You know summer is just about over when you start hearing those flu shot commercials.

But there are safer, easier and more effective ways to lower your risk for pneumonia--and a new study shows how your own winter health plan should start with the last letter of the alphabet.

In this case, Z is for zinc--which has already helped millions of people beat everything from the flu to the common cold. And now, researchers say seniors with low blood levels of this essential mineral have a higher risk of pneumonia.

Researchers tracked 600 elderly residents from 33 nursing homes in the Boston area, and found that those with normal zinc levels not only had a lower risk of coming down with the condition, but shorter durations when they did suffer from it.

These zinc-happy seniors also needed fewer antibiotic prescriptions and were able to use the med over a shorter period of time when they did need it.

Even more importantly, the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that those with lower zinc levels were more likely to die.

And while we're examining letters of the alphabet here, you might also want to take a second look at E--because the researchers say seniors who consumed just 200 IU of vitamin E a day were 20 percent less likely to suffer from upper respiratory infections such as colds than those who were given a placebo.

This is great news, because zinc and vitamin E are among the least expensive and most widely available supplements around. And while you're out shopping for immune-building nutrients, make sure you stock up on omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins C and D.

Remember, a strong immune system will top vaccinations every time.

One recent review of the research found that the pneumonia vaccine is practically useless among seniors, who also happen to be the patients most likely to get that shot. In fact, once they narrowed their review down to only high- quality studies, researchers say they found "no significant benefit" for the vaccine, according to the study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Next time your doctor asks you about a pneumonia vaccine, ask him to explain that instead.

It might be a very short conversation.