How Immune Health Relates to the Flu Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend an annual flu vaccine for most people, especially groups at high risk for complications from the flu. When you get a flu shot, the doctor or nurse injects your arm with inactive influenza. Your immune system responds to the vaccine by developing antibodies against influenza, which help the body fight off the virus if you do get exposed to the flu. Paying close attention to your immune health during cold and flu can help maximize the vaccine's ability to keep you from getting sick.

Low Immunity & the Flu Vaccine

Annual immunization against the flu is especially important if you or a family member has impaired immunity. Having a flu shot helps the body fight back against the flu, even with limited immune system reserves. Although you can still get the flu after having the flu shot, your symptoms will likely be less severe.

Many chronic illnesses and health issues can impact the immune system, such as HIV and AIDS, malnutrition, measles, mononucleosis, allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. Use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances also lowers immunity. You are at high risk for the flu if you take antirejection medications after an organ transplant or have cancer, especially if you currently undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Seniors have a higher risk for the flu because immunity decreases as we age. The CDC also recommends that anyone age 65 or older receive a high-dose flu vaccine, as this formula can boost immunity even further than the standard annual immunization.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, individuals who have low immunity should receive a "killed" version of the flu vaccine. Some versions of the vaccine contain the live but inactive flu virus.

Myths About the Flu and Immunity

Some people mistakenly think that the flu vaccine gives you the flu. While you might experience mild symptoms such as fever and aches after getting immunized, however, the vaccine does not contain a live version of the virus. Another common misconception? Many believe getting a vaccine weakens your body's ability to fight back against the virus. In fact, 2017 research reported in The Journal of Infectious Diseases looked at blood samples taken before and after flu from both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. They found that people who got the vaccine had stronger antibodies against the flu, especially when they received the vaccine for several consecutive years.

Measures to Improve Immunity

The CDC says that an annual vaccine is the most important thing you can do to shield yourself from the flu. You can also make healthier lifestyle changes to help support your immune system. If anyone in your home has low immunity, all household members should have the killed version of the flu vaccine. The live version of the vaccine can potentially spread the flu to household members, notes the AAAAI. Other important immune-boosting measures include:

  • Getting enough sleep, about eight hours a night for most adults
  • Eating a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Managing stress with breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or another relaxing activity
  • Losing weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Quitting smoking if you use tobacco
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Drinking six to eight 8-oz glasses of water each day, or more if you are very active
  • Limiting dietary sugar, which causes inflammation that negatively impacts the immune system
  • Following infection control measures in your city and state

For an immune-friendly diet, be sure to get your daily doses of vitamin E, found in peanut butter, sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach; antioxidants, found in berries, spinach and carrots; vitamin C, found in broccoli, kiwi and citrus fruits; and vitamin B6, found in green veggies, chicken, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna. If you don't tend to consume these foods, consider taking supplements of these nutrients.

Sleep and Cytokines 

Speaking of sleep, the immune system directly affects the quality of your sleep and vice versa. In other words, problems with your immune system can lead to fatigue, insomnia and other sleep issues. Conversely, when you get enough sleep every night you provide the support your immune system needs to work effectively.

How does this relationship work? Studies have detected increased cytokine production during sleep. These proteins trigger the immune system to produce infection-fighting white blood cells (leukocytes). Researchers have also reported increased T cell activity during sleep. These cells activate a substance called integrin that attacks unhealthy invaders.

Research also supports the creation of "immune memory" during sleep, allowing the body to better find and battle viruses, bacteria and germs. Scientists think that sufficient sleep can improve a vaccine's efficacy by giving the body at least seven hours a night to develop the necessary immune memory.

If you suffer from sleep issues, you could get sick more easily because of a lack of cytokines. Improving sleep hygiene, or your nightly bedtime routine, can help you sleep better and possibly help you stay flu-free this season. Try keeping laptops, tablets and smartphones out of the bed, since the blue light the devices emit can interfere with natural sleep. Go to bed in a dark, cool, quiet room with limited distractions. Be sure to get enough exercise, aiming for at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Limit caffeine, alcohol and large meals in the hours before bedtime. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule even on the weekends. If you experience ongoing insomnia, talk to your doctor. It may result from a health condition or prescription medication.

Despite your best efforts to get enough sleep, eat a nutritious diet with plenty of vitamins and reduce stress as much as possible, you may still catch a cold or the flu. When this occurs, you can seek non-prescription relief from your symptoms and reduce the duration of our illness with Cold-Flu Recovery from Brillia Health. Clinical studies show that our cold-flu medication helps reduce the severity and duration of aches, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, headache, sinus pressure, inflammation and cough by boosting the immune system without harsh chemicals to help your body heal itself, all without harmful side effects.

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