Flu Shot and Other Ways to Prevent the Flu

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Flu season is upon us again – a potentially miserable time of year when every handshake or hug could potentially expose you to the influenza virus. It’s not just the flu that’s circulating, either… There are some persistent myths about the flu vaccine out there, and I want to debunk three big mistruths surrounding this controversial vaccine (and give you other tools in your flu-fighting box). The first one is:

MYTH #1: The Flu Vaccine Can Give You the Flu

You can’t contract influenza from the flu vaccine. The vaccine contains an inactive virus that won’t cause the flu. But it can take a couple of weeks for it to build immunity against the flu, so you might still get sick if you were exposed to the virus before or right after going in to be vaccinated.

MYTH #2: Everyone Should Get a Flu Vaccine

Two types of flu vaccines have been available in recent years: the shot and the nasal spray – but they’re not for everyone. This year, the spray is for no one: the CDC says “the Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) – or the nasal spray vaccine – is not recommended for use during the 2016-2017 season because of concerns about its effectiveness.”

Under CDC guidelines, certain people should also not get the shot:

  • Children younger than 6 months, because their immune systems are still developing.
  • People with severe allergies to ingredients in the flu shot. One suspect allergen in the vaccine is mercury, which comes in the form of thimerosal, a preservative added “to prevent germs, bacteria and/or fungi from contaminating the vaccine.” Thimerosal, however, is also a neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system. Some flu vaccines contain thimerosal, some don’t. If you decide to get a flu shot this year, ask for a thimerosal-free vaccine (you can find out which ones are thimerosal-free on page 21 of the CDC Advisory Committee’s 2016-2017 flu season recommendations document: TABLE 1. Influenza vaccines — United States, 2016–17 influenza season – look for an “NR” designation).

► Be cautious, too, if you have an egg allergy. Flu vaccines are made using an egg-based manufacturing process. (There are egg-free vaccines available, fortunately.)  

  • People with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which your immune system attacks nerve cells. It has been linked to the flu shot (and other vaccines).
  • People who are not feeling well, or have a high fever. The flu shot could compromise your immunity under these circumstances.

With so many warnings and precautions on who should not have the flu shot, definitely consult with your doctor if you fall under any of these conditions, or just want to double-check that the vaccine is safe for you.

Generally, I only recommend flu shots for the elderly and debilitated, as well as anyone who is suffering from a serious illness like severe congestive heart failure, any type of obstructive lung disease, and asthma. An alternate approach for these folks is to get vaccinated against pneumonia, a very serious flu-related complication. 

MYTH #3: The Best Flu Protection is the Flu Vaccine

Believing this myth may be harmful to your health! After getting vaccinated, a lot of people are left with a false sense of security that they won’t get sick and therefore do not take other important precautions to protect themselves and stay healthy during flu season.

Understand that the flu shot is not 100 percent effective, so even if you get it, there’s still a chance you can still get sick. Here’s why: The flu shot’s formula is based on the three or four biggest strains that circulated around the world during the previous flu season. Thus, the experts can’t be sure that the vaccine will always work perfectly in the current season.

For the 2016-2017 season, “three-component vaccines are recommended to contain:

  • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
  • and B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (B/Victoria lineage).”

There’s a four component vaccine also recommended that includes the three viruses above, as well as another B virus:  B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage).

The flu shot may also lose its power over time. New research in both Canada and the U.S. indicates that getting the flu shot several years in a row may lessen the vaccine’s effectiveness. A 2015 report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal noted that, in one study, flu vaccine effectiveness was 43 percent for those who skipped the 2013/14 season, but only 15 percent for participants who received both seasons’ vaccines.

With these facts in mind, don’t get fooled into thinking all you need is a flu shot. There are many other flu fighters available. Here’s what I recommend:

Other Ways to Prevent the Flu

I’m around people all day long – a lot of them with the flu, and I don’t catch it because I take steps to strengthen my immune system. You can do the same, whether you choose to get a flu shot or not. Here are some simple defenses that can help guard you from the flu:

1. Fortify your body with a consistently healthy diet that includes plenty of green and brightly colored vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil.

2. Stay hydrated. When the mucous membranes in your mouth, nose, and throat are dry, it’s easier for viruses to attach to them and infect your body. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of pure water daily to prevent dryness.

3. Bolster your immunity with supplemental antioxidants. A 2014 article published in Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry pointed out that many antioxidants have anti-flu properties. For example, try vitamin C (1,000 to 5,000 mg a day in divided doses), mixed broad spectrum vitamin E with gamma tocopherol (no more than 400 IU for men and 300 IU for women daily), resveratrol (25-75 mg daily), and coenzyme QlO (50-100 mg daily), and NAC N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (600mg daily)

4. Supplement with Beta Glucan. Extracted from the cell walls of yeast, this nutrient keeps your immune system primed and ready to fight off germs. Another benefit of beta glucan supplementation is that it can lower the toxicity of thimerosal, especially when taken with vitamin C and resveratrol, according to research published in Toxins in 2012. This supplement combo may thus be important for anyone getting a thimerosal-containing flu vaccine. For seasonal flu prevention, take WPG Beta glucan 1-3, 1-6 (250-500 mg daily).

5. Exercise regularly, but moderately. A fit body can fortify you against the flu.

6. Observe good personal hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water throughout the day as you are exposed to other people and public places. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your fingers unless you’ve just washed your hands. Make sure your kids’ hands are washed too (as anyone who has or cares for them knows how easily they can spread both joy and viruses).

7. Sleep 6-8 hours a night, since sleep bolsters your immunity.

What if you do get sick with the flu despite your best efforts? Follow your doctor’s orders, get plenty of rest, follow a nutrient-rich diet (including supplements), drink lots of fluids, take 500-600mg of NAC two times a day, and let the flu run its course.


© 2015, 2016 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.


Leave a Reply


  1. Richard Kurylski, PhD

    on October 16, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    I have never read so accurate and succinct information before. Thank you, Dr Sinatra

  2. Claire

    on November 12, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Do you recommend the shingles vaccine?

  3. Dante Zanoni

    on November 12, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    What is NAC? Do you carry this, Dr. Sinatra?

  4. Judy Stevenfelddt

    on November 13, 2015 at 5:02 am

    NAC is N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, which you can find at any health food store.

  5. beatrice nordberg

    on September 30, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you Dr.Sinatra for excellent information as usual

  6. Mildred Kanning

    on September 30, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is truly a common-sense assessment of the flu-shot season. It really ‘bugs’ me whenever I go to a doctor’s office (any kind of doctor, not just primary care) and one of the first things they ask is “Have you had your flu shot?” I eventually learned that this question has been MANDATED by the federal government. Doctor’s are required to ask the question and report it. I am wondering if the ‘flu-shot police’ are planning to come looking for me if I don’t get a flu shot! —

  7. Dana Allison

    on November 4, 2016 at 1:08 am

    I wish that this article had come over my internet service in either July, or August. Flu shots have been given to me over the years. This passed year I asked if it was truly necessary as I had been reading articles in newspapers that the flu shot may not be a good idea for several reasons given. Also, the vaccine may not be the one to fight the particular strain of flu which is going around at a given time of the year. I was assured, that because I am a few years shy of ninety, that it was of such import, and effective as to be mandatory due to my advanced years. Reluctantly, I consented to receive the shot. There were no adverse reactions to the shot. Would it be advisable to get the shot when it is offered next year?

  8. Beverly Ann Strvens

    on December 6, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    Seagate Olive Leaf Extract healed a 4 week terrible raging flu in 3 days while 4 weeks of ampicillin did not diminished the flu symptoms at all! I continued a maintence low dose of Seagate Olive Leaf Extract during the rest of the flu season. That was in 2009! I take Olive leaf ext in August as a preventative before flu season takes hold! Beta Glucan, Mediterranean Oil of Oregano, & Royal Jelly are supportive backups to help my immunity against flu & pneumonia. I totally agree with Dr Sinatra in following his instructions about boosting your immune system. I have asthma & lupus antibodies with the age of 73. OMEGA Q plus WIth Resveratrol & Vit D3 are great!

  9. Vincent Manchee

    on December 15, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    I am on a gluten free diet for the last 10 year and not had a flu shot on the recommendation of my doctor and have not had the flu since.

  10. Martha Dancy

    on December 15, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Yes, I love the information given out on these messages and I get good help with the Omega3 resveratrol pills that Dr. Sinatra has. I would like some information about statin interaction with other supplements and food other than grapefruit juice. The bergamonte fruit which can be excellent for lowering cholesterol is also the same thing that grapefruit has and that can be problematic for people taking statins. Also earl gray tea has the same ingredient. I would like some good information on whether to get off statins and try the natural products or whether to stay on a diminished amount of statins without the bergamonte. I know we could get much better advice with Dr. Sinatra on this because none of the other doctors like natural supplements for cholesterol but want to force statins on us. I want to know whether taking something with bergamonte in it would really hurt someone taking three days of statins.

  11. Donna

    on December 15, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I wish I had this advice prior to receiving the flu shot the year of the Swine Flu epidemic. I took it that year as I was a caregiver and did not wish to expose my client at that time. I asked the Walgreens pharmesist if there were any risks, and was told as long as I was not allergic to eggs, did not have high blood pressure or diabetic, there would be no problem. Boy were they wrong !! Within 48 hours I experienced excessive tingling in my hands and feet ( as if I had put my finger into a light socket ) . It still exists. I take “Nerve fix and Arthrifix ” which calms it down but does not remove it entirely.
    Also since that shot I had other symptoms and now suffer great pain throughout my body, lack of energy, and great pain throughout my body. I can barely walk and have pain in my legs, knees and feet. I would rather had the flu for 7-10 days than the lifelong suffering I am experiencing. I have been to many Doctors but none have named this condition other than Fibromyalgia.
    End result : weigh your risks and ask questions. I was never told that there was Mercury or unknown Preservitives. In addition I suddenly allergic to gluten !

  12. Roger J. Carlson

    on December 15, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    Good advice! I will second the comments on the Wild Oil of Oregano. It is like a miracle drug, effective against both viruses
    and bacteria. I have had very few sinus infections since I started
    supplementing with Vitamin D3!

  13. Lon Overacker

    on December 15, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    While I appreciate most all of Dr. Sinatra’s information, and am a customer, some of this info is not completely true and a few things are glossed over or not mentioned.

    The info in Myth#2 seems to contradict #1. It’s stated that “You can’t contract influenza from the flu vaccine. ” Then in #2 “the Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) ….” There isn’t just ONE type of vaccine, there are many, including the nasal spray (that’s not recommended this year anyway,) but regardless, there are vaccines that contain the live virus. And from the CDC references noted in the references, is the following information: “Children and adults vaccinated with LAIV can shed vaccine viruses after vaccination, although in lower amounts than occur typically with shedding of wild-type influenza viruses.” and then “Rarely, shed vaccine viruses can be transmitted from vaccine recipients to unvaccinated persons.”

    Granted, the CDC says “rarely”; however that is NOT the same thing as Never or “you can’t contract the virus…” So #1 above lost some credibility for me.

    One thing not mentioned, that I’ve always had a question on, but no confirmed answer, is: Just because one is vaccinated against the flu in no way prevents them from spreading the virus. For example, even if I’m vaccinated, I can still shake someone’s hand, touch a door knob, handrail or faucet handle, pick up the virus and then transfer that to someone else? right? Me having the virus only protects me (at a 40-60% success rate ….) contracting the flu, but doesn’t prevent me from carrying and transmitting the virus. OR, and is why I ask the question, can the virus not live outside the body? If it can, for how long?

    Good info on who should NOT get a vaccine. This to me just illustrates how dangerous it is to have all these advertisements every where you turn, “Get your vaccine today, only $5…” and the like. It’s about volume and revenue, not safety or effectiveness.

    And kudos for #3 because the best defense against the flu (or viruses in general) is a complete and healthy immune system. I’m surprised he did not mention Vitamin D3 and one of the contributing factors of why the flu “season” is in the winter; we get less sun and our bodies Vit D levels drop. (ok, it’s not the only factor, but can contribute as to why we get flu the more often in the winter months.)

  14. Wm Stanley

    on December 16, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Dear Dr. Sinatra,

    Thank you for the article on influenza. I may be subject to Myth #1, but when I was in the USAF at 25 years old flu shots were mandatory. From experience, I informed personnel to have the hospi tal bed ready. Within 2 days I would be down with the flu. When I left the service I decided not to have flu shots again. I have not had that illness again. I am now 81 and still flu free. Perhaps I am the exception that proves the rule. What is your take on this phenomenon?

  15. Jasper Hooykaas MD

    on December 17, 2016 at 5:34 am

    You forgot vitamin D. It is more important than all other advices tegether.

  16. Chris Anne Bennett APRN

    on February 1, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    Beautifully written! And yet, too many people still do not put two and two together to see that flu vaccines are typically unnecessary and instead rely on crapshoot flu vaccines.
    Meanwhile, a large part of my job includes educating patients to the fact that while flu shots are available should they choose to pursue them, there are safer, effective methods of preventing and curtailing flu virus.
    Thank you for stating the facts so effectively.
    Chris Anne Bennett, APRN

  17. Nati Steen

    on December 6, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Disappointing to hear all that flu vaccine promotion from someone who talks about dangers of toxins in food, air and water. Nothing mentioned about aluminum and other toxic ingredients in vaccines that compromise overall health and immune system or the fact that one becomes 4 times more susceptible to contracting other viruses after a flu shot. And, yes, the vaccinated can and do shed the virus to others. Not sure if the misinformation in this article is intentional, but it makes me question the knowledge and the motives of this particular resource.

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