you need to fasten a set of screws.) Interesting. How effective can this medical procedure be and why are so many are recommended to receive it?
There is a plethora of scientific articles reviewing the research for vaccine effectiveness asking the same question. In 2010, Dr. Thomas Jefferson did a systematic review for all available literature and concluded in the well-known Cochrane Database that “the available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older.” Furthermore, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) allows public access to the package inserts of vaccines. The influenza vaccine, Flulaval, states the following on their website: “Safety and effectiveness of Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent Vaccine has not been established in pregnant women, nursing mothers and children.” Further sections of the same insert mention that safety and effectiveness are not known for the developing fetus in pregnant mothers, for nursing mothers as many drugs are excreted in breast milk, and for the pediatric population. Yet, the latest recommendation in 2012 by the ACIP advised that every citizen over 6 months of age, which includes about 300 million people, receives the vaccine. Why? Many speculate that there are policy makers responsible for vaccination recommendations who financially gain by promoting vaccinations. In fact, the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) report in June of 2000 described how the chair of the FDA and CDC advisory committees own stock in drug companies that make the vaccines and own patents for vaccines under consideration. The report noted that it is of the opinion of the committee that the pharmaceutical company has “too much influence over the committees” establishing policies.
I understand that there is a lot of debate or controversy regarding the influenza vaccine. Again, I am not indicating whether or not you should have your family undergo this medical procedure or abstain from it. I encourage you to not blindly accept the government’s recommendations. I encourage you to read more about it from groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center (www.NVIC.org), and to discuss the benefits and risks with your health care provider who would want you to question accordingly.
Remember, we are exposed to viruses and bacteria every day of our lives. To think that exposure is only a concern during the fall and winter months is a myth. What determines who gets “sick” (expresses symptoms) and who stays well is the status of the neuro-immune system. It is when you are exposed to an amount of environmental stressors to which your nervous system cannot adapt that your immune system is compromised allowing viruses and bacteria to do what they want. Again, remember that it is your environment and lifestyle playing a huge role in this.
What constitutes your lifestyle? It is how you eat, how you move and how you think. Therefore, stressors can be biochemical, physical and psychological. Recall the analogy of the plant requiring abundant sunlight, pure water, awesome soil and clean air to thrive. Should any of these be deficient, or contain toxic impurities, that plant will wither and eventually perish. Recall that you are a plant with the same theme of requirements. Your genes in all of your cells require a certain environment. If your lifestyle creates an environment incongruent with what is required, your nervous system coordinates the rest of your body to enter a stressful, fight/flight, response. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released changing how the body functions and inflammation within the body is increased. Thus, healing, growth and reproduction are inhibited affecting areas like the immune system, the digestive system, the reproductive system, etc. Your health and wellness sit on a three-legged stool (biochemical hygiene, physical hygiene and psychological hygiene) with all legs playing a role and necessarily needing to be strong.
How does this play a role in the flu? The function of your immune system needs to be properly regulated for harmonious interaction with your environment. Having a lifestyle abundant with stressors will compromise or depress your immune system changing how your body interacts with the outer world.
There is way more substantial literature showing a greater efficacy of lifestyle change for improving the innate immune system than for the efficacy of any influenza vaccine. How can your lifestyle and function be improved? Consider the following suggestions. Your biochemical hygiene requires: a diet with little to no processed foods or refined sugars, increased vegetables and fruit, vitamin D from the sun or food, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics (healthy bacteria), healthy sources of animal protein, reduced grains and avoidance of dairy. Your physical hygiene requires: movement and exercise, reduced sedentary behaviors, improved biomechanical posture, decent sleep of about 6-8 hours each night. Your psychological hygiene requires: laughter, gratitude exercises, reduced stress through the help of relaxation breathing, meditation, yoga, or qigong. (There are some awesome local centers right in our community with classes showing how to do these practices.) The longer amount of time you spend in an incongruent environment, the more your body perpetuates a stressful response and the more health issues appear due to this imbalance.
Furthermore, Chiropractic plays an integral role in working with the spine and nervous system to affect function of total physiology with a very significant effect on the stress response. The better the ability of your nervous system to function, the greater potential you have to adapt to environmental stressors. Chiropractors have understood that true health and wellness comes from empowering others and helping them to express their total potential. If there are problems within the spine interfering with the brain-body communication, total expression of health potential is not possible. This is why it is so important to have your spine and nervous system as well as of your loved ones checked by a chiropractor.
Finally, who is to say that getting “sick” is such a bad thing? To have an occasional viral infection is not only non-alarming for most, it is actually necessary to exercise our neuro-immune systems. Other literature shows how exposing our children to an environment that is not sterile trains their immune systems to better deal with situations in the future. There is a decreased incidence of allergies and auto-immune diseases with those who were allowed to get “sick” and allowed the body to do what it needs. Is it comfortable? No. Is it something we should all look forward to? Probably not. Is it something to be valued? Absolutely. Remember, your body is amazing. There is much innate wisdom in your body and in all of your trillions of cells. Think about how your body was created by two cells coming together and forming, on its own, a multicellular, complex and beautiful being of trillions of cells which is you. Was any help necessary for this to occur? No. Any drugs or surgeries necessary for this to occur? No. Begin to have trust in that wisdom. Your body always knows what it needs to do as long as it is given what it needs.