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The Flu Shot Benefit You Haven't Heard Of

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Here's one more reason to roll up your sleeve for the flu shot, if you haven't already: The influenza vaccine may help prevent heart attacks, according to a new study published in the journal Vaccine.

Previous research has shown that the risk of having a heart attack is slashed by 50 percent in the year following a flu shot, but experts didn't know why. Now, scientists have a theory: The flu vaccine works by stimulating the immune system to produce helpful antibodies. The new study found that these antibodies trigger a specific protein called BKB2R. This protein helps protect the heart by increasing production of nitric oxide, a chemical that increases blood flow.

"BKB2R plays a very important role in maintaining a healthy vascular system," says Veljko Veljkovic, PhD, author of the study. All vaccines for the 2014 flu season offer this benefit, he adds.

And remember: Getting your flu shot each year is only one component of staying healthy during flu season. Strengthen your body's defenses by making sure you get enough sleep, keep hydrated, and stay active. Here are more ways to protect yourself from the flu this year.

Related: The Heart Disease Prevention Guide for Your 20s, 30s, and 40s