This is the year I might finally get a flu shot.
My longtime readers might be shocked to hear me say this. For years, I've argued that flu shots were unsafe and unnecessary. I never got one because I was always in great health and I have a robust immune system.
But lately I've started to rethink my position. And you should, too...
Each year, the flu kills about 23,000 Americans, on average. One of the reasons influenza is so deadly is because it's able to evolve quickly and easily. Over the course of one flu season, the stronger strains of the virus last longer. In fact, any versions of the virus that contain mutations can slip past antibodies and survive longer. That helps the virus evolve into stronger strains that can better infect and spread to different hosts.
That's why we need new vaccines each year.
When you get a vaccine, you get an injection of a weakened or dead version of the virus. The vaccine teaches your body's immune system to recognize the virus and form antibodies. Specialized immune cells, called B cells, create antibodies. Antibodies are proteins specifically formed to attach to the proteins of a virus or bacteria.
When we introduce some of those viral proteins in a vaccine, our B cells make those antibodies. Then if we catch that same type of flu later, our antibodies recognize it quickly, helping to either prevent the infection or fight it off quickly with little damage to healthy tissue. That's how we build immunity.
Every year, scientists gather all the known data from folks who had the flu the previous season. They try to predict which strains are likely to show up in the next flu season.
Sometimes the virus changes quickly after scientists formulate that year's vaccine. This is why the flu shot is only about 60% effective in healthy adults.
Still, it lowers the risk of contracting the flu as well as dying from any complications of the flu. Older folks especially benefit... That's because once we hit 50, our immune systems start to weaken. Infections can take longer to fight off, or can even kill us. Around 80% of deaths from influenza each year are folks 65 and older.
For many years, I had safety concerns about flu shots and felt that healthy adults with hearty immune systems didn't need to take the risk. I had plenty of company... Last year, fewer than 50% of Americans chose to get the vaccine. Here's what led me to believe more of us should opt for it...
It turns out, the flu vaccine lowers your chance of suffering a heart attack. And it prevents future heart attacks.
Coming down with the flu stresses your immune system. When you're fighting off the virus, inflammation increases, particularly in your blood vessels.
More and more studies show that increases in inflammation lead to blockages... which ultimately leads to heart attacks or strokes.
What's more, the flu causes your blood vessels to leak fluid, which builds up in your lungs. That fluid may start to grow bacteria, causing deadly infections. It also means you're getting less oxygen into your blood. That in turn puts a strain on your heart.
But this recent research saw that when your body creates antibodies to the flu vaccine, those antibodies flip on a receptor in our heart. It's called the bradykinin 2 receptor. The protein it works with, bradykinin, is an inflammatory marker. So triggering this receptor reduces inflammation and seemingly protects heart tissue.
Researchers are now studying different types of flu vaccines to develop a possible heart-disease vaccine. This is really exciting. Regular readers and friends know I've long thought that most diseases we face are infectious.
Remember, infections lead to chronic inflammation, which damages our body's systems. I've long believed that damage leads to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, strokes, and many more illnesses. Stemming widespread inflammation is key to getting these diseases in check.
Heart protection was enough to sway me, but what about the other arguments... including those so-called "dangerous" side effects? To read more about these, log on to the Retirement Millionaire website and read our latest issue here. If you're not a subscriber yet, get started today. Each month you'll receive recommendations for growing your wealth and preserving your health. Click here to learn more.
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What We're Reading...
- More on the flu and heart health connection.
- Something different: Would you eat turkey-flavored ice cream?
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
November 2, 2017