Mom Was Right: Stay Bundled Up to Avoid the Common Cold

Healthnotes Newswire (January 5, 2006)— Becoming chilled may lead to catching a common cold a few days later, according to Family Practice (2005;22:608–13).

The common cold is caused by a viral infection that spreads through person-to-person contact or by touching something that an infected person has handled. Episodes generally last less than one week, and may be accompanied by sneezing, coughing, mild fever, sore throat, muscle aches, and fatigue. Antibiotics cannot be used to treat the cold because they are not effective against viruses. Getting lots of rest, drinking more fluids, and supplementing with vitamin C, zinc lozenges, and echinacea may shorten the duration and severity of the cold.

Cold infections are more frequent in the fall and winter months. This may be due in part to more time spent indoors, facilitating close contact with infected individuals and increasing the chance of spreading the infection. Lower humidity during the winter months also enables cold-causing viruses to live longer and makes the body more susceptible to infection.

It has also been speculated that exposure to cold conditions may cause the common cold, though previous studies have failed to find a cause–effect relationship between becoming chilled and developing common cold symptoms. Some researchers have suggested that a connection may not have been found because not everyone is susceptible to the adverse effects of cold exposure. The new study aimed to test this hypothesis in 180 healthy men and women.

The participants were assigned to either a group that was deliberately chilled or to a control group. The chilled group placed their bare feet in a bowl containing about two gallons of 50°F (10°C) water for 20 minutes. People in the control group placed their feet, with shoes and socks on, in an empty bowl for 20 minutes. The participants were asked if they were suffering from any symptoms of the common cold before and immediately after the procedure. For five days following the procedure, they recorded any cold symptoms in a diary.

Before and immediately following the procedure, there were no differences between the groups with respect to cold symptoms. However, over the next five days, significantly more people in the chilled group suffered from an episode of the cold than did people in the control group (14.4% versus 5.6%). Those people who developed a cold during the study period had also suffered from more frequent cold episodes during the previous year than those who didn’t catch a cold.

The results of this study support the common folklore that becoming chilled can cause a cold. It appears that some people are more likely than others to catch a cold, and that exposure to cold conditions can increase the chance of these people developing a cold.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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