This article is from the January 2019 Issue of Forever Young

fyng 2019 january feature

There are endless winter health myths that we have heard from well-intentioned grandparents and parents. They have become so ingrained in us that we take them as cold hard facts. Of course, everyone wants to stay as healthy as possible during the frosty months. In order to do so sensibly, internist and gastroenterologist Dr. Niket Sonpal offers the following myth-busting advice.

Myth: Allergies go away in the winter

Allergies might be the real source behind your stuffy nose and scratchy throat. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, one in five people suffer from indoor/outdoor allergies, and the indoor variety can actually be worse in the winter. Dr. Sonpal cautions that, “If your symptoms last longer than 10 days or ease up after taking an antihistamine, it might be time to visit an allergist.”

Myth: I wash my hands all the time with hand sanitizer, so I should be fine

Hand sanitizer will kill most viruses, but not all. You must make sure you use the right amount of hand sanitizer and let it dry completely. Dr. Sonpal points out that, “Some viruses, like norovirus, which causes vomiting, is not killed by hand sanitizer. Soap and water are best to get rid of all bacteria and viruses, but the hand sanitizer is better than nothing at all.”

Myth: It’s cold out, I don’t need sunscreen

The sun’s rays are just as strong in the winter months as they are in the other seasons. Snow and ice can reflect even more sunlight, up to twice as much. Grab the SPF 30 and put it on, regardless of the temperature. Don’t forget those sunglasses to keep your eyes safe as well.

 

Myth: I’ll just drink some alcohol to keep myself warm

Although it may feel like drinking alcohol is making you warmer, it does not. Dr. Sonpal says that, “when you drink, the blood vessels dilate or get bigger, and blood flows to your skin and away from your internal organs. So, it may feel like you are getting warmer, but you are not.”

Myth: Winter weather makes you store fat and gain weight

Our bodies do stockpile every ounce of fat to use for the lean times. It seems logical, like a throwback to our days living in caves foraging for food, but in reality, weight gain comes from our winter habits. Dr. Sonpal points out that, “we tend to exercise less in winter. We eat more hearty meals and comfort foods, including more sugary snacks and desserts (especially around the holidays).”

Myth: You lose most heat through your head

The saying goes “we lose 90 per cent of our body heat through our heads.” But a 2006 study found that the head accounts for about 7 per cent of the body’s surface area, and that heat loss in the region is fairly proportional, according to LiveScience. “Your head is another extremity, and it’s susceptible to cold, so you should wear a hat, but it doesn’t lose any more heat than another part of your body,” says Dr. Sonpal.

Myth: Chicken soup will cure colds

Many cultures teach us to drink warm liquids like tea, hot apple cider, and soups when we’re dealing with colds. It’s true that something like chicken soup may help soothe and ease congestion, but much like vitamin C, hot soup won’t do immediate wonders.

Myth: Being cold gives you a cold

No matter what your grandma might have told you, spending too much time in the cold air doesn’t make you sick. One study found that healthy men who spent several hours in temperatures just above freezing had an increase in healthy, virus-fighting activity in their immune systems. In fact, you’re more likely to get sick indoors, where germs are easily passed.