Avoiding – and Shaking – Those Nasty Winter Bugs
It happens every year, as the cold weather sets in. The latest “bug” starts making the rounds. Kids bring it home from school. Sick coworkers bring it to work and pass it around, too. However you come down with these bugs, they’re a nuisance.
One reason these bugs are so hard to avoid is that myths about them are so common. Today, we’ll look at a couple of these common myths. You’ll also discover ways to cut your risk of catching a bug… and to suffer less if you do catch one.
Myth #1 – 90% of your body heat is lost through the head… so cover up to avoid a cold.
This myth appears to have started with a military experiment in the 1950’s. Men bundled up in Artic gear – but with uncovered heads – lost the most body heat from their heads.
You’re probably laughing right now… but even in the 1970’s, an Army survival manual still claimed that 40% – 45% of your body heat is lost through the head.
But, as British researchers reported in 2008, you don’t lose any more heat from your head then you would from any other exposed skin.1 But wearing a hat will at least make you more comfortable in cold weather.
Besides, you don’t come down with a bug because of the cold – at least not directly. But cold dry air tends to dry out your mucous membranes – such as those in your nose. Tiny cracks can form, allowing bugs to infect your body.
So wearing a hat won’t hold off the bugs… but staying well hydrated can help. Drinking plenty of liquids can make up for the lack of moisture in the air.
Myth #2 – If you go out in the cold with wet hair, you’ll come down with a bug.
A Massachusetts health survey found that 41% of parents believe that going out with wet hair increases your risk of a winter bug.2 but, like wearing a hat, it’s really more a matter of comfort than of health.
What will increase your risk of catching a bug is an infected person coughing or sneezing on you. Or touching an object or skin that harbors these bugs.
Your most effective defense is washing your hands frequently. In fact, an Australian study found that good old soap and water is even more effective in holding off bugs than those fancy hand sanitizers.3
So wash your hands regularly when a bug is going around. Especially after touching items that infected people may have touched – such as telephones, door knobs and other easily infected surfaces.
To keep from getting “bitten” altogether, nothing beats a good night’s sleep. Just last year, researchers discovered that people who don’t get enough good sleep at more than 5 times more likely to come down with a bug than those who do.4
Myth #3 – Feed a cold and starve a fever.
Although many people swear by this old advice, it isn’t reliable. In fact, some folks grew up with the opposite version of this saying – and still swear by it. Even many doctors aren’t sure whether the original version has you starving a cold or a fever.5
Feeding a winter bug is a good idea. But don’t just feed it anything. If you come down with a bug, feeding it these supplements may help:
· Zinc – If you start taking zinc within 24 hours of your first sneezes and sniffles, you may suffer less – and for a shorter time. Researchers in Ohio looked at nearly 25 years of studies and found a solid case for zinc.6
· Echinacea – This herb is controversial, but several trials say it works. A Swiss review of clinical trials says that the best-controlled studies show Echinacea can help.7
· Vitamin C – Vitamin C has taken a beating from the medical establishment lately. But there are problems with the reviews that discount vitamin C’s effectiveness.8 and a Finnish review found that 21 separate studies show vitamin C cuts the discomfort caused by winter bugs by an average of 23%.9
Finally, researchers at the Nebraska Medical Center discovered that chicken soup may actually work. They found that chicken soup contains several substances that can ease the discomfort of winter bugs.10
To avoid winter bugs, your best options are pretty simple. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and wash your hands regularly. If you still wind up with a bug, try one or more of the above supplements… and don’t forget the chicken soup.
Dr. Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
Best Life Herbals
1 Vreeman RC and Carroll AE. Festive medical myths. BMJ 2008; 337:a2769.
2 Lee GM, et al. Misconceptions About Colds and Predictors of Health Service Utilization. Pediatrics Vol. 111 No. 2 February 2003, pp. 231-236
3 Grayson ML, et al. Efficacy of soap and water and alcohol-based hand-rub preparations against live H1N1 influenza virus on the hands of human volunteers. Clin Infect Dis. 2009 Feb 1;48(3):285-91.
4 Cohen S, et al. Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 169 No. 1, January 12, 2009.
5 See http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/07/health/healthy_living/main2444154.shtml.
6 Hulisz D. Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: an overview. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2004 Sep-Oct;44(5):594-603.
7 Schoop R, et al. Echinacea in the prevention of induced rhinovirus colds: a meta-analysis. Clin Ther. 2006 Feb;28(2):174-83.
8 Hemilä H and Herman ZS. Vitamin C and the common cold: a retrospective analysis of Chalmers’ review. J Am Coll Nutr. 1995 Apr;14(2):116-23.
9 Hemilä H. Does vitamin C alleviate the symptoms of the common cold? — A review of current evidence. Scand J Infect Dis. 1994;26(1):1-6.
10 Rennard BO, et al. Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro. CHEST October 2000 vol. 118 no. 4 1150-1157