Exercise, Supplements Boost Flu Shots

Exercise, Supplements Boost Flu Shots

Oct. 3, 2002 -- Flu shots aren't 100% effective, especially in the elderly. But new research shows there is a way to punch up the immune system's response to a flu vaccine -- exercising and eating right, including nutritional supplements.

Though flu vaccines are 50% to 60% effective at preventing serious illness in the elderly, older adults in poor health are more vulnerable to the flu and its potentially deadly effects.

As people age, immune systems don't function as well, says study leader Wendeline Wouters-Wesseling, MD, of Numico Research B.V. and Wageningen in the Netherlands, in a news release. As a result, the flu vaccination doesn't always provide enough protection.

The researchers studied 19 adults ages 65 and up. Some of the participants took a nutritional supplement, containing nutrients to provide extra calories along with vitamins, minerals, and high levels of antioxidants, for seven months. Others took a placebo.

They found that after receiving a flu shot, those who took the supplement had a much stronger immune response to the vaccine. The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

In an accompanying study, researchers found that older adults who exercised intensely, at least three times a week, were better protected when they got their flu shots.

An less intense exercise program did not offer the same protection. Limited or low-intensity exercise did not affect immune response.

Regular, moderate-to-vigorous exercise, enough to work up a sweat, is the key to having the flu shots work more effectively, says study leader Marian Kohut, PhD, of the department of health and human performance at Iowa State University, in a news release.