Health Experts Debunk Six Common Myths About Winter Illnesses

When cold and flu season hits, we’ll try just about anything to feel better, from stocking up on chicken soup to stuffing cloves of garlic in our socks. But do these home remedies actually work, or are they just old wives’ tales?

Here, two health experts debunk some of the most common winter ailment myths.

Does stuffing garlic in your socks bring down a fever?

Nutritionist Julie North says the best way to get the benefits from food is to eat it.

“We need the digestive tract; we need the enzymes in your saliva to release all the goodness out of your food. I’m not aware of any evidence that it works, but there’s no harm in trying.”

Dr. Lynn McBain, head of the department of primary health and general practice at the University of Otago, agrees.

“Garlic itself might reduce the risk of getting a cold, but it doesn’t have to be in the socks. People who take garlic tablets or eat garlic regularly might have a slight advantage, but putting it in your socks so it absorbs through your skin is very unhelpful.”

The verdict: You’re better off eating garlic than strapping it to your feet.

Does chicken soup fix a cold?

Dr. Lynn says chicken soup can make people feel better, but so will any soup.

“Having something warm feels good; the steam helps reduce congestion, and it provides nutrition if you’re not eating much with a cold. Some claims suggest particular ingredients in chicken soup are better than others, but that’s marginal. The warmth from soup is good for symptoms.”

North adds that chicken soup won’t fix a cold, but its nutritional value helps.

“It’s a good way to keep your fluids up, nourishing, often with good vegetables and lean meats, but it won’t cure a cold.”

She also mentions bone broth as potentially beneficial due to amino acids and collagen, although more research is needed.

The verdict: You’ll never regret having a bowl of soup.

Can wet hair and bare feet worsen a cold?

Dr. Lynn says there’s some truth to this.

“With wet hair in the cold, you lose a lot of heat through your head, and the same if your feet are cold and wet. This diverts circulation from central parts of your body, overworking your immune system to prevent viruses.”

The verdict: Wet hair and cold feet might lower your immunity but won’t directly cause a cold.

Can tapping your thymus enhance your immunity?

Dr. Lynn is clear: “That’s complete rubbish. Colds get better on their own, so any improvement while tapping your thymus is coincidental. There’s no medical link between thymus tapping and improving your immune system.”

The verdict: Thymus tapping has no effect on immunity.

Is turmeric the key to good health?

North notes that turmeric contains curcumin, which may have anti-inflammatory effects, but we consume it in small amounts.

“It’s hard to get significant benefits just from eating turmeric. Making soup with fresh turmeric and bone broth could be beneficial.”

Dr. Lynn adds that turmeric can soothe a sore throat, similar to honey.

“A turmeric drink might help, providing warmth like chicken soup or honey in a hot drink. Manuka honey, in particular, is soothing.”

The verdict: Turmeric might help symptoms, but its impact is minimal.

Does drinking milk increase phlegm?

Dr. Lynn says no.

“Milk is thicker, so if you have a sore throat, it might feel different and give the sensation of more phlegm, but it’s just the milk’s texture. Milk won’t worsen phlegm production.”

North suggests thinking of milk as food rather than fluid helps understand why it feels thicker.

“Milk provides protein, calcium, and other minerals, feeling more substantial than water. There’s no evidence milk adds to mucus; this is a myth.”

The verdict: Milk doesn’t increase phlegm production.

The bottom line

These winter ailment myths are just that—myths. While they lack scientific backing, they persist because they may work for some people. Our health experts say it doesn’t hurt to try what feels good for you.

“It’s normal to get colds in the winter. As long as people aren’t spending heaps on remedies or overdoing it, there’s no harm,” Dr. Lynn says.

“Sometimes people want to feel they’re doing something to help themselves. The best advice is to eat well and maintain good health, shortening your recovery time if you do fall ill,” North says.

“Eat plenty of vegetables, good dairy, lean meats, essential fats, and eggs. Minerals like copper, iron, selenium, and zinc, along with vitamins like folate, vitamin C, B6, B12, A, and D, will help.”

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