Cold and Flu Old Wives' Tales, Debunked

The truth about how to prevent and recover from winter illness.

ByABC News
November 4, 2011, 4:29 PM

Nov. 6, 2011— -- Was Mom's Stay-Well Advice Right?

Don't go out with wet hair. Rest. Cover your mouth when you cough.

This "feel-better, don't spread colds" advice was recently put to the scientific test. The verdict: Most of our moms' classic tips won't keep us safe from colds and flu, says Rachel Vreeman, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and the author of the myth-busting book Don't Swallow Your Gum. But Mom did get a couple of things right. Here, experts set the record straight on which motherly advice is worth taking.

Best and worst natural cold and flu remedies

Tale: You'll get sick if you go out in the cold with wet hair.

The truth: Exposure to viruses—not skipping the blow-dryer—causes cold and flu.

"Scientists have studied this really well," says Vreeman. "They've put cold viruses in the noses of two groups of people. One group was then exposed to cold/wet conditions, and people who were chilled were no more likely to get sick than those who weren't." Being outside can make your nose run (cold weather dilates blood vessels), but it doesn't make you more susceptible to viruses.

Tale: Feed a cold, starve a fever.

The truth: This is half right.

When you're congested, nutritious food will fortify your immune system. But when you're feverish, your metabolism is revved up and you need more energy—not fewer calories—to fight off infection. Bottom line: Stay hydrated and eat well, no matter what your symptoms.

Tale: Avoid dairy when you have a cold.

The truth: There's no medical basis to skip dairy when you're sick.

Many people, including some pediatricians, believe that dairy products increase mucus production. However, research shows this may be a placebo effect. In one study, people who knew they were drinking cow's milk reported more nasal symptoms than those who had soy milk—but people who didn't know which milk they were drinking reported the same (minimal) effects.


More from Prevention: