Beyond the flu shot
August 29, 2016 12:51 AM

Whether you got the flu shot or not, your chances of getting sick are about the same. In fact, a new report from researchers of the University of Minnesota suggests that the flu vaccine is not as effective as public health messaging suggests. It is estimated that the flu shot has only a 59 per cent efficacy in the United States. This is much lower than the original 70 to 90 per cent estimated. Furthermore, the B.C. government is temporarily no longer forcing thousands of provincial health workers to get a flu shot before they can work with patients due to the conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of the vaccine.

So what does this mean for us? It means that instead of worrying about whether the flu shot will work this year, let’s focus on strengthening our immune system and building our defenses from within. How does one accomplish this, you may ask? Well, let us look at some causes that will weaken our immune system and what we can do about it.

Lack of Sleep

When we don’t get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, we are actually putting our bodies at risk for invaders. According to research, our circadian rhythm plays a role in the function of warding off bacteria and viruses. Sleep also mitigates our stress response, decreases cancer risk, decreases the risk of heart disease and reduces blood pressure. If you don’t sleep well, you may be at an increased risk for many chronic diseases. Ways to improve your sleep include:

  • Avoid watching TV or using your computer before going to bed. In fact having a television in the bedroom is ill-advised.
  • Sleep in complete darkness. In order for our bodies to know that it is night and to secrete the hormone melatonin, it needs to be dark. Remove all electronics with flashing lights from the bedroom.
  • Sleep in cool temperatures. The temperature in your house at night should ideally be less than 20C which mimics you body’s natural drop in temperature when it is sleeping.
  • Clear your mind by doing a 10 to 20 minute meditation before bed. This will help quiet your mind and prepare you for sleep.


When we are in the flight-or-flight response mode, our bodies feel like they are under attack. This perceived “attack” may be the stress that you feel when you are late for a meeting, worried about your next sales pitch, presenting your product or skills in public or your to-do list with fast approaching deadlines. You may not be in immediate life threatening danger, but your body doesn’t know the difference and it will react in exactly the same way. We start producing our stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. A chronic secretion of these hormones actually depresses our immune system and makes us more vulnerable to illnesses such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, depression and anxiety. Making the time to do regular mindfulness deep breathing exercises can greatly reduce our response to stress.

Impaired digestion

The function of our digestive system is not only to break down our food and to absorb nutrients, but it also contains 70% of our body’s immune system. Having a healthy gut flora and intestinal lining is critical to a healthy immune system. Eating the right foods and taking the right supplements, including a good quality probiotic, are essential for a strong immune and digestive system.

As a naturopathic doctor, I create individualized treatment plans to help strengthen your immune system, decrease your stress response, achieve a restful sleep and heal your gut. Naturopathic training closely parallels medical training with an undergraduate pre-medical degree and a four-year full-time medical program at an accredited school. The treatments and modalities I am trained in are traditional Chinese medicine (acupuncture), botanical medicine, nutrition, homeopathic medicine and lifestyle counselling. I also have additional training in weight loss, pain management and natural aesthetic treatments. With your commitment, your journey to health can begin so that you can do the things you love. Book a free 15 minute consult with me and find out if naturopathic medicine is right for you. Remember that naturopathic medicine is covered by most extended healthcare plans.