This is a common question, particularly among those with chronic diseases such as thyroid conditions and the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no.”
As with any medical intervention, a risk-benefit analysis should be considered before making a decision about whether or not to receive a particular vaccine. One must weigh their risks of complications from the flu against their chances of complications from the vaccine.
Here are some considerations for thyroid patients.
The Autoimmune Concern
Many experts in treating thyroid disorders and other autoimmune diseases are concerned about the flu shot for their patients.
For one, they say that safety studies on this population are extremely limited. Additionally, many of these experienced physicians have witnessed patients’ health decline after receiving a flu shot. Sometimes a flare-up of the pre-existing condition occurs and is difficult to get under control.
Although it is unclear exactly why some patients with these health conditions have complications, there are a few possible explanations. It could be related to mitochondrial dysfunction, which many of these patients have. It could also be directly related to the immune response elicited by the vaccine.
One physician who has treated over 2,000 Hashimoto’s patients reports that 80% of his patients have infection with the Epstein Barr virus in their history. This is thought to play a role in the onset or exacerbation of the condition for many Hashimoto’s patients.
Interestingly, there is some evidence that Influenza B may also be involved as an initiating factor. Even if it is not directly related, it affects the same part of the immune system as Epstein Barr. This also happens to be the part of the immune system that attacks the thyroid in autoimmune thyroid conditions.
Another explanation for why the flu vaccine may be a concern for those with certain chronic diseases has to do with the balance between the two distinct parts of the immune system.
The flu vaccine spurs an increase in the part of the immune system in charge of antibody response, referred to as TH2. Unfortunately, this may be a problem for those with health conditions that are associated with high TH2 and low TH1 (cellular immunity). This includes chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, asthma, allergies, attention deficit disorders, and certain autoimmune disorders like Graves’ disease, lupus, and ulcerative colitis. The live attenuated influenza vaccine (in the form of a nasal spray) stimulates TH1 in the nose and therefore may be a safer for these patients.
Who’s at High Risk for Flu Complications?
In deciding whether or not to receive a flu shot, it may be helpful to know if you are in a population considered “high risk.”
Here are a few of the factors that predispose someone to an increased risk of flu complications:
- Chronic lung disease or asthma
- Heart, liver, or kidney disease
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders
- Blood disorders
- Endocrine and metabolic disorders
- Compromised immune system
- Morbid obesity
- Children under 5 years old, but especially under 2
- Adults over the age of 65
- Pregnant women
- Nursing home and other long-term care facility residents
Natural Treatment & Prevention
The best medicine is prevention! Even if you do decide to get a flu shot, there is still the possibility of contracting the flu, especially if the strains of the flu vaccine do not match the one(s) responsible for the current year’s epidemic. Since the vaccines are developed months in advance, it is based on an educated guess and does not always result in a good match.
A few things you can do right away to reduce your chance of coming down with the flu are:
- Adopt good hand-washing practices
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of purified water
- Avoid sugary drinks and other high-sugar foods and beverages
- Get regular, moderate exercise
- Reduce stress
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet, high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids
- Maintaining a serum Vitamin D level of 50-70 ng/ml
There are many natural immune-boosting and anti-microbial compounds, including nutrients, herbs, and homeopathy that are effective at preventing or reducing the duration of a cold or flu.
Although research is sometimes limited on natural options, some of the most convincing evidence exists for short-term zinc supplementation at the onset of symptoms and the use of garlic (whole garlic in cooking or garlic extract, allicin).
Other popular remedies that vary in effectiveness but may also be helpful include:
- Vitamin C (when taken on a regular dosing schedule such as 1,000 mg every 2 hours until symptoms improve)
- Oscillococcinum (over-the-counter homeopathic remedy)
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
- Medicinal mushrooms
- Chinese herbs (ie. Gan Mao Ling formula)
- Essential Oils (ie. Ravensarra, Oregano, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Black sruce, etc.)
- Olive leaf extract
And let’s not forget good old homemade chicken soup! Soups made with bone broth and generous amounts of garlic, thyme, lemon, and onion are packed with healing properties.
For even more tips to avoid the flu, read this!
Many people have other concerns about the flu shot, such as certain ingredients and rare, but serious side effects that have occurred (ie. Guillain-Barre syndrome). A full discussion of the concerns surrounding vaccines is beyond the scope of this article, but the bottom line is that it is not a simple decision particularly if you struggle with a chronic disease.
If you choose to opt for more natural options, be sure to get a professional opinion on dosing and possible contraindications and we wish you and your family a healthy cold and flu season!