Flu shot prep: why de-stressing before influenza vaccine can increase its effectiveness
A recent study suggests being in a good mood before your flu jab can boost the vaccine’s effectiveness, with reducing stress – which produces hormones that can suppress the immune system – among methods to maintain a positive state
Can being in a good mood boost the effectiveness of your flu shot?
The short answer: Yes
The facts: As Hong Kong gears up for the start of the dreaded flu season, you might be considering getting the flu vaccine. It is not such a bad idea if you want to protect yourself from the virus.
Flu vaccine supply is effective, Hong Kong health officials insist, as they urge public to get shots
According to Dr Tony Wong, a general practitioner at The London Medical Clinic in Central, the flu vaccine works by injecting small amounts of inactivated viral particles into the body, stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies. These antibodies persist, allowing the body to fight the influenza virus if it comes into contact with it in the future.
“Most yearly flu vaccines now protect against two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B,” Wong says. “The vaccine is available from the time of its release, around September or October, until June the following year. The sooner you’re immunised the sooner you’ll be protected, but you should delay getting the flu vaccine if you are feeling unwell and have a fever.”
Although anyone can get the flu vaccine, Wong recommends certain groups in particular should be immunised: children aged between six months and five years, pregnant women, people over 65 years old, people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma, high-risk groups such as health care professionals and teachers, and frequent fliers. You should not get the flu vaccine if you have a severe egg allergy or have had an allergic reaction to a previous flu jab, he adds.
The flu vaccine relies on a healthy, functioning immune system to create more antibodies after the inoculation. To ensure a healthy immune system, we are often told to get enough sleep, reduce our stress levels, eat a nutritious diet and get regular physical activity.
But a recent study out of the University of Nottingham in the UK takes this idea one step further by claiming that being in a good mood before your flu jab can also boost the vaccine’s effectiveness.
The study, published in September in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, assessed participants’ mood, physical activity, diet and sleep habits. After six weeks’ observation, the research team found that, of all of the factors measured, only positive mood predicted how well the vaccine worked – with good mood associated with higher levels of antibody.
Professor Kavita Vedhara, from the university’s division of primary care and one of the study’s authors, believes a person’s mood can affect or influence their immune system in two ways.
“In general, people who are more positive may have healthier lifestyles, which could lead to a more robust immune system,” she explains. “Second, we know that being in a good mood releases specific hormones that ‘communicate’ with the immune system and so are able to influence how well it works.”
Vedhara adds that the study results suggest that if a person improves their mood on the day they are vaccinated, they could well increase the effectiveness of the jab – and the likelihood that the vaccine will protect them from the virus.
While the University of Nottingham study sounds promising, Vedhara says that we don’t quite know yet what works best when it comes to improving one’s mood. But, she offers, “it might help to either avoid things that make you feel negative, or do things that make you feel good, like listening to upbeat music, watching your favourite movie, cuddling your grandkids, and so on.”
Wong’s top tip for boosting your immune system is to avoid prolonged stress.
“When you’re under stress, your body produces a lot of cortisol,” he says. “This stress hormone can suppress important cells in the immune system called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes attack viruses and bacteria by producing antibodies. The same cells are required to produce antibodies after the flu jab. So a good mood might lower your cortisol levels, seemingly boosting your immune system.”