Jan 21, 2015

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.

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Interviewer: I'm here with Dr. Russell Vinik, Internal Medicine at University of Utah Health Care. 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.

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.

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.

Interviewer: I see. I've heard a rumor that poinsettias can make children or pets sick if they eat them.

Dr. Vinik: So that's one I've never heard of before. I did a little research and the reality is there are some plants that are not meant to be eaten by humans or animals. I remember having a dog that would vomit every time she ate grass. Is it going to make you terribly sick? No. But poinsettias are not human consumable foods. There is no nutritional value to humans. Is it going to make you very ill? No. If you, or your child or your animal were to eat many poinsettias, they could get diarrhea or even vomit, but it's not going to poison you.

Interviewer: Here's a common one also. Alcohol makes you warm, so drinking alcohol will keep you warm all night.

Dr. Vinik: Yeah, that's a great one. So alcohol, what it does do, it causes parts of your body to dilate, so you feel warm because you've get more blood rushing to your skin, and you feel a little bit warmer. But that extra blood going to your skin is actually making it more likely to get cold. Instead of staying in the central areas, it goes outside. It actually makes you colder. You might feel a little bit warmer, but you're actually losing more heat by drinking alcohol. So not a good way to warm up.

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 even this year, we've talked a lot about the flu shot. It may not be as effective as it has been in previous years, but it is still probably about 50% effective, 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.

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