As we’re knee deep in cold and flu season, it’s good to know that not all of what we think we know about staving off winter illnesses is right. Some are almost right, some make an awful lot of sense. Others are just plain wrong, like the old “starve a cold, feed a fever” trope.
You should be eating in either case, experts say, but fevers do bring an increase in your metabolism and you burn more calories. So, it’s still a good idea to feed that fever to deal with the increase demand.
See if you know which of these 7 other winter health “hits” are facts and which ones are myths:
1. Go outside with wet hair and you’re going to catch a cold!
Myth: Colds are caused by viruses, not the falling mercury or a wet head. In fact, studies have shown that cells that fight infection actually increase when you are cold. Also, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, cold viruses thrive at warmer temperatures. Cold temps actually hinder them. Most winter colds can be chalked up to the fact that we’re huddled with more people indoors, the institute reports, making a target-rich environment for transmission of viruses.
2. Drinking alcohol to warm up is a mistake.
Fact: Sure, that shot of whiskey or rum punch will make you seem warm, but it’s not really warming you up. That warming sensation comes from blood rushing away from internal organs. Instead, it’s rushing more to your skin, where body heat is more easily dissipated. Also, alcohol has been shown to impair your body’s natural reactions to cold, like shivering, that creates more body heat.
3. You lose most of your body heat through the top of your head.
Myth: Wrong, say many studies, including some from the U.S. Army dating as far back as the 1950’s. Instead, if you go out into the cold without gloves, you lose more heat from your hands than an uncovered head, according to the Army study.
4. Vitamin C prevents colds.
Myth (sort of): Not really. While the recommended daily dose of C “” which is about 75 mg “” will help you have a healthy immune system, the vitamin has been shown to have little direct effect in staving off colds. Studies have suggested, though, that once you have a cold, Vitamin C can help shorten the illness’ span.
5. You need sunscreen more during extended periods outdoors in the winter than in summer.
Fact: Absolutely true, according to the American Cancer Foundation. Because snow and ice reflect harmful ultraviolet rays back up, you’re getting hit with them twice “” once on their way to the ground then again after they bounce. If you’re skiing, you’re also more likely to be at higher altitudes where UV effects are even greater.
6. Nothing warms you up like a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Myth: Sure, if you park right in front of the fire. Move away and you’ll likely be colder. The reason: Heat escapes up the chimney and poorly placed thermostats. Fireplaces actually expel warm air out of heated homes, and if your thermostat is close to the fire it may be telling your furnace that the rest of the house is already warm enough. The solution: fireplace doors that, when closed, still radiate heat into your home from the fire but keep already warm air from being sucked away.
7. If you have a runny nose, blowing it is good for you.
Myth: Rather than expelling cold-infected mucus, the pressure from blowing your nose may do more harm than good. According to the National Health Institute, it can force infected tissues back into your sinus cavity, which can lead to more problems. Their advice: Wipe your nose only, and fight a runny nose with an antihistamine.
And remember: Hand sanitizer is your friend!