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The Truth Behind Mom's Cold and Flu Advice

Experts separate myth from fact in 10 common cold tips.

3. "Feed a cold, starve a fever."

Scant research has been done on this familiar advice. A small study published in 2002 suggests that eating may influence short-term immune function, but whether this has any effect on the course of a cold is unknown.

Hendley, for one, is unconvinced. "This is a faintly titillating study," he says. "But it provides no support for the 'feed a cold' idea. I grew up hearing this advice, but I just don't believe it's true."

Schaffner recommends "listening to your body": If you feel hungry, he says eat something simple, like soup, applesauce, or toast.

4. "Bundle up, or you'll catch your death of cold."

Mom was way off base here. There's no evidence that low temperatures or damp conditions make you more vulnerable to colds.

Colds are more common in colder seasons, but scientists now believe this is due in part because low temperatures and low humidity facilitate the transmission of virus-laden microscopic moisture droplets from person to person, says Schaffner. So while a warm coat and galoshes may make you comfy in inclement weather, they won't protect you from colds.

5. "Don't go outside with wet hair."

Another pointless piece of advice. Well, maybe not entirely pointless, as a clammy coif could freeze in winter. But venturing outside with damp hair won't make you more vulnerable to colds. Then again, if your hair looks really scary, it might help guard against colds by encouraging other people to give you a wide berth.

6. "Are you sure you're getting enough sleep?"

Studies show that adequate bed rest boosts immune function and reduces the risk of catching a cold. One study, conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, shows that people who sleep less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to catch a cold than people who sleep at least eight hours a night.

And it's common knowledge that extra sleep helps cold sufferers feel better. "Colds make you weary, and it's important to listen to your body," says Schaffner.

7. "Drink lots of fluids."

As long as she didn't mean mai tais, mom was on target with this advice. "It's terribly important to stay hydrated," Schaffner says, adding that what you drink is less important. Water and fruit juice are great, he says; despite their diuretic effect of caffeine, so are tea and coffee. 

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