Preparing to Be Vaccinated: An Integrative Approach
March 23, 2021
Last updated March 30, 2021.
If you’re planning to be vaccinated against COVID-19, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to optimize your vaccination response. The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) has developed a Pre-Vaccination Protocol with actions you can do by yourself as well as with your doctor that may improve your immune response to vaccination. Simply waiting to get the vaccine versus taking steps to optimize your response is similar to the difference between “watchful waiting” versus “active surveillance” of early stage cancer. Some people are comfortable with the former, while others want to use evidence-based complementary approaches to improve their health and increase their chances of preventing problems. If you consider yourself one of the latter, then the IFM protocol may appeal to you.
According to IFM, “The functional medicine approach, focusing on lifestyle and personalized nutrition, provides support both to those considered good candidates for the vaccine by the CDC (especially those who may have to wait for the vaccine) and those who are considered poor candidates. This approach strengthens the immune system, addresses complex chronic diseases that confer increased risk, decreases the potential severity of SARS CoV-2 infection, and improves overall health.”1
The aim of the protocol is to pre-emptively improve immune function, reduce inflammation and optimize lifestyle factors, thereby helping to improve the effectiveness and decrease the side effects of vaccination. Many factors, such as your health conditions, gender, age, emotional/mental state, genetics, epigenetics and methylationa status can affect your response to vaccination.
Protocol Webinar: Main Points
This approach strengthens the immune system, addresses complex chronic diseases that confer increased risk, decreases the potential severity of SARS CoV-2 infection, and improves overall health.
In February, I attended a COVID vaccination webinar by the IFM presenting the current evidence in a thoughtful, balanced manner. Some key points I took away:2
Optimize Your Nutrition and Microbiome
- Support healthy methylation by eating plenty of leafy greens and, if needed, supplement with methylated folate (5-methylfolate).
- Improve digestion and optimize your microbiome3 by consuming helpful fiber such as from cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale and their relatives) and beans (kidney beans, black beans and so on).
- Undernutrition hampers a healthy immune response and also needs attention.
- See Eating Well as well as IFM nutrition resources listed below for strategies and information about improving your nutrition.
Optimize Your Body Terrain
- Optimize your existing conditions, which may improve your response to the vaccine. For example, if you have diabetes, improving blood sugar control; if you have an autoimmune condition, addressing flares and lowering inflammation.
- Reduce inflammation, including systemic inflammation caused by some autoimmune disorders. Getting vaccinated is not a good idea if your autoimmune condition is flaring.
- If there’s time to prepare, address hormone balance. Interestingly, according to the presenter, testosterone replacement treatment in men may decrease vaccine responsiveness, while estrogen replacement therapy in women may increase responsiveness.4
- Get a good night’s sleep, especially for the two to three days before the vaccine, which can go a long way toward optimizing the immune system and promoting a healthy stress response. See Sleeping Well for strategies and therapies to promote better sleep.
- Physical fitness can improve response and reduce adverse reactions to vaccination in older people.5 See Moving More for strategies and information about increasing your physical activity.
Optimize Your Psychospiritual Terrain
- Mental, emotional and spiritual imbalances such as depression, other feelings of emotional distress and low self esteem all suppress your immune system and deserve attention according to this proactive protocol.
- Loneliness affects your response to vaccination.6 See Sharing Love and Support for suggestions on building your support community.
- Acute stress, such as that experienced by caregivers of people with dementia, seems to reduce responsiveness to vaccination.7 See Managing Stress for ways to address stress.
The areas of focus in the Pre-Vaccination Protocol depend on whether or not the vaccine is imminent or you have more time to prepare. You might notice that many of these measures are similar to the integrative approaches to reduce your risk of getting COVID and improve your resilience in recovering if you do get COVID. See COVID-19: Prevention and Reducing Risk.
If vaccine is imminent within days:
- Avoid acute stressors if possible.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Avoid anti-inflammatory agents such as steroids and NSAIDs including Motrin or Advil two days before and after vaccination (you would also do the same if you have weeks or months to prepare for vaccination).
- If you have an active infection, postpone your vaccination.
If vaccination is weeks to months away:
See the Pandemic Pre-Vaccination Protocol for specific guidance on each of these points.
- Enhance your immune function.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Stop smoking or using tobacco.
- Optimize your body weight.
- Manage chronic stress, such as with mind/body therapies.
- Improve your physical fitness.
- Optimize your microbiome, such as by increasing your dietary fiber.
- Address autoimmunity.
- Address hormone imbalances.
Note that certain foods and stress are two major contributors to inflammation. Beyond what we provide on this site to help you eat well, manage stress, improve sleep and improve your body terrain, you'll find specific help with what you can do to reduce inflammation and enhance immunity in the More Information section below.
You can see the entire Pandemic Pre-Vaccination Protocol, including recommended lifestyle practices and nutritional supplements to address co-existing illness, improve physiological function and support immune function.
The IFM pre-vaccination protocol is a guide that might fit with your wish to take an integrative approach to your health during this pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, we at BCCT have emphasized that integrating complementary therapies and healing practices with public health measures, conventional treatments and—just recently—vaccination, may increase your chances of having a better outcome. The IFM pre-vaccination protocol is one such guide that might fit with your wish to take an integrative approach to your health during this pandemic.
General resources on improving resilience, enhancing immunity, decreasing inflammation during the pandemic
- The Institute for Functional Medicine:
- Cynthia Li, MD:
- Natura Institute: Resilience and Covid-19 Integrative Medicine Recommendations
- Dr. Wayne Jonas: Resources to Support a Healthy Immune System Right Now
- Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine: Practical Resources for Integrative Approaches to COVID-19
- BCCT: COVID-19: Prevention and Reducing Risk
Additional resources for managing stress:
- Wisdom Healing Qigong (for mental/emotional stress): Master Mingtong Gu Call
a. “A chemical reaction in which a small molecule called a methyl group is added to other molecules. Methylation of proteins or nucleic acids may affect how they act in the body.”8 “When methylation is going well, the process helps repair your DNA, regulates hormones, produces energy, protects against cancer, supports detoxification, keeps your immune system healthy, supports the protective coating along your nerves, strengthens the nervous system” and so on.9