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Winter Health Myths

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Winter Health Myths

Dec 23, 2022

Will Vitamin C help you stave off a cold this winter? Can you catch pneumonia from going outside in the cold with wet hair? Does the flu shot make you sick? There are plenty of health myths when the weather turns cold. Russell Vinik, MD, debunks some of the most common winter health myths and shares what the research really says about the cold weather and your health.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: It's winter, you're feeling a cold coming on, should you really reach for those vitamin C tablets? We're going to find out next on The Scope. I'm here with Dr. Russell Vinik, Internal Medicine at University of Utah Health Care.

Myth: Vitamin C Prevents the Common Cold

Dr. Vinik, let's go over some common winter health myths. How about probably the most famous one, you're getting sick, you kind of feel a stuffy nose, should you reach for that Airborne or vitamin C tablets?

Dr. Vinik: You know, I don't think that vitamin C is going to do you any good. We've been studying this for many, many years. There have been some trials that have shown it might reduce the duration of colds, but then there have been so many more trials that have been done which didn't show any benefit. So there is some data that says if you take vitamin C every day, you may reduce your overall cold durations for the year by about 1-2 days. So if it's that important to you, consider taking it every day and then you might see some benefit. But reaching for the vitamin C just when you are starting to feel sniffling, probably not going to do you a lot of good. It may make you feel better in your mind that you've done something for your cold, but not going to do you much good. Not worth driving to the store in the middle of the night to get your vitamin C.

Myth: Most of Our Body Heat Escapes through the Head

Interviewer: Interesting. So how about, here's another one. You lose most of your body heat through your head so if you're going to be skiing or anything, you should wear a hat.

Dr. Vinik: So there was a study in the 1950's that said you lose most of your body heat through your head. Several studies have been done since then which have basically debunked that myth. Clearly, when we are out and about in the cold weather, we have our body covered, just about every part but our head. So your head is exposed than the rest of your body, but it's only about 8% of your body surface area. So clearly, it can help to prevent some heat loss by wearing a hat. Your ears are very prone to get frost bite, so wearing a hat will help covers those and keep those from getting too cold, but you're not going to lose half of your body heat through your head. You will lose some just because it's not as covered as the rest of your body.

Myth: Being in the Cold Gives You a Cold

Interviewer: How about going outside with wet hair? Is that going to make you sick or give you pneumonia or anything like that?

Dr. Vinik: So that's a great thing for grandmothers and mothers to tell their children, but there is really no evidence that going out in the cold will get you a cold. We call it a cold, but that's just the name of it. Colds are caused by viruses, and actually viruses don't necessarily propagate any better in the cold than they do in warm weather? Now why do people tend to colds in the winter? Well, it's typically because we are outdoors less. We are indoors more. We are closer to other people, and that predisposes us to get colds, but you can't get a cold from being out in the cold.

Myth: You Can Get the Flu from the Flu Shot

Interviewer: Have you heard any winter myths that you might want to debunk?

Dr. Vinik: Of course, there's the good one about the flu and the flu shot. That one comes around every year. People tend to think you can get the flu from the flu shot, and that just doesn't happen, so that's not a good reason to avoid getting the flu shot. We've put a lot of news effort into Ebola, and the fact is two people in this country have died from Ebola. You have about 10,000 people die a year from the flu. So think about yourself and get a flu shot unless you have an egg allergy.

updated: December 23, 2022
originally published: January 21, 2015