Sometimes science presents novel approaches to healing, and sometimes the opposite happens. When it comes to flu prevention, science has been confirming the wisdom of the past while revealing the shortcomings of modern approaches.

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This ancient wisdom is being confirmed by science as researchers continue to discover the complexities of the interactions between the food we eat, our gut biomes, our immune systems, neurological health, and even genetic expression.

About 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut. The majority of immune and plasma cells are located there, and the health of those cells is determined by the diversity of microbiota (gut bacteria). When a flu virus is encountered, the innate immune system kicks in with an immediate response to rally the troops, and this gets the adaptive response activated. The beauty of this natural immune response is that it’s very comprehensive. A strong immune system can resist, or successfully fight and overcome, just about any strain of influenza that comes along. To resist and fight the flu, you need to feed your immune system properly.

Diet fads come and go, but some basics remain constant. Fresh, whole, unprocessed, naturally grown and raised, fermented and cultured foods, are the building blocks of healthy cells as well as the preferred foods of your beneficial gut bacteria. These foods also contain the building blocks for glutathione, an antioxidant critical to the immune system.

Most diet guidelines favor foods that alkalize the body, like whole fruits and vegetables, and limit acidifying foods, like meat, coffee, and simple sugars. Illness is often associated with acidosis, which negatively impacts immune response. For the average healthy person, consuming too many acidifying foods can lessen resistance to disease, but this can quickly be reversed by reducing or eliminating those foods. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is the most alkalizing edible, which is why it’s a proven remedy for heartburn and acid indigestion when dissolved in water. While no studies have been done to show the effectiveness of treating influenza with baking soda, it’s a folk remedy that has biological plausibility, and many claim it halts or minimizes flu symptoms.

A robust gut biome is essential even if you opt for the flu vaccine. Your immune system must properly respond to the injected antigen and other vaccine components, and an impaired immune system is associated with increased risk of adverse vaccine reaction. Even in the best conditions, the flu vaccine has not proved to be highly effective. According to the CDC, efficacy rates range over the past decade between 10 and 60 percent. The 2015-16 vaccine was estimated at 47 percent.

For decades, researchers have been pondering the findings that those who get the shot each year tend to experience more cases of flu than those who only occasionally get the shot. One study showed an interval of five or more years between vaccinations was needed to maintain limited efficacy, but it’s not yet understood why this happens. One theory is that antibodies generated from the previous season’s vaccine hamper the response to the current one. With the influenza vaccine being the most reported to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System), individuals must weigh the potential benefits against the known risks. Of recent note, cancer immunotherapy researchers announced in the ACS Medical Chemistry Letters their discovery that thimerosal, the mercury preservative used in the multidose flu vaccine, interrupts a key gene called ERAP1, which is linked to many health issues, including autoimmune diseases. It’s not yet known how this discovery will impact vaccines. If you do opt for the shot, ask for thimerosal-free.

If the flu bug should bite, it’s universally recommended you support your immune system by following protocols that have stood the test of time: rest and hydrate. Fever kicks the immune system into high gear, raising the numbers of flu specific immune cells, so unless it gets too high (consult your doctor for safe temps), doctors advise against suppressing your fever with medication. The University of Maryland Medical Center website lists alternative fever therapies including specific herbs and homeopathy, and the “wet socks treatment.” This odd home remedy has surprising medical benefit. UMMC states, “As you sleep, your body will send blood and lymphatic fluid circulating in order to fight off the wetness on your feet. This stimulates the immune system and puts the body in a parasympathetic state that supports healing and restful sleep.”

(Note: For this 2016-17 season, CDC says the nasal spray vaccine (FluMist) should not be used because the data revealed no measureable protective benefit.)

The health information in this article is provided by the columnist as an information resource only. Please consult your health care provider before making any healthcare decisions.

Bernadette Pajer is a freelance health writer, novelist, citizen journalist, and co-President of InformedChoiceWA