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Myth Or Fact? Folklore And Home Remedies Tested

Posted on December 8, 2016 by Henry Ford Health Staff

Winter is a breeding ground for cold, flu and other bugs. When all the sniffling, sore throat, stuffy-head stuff shifts into high gear, Americans tend to fall back on old-school wisdom and home remedies in an attempt to prevent or treat symptoms. Whether your trusted remedy is chicken soup for a cold, honey for a cough, or eating an apple a day to avoid getting sick, wouldn’t you like to know if there’s any merit behind it?

“Some of these tales are grounded in truth, but don’t have the data required for scientific proof,” says Soumya Panchagnula, M.D., family medicine doctor at Henry Ford Health. Others – like the persistent myth that a flu shot can cause flu – are flat-out false. Here, Dr. Panchagnula sorts out fact from fiction for six of the most common health myths about cold and flu season.

  1. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. While not true, fruits and vegetables are good for your health. When researchers pitted two groups of people against each other—those who reported eating an apple a day and those who didn’t—they found no difference in the number of doctor visits. They did, however, notice that apple eaters took fewer medications than those who didn’t get a daily dose of the fruit. The adage likely evolved from a desire to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables—at least three to five servings daily. So while eating an apple a day may not keep the doctor away, increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is good for your health.
  2. Chicken soup cures a cold. Somewhat true. Chicken soup has been shown to reduce inflammation and thin nasal mucus. The hot liquid also helps soothe a sore throat. The reality is, it doesn’t much matter which type of soup you choose. Sipping any warm comforting soup helps soothe coughs, sore throats and inflammation, and provides needed fluids. While there is no cure for the common cold, chicken soup can help alleviate symptoms.
  3. Honey soothes a cough. True! Adding honey to your tea or swallowing a teaspoon when you have a hacking cough has scientific backing. In fact, both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend honey as a cough suppressant, not only because it works, but also because it gives you the greatest bang for your buck. In a study of children with upper respiratory infection, 1.5 teaspoons of honey decreased cough and improved sleep better than over the counter cough syrups. Scientists believe the antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of honey coat the throat, soothing rawness. The catch: You can’t give honey to children less than 1 because it may contain spores of bacteria that can lead to infant botulism. It also should not be taken daily because honey has sugar, so swallowing a teaspoon daily can lead to cavities.
  4. Cold temperatures bring on cold/flu. Mostly false. People tend to get more viral illnesses when the weather turns colder, but not because of the wind chill. In fact, when researchers took a close look at the issue they found that people living in Antarctica were no more likely to suffer from cold and flu than when the same group of people were living in those in warmer climes. Colds and flu are caused by viruses, and when you spend more time indoors, germs spread more readily which may be why we see higher rates of colds in the colder months of the year.
  5. Feed a cold, starve a fever. True for a cold, false for a fever. The reality is, you should feed both. When you’re under the weather, your body needs energy to bolster your immune system and fight off infection. More important than food though, is fluid. When people are very ill in the hospital, doctors’ first response is to give them fluids. If you’re sick, but not hungry, you don’t have to force yourself to eat, but you should always drink plenty of fluids. Water, of course, but also tea, broth or soup. If you struggle with heart failure or kidney problems talk with your doctor about the amount of fluids you should be drinking.
  6. The flu shot causes the flu. Not true. People who get the flu shot may experience redness and soreness at the injection site. They might even suffer from headaches, muscle aches and a low-grade fever. But they won’t contract the flu from the vaccine. In fact, a study found that whether people receive the flu shot or a shot with salt-water solution, they experienced the same post-vaccination symptoms (cough, runny nose and fever). That’s not to say that people who get the vaccine won’t get the flu. Since the typical flu vaccine contains four strains of the virus, depending on what was most prevalent the year before, there’s always the chance you can get infected with a different strain. Nevertheless, a flu shot is still the best way to prevent the spread of the flu.

It’s worth noting that if you believe something is going to work, whether it’s chicken soup or a kiss on a boo-boo, chances are, you’re right. The mind is a powerful healing mechanism. But no matter which folkloric remedy you choose, it’s important to talk with your doctor about which home remedies work and which you should ditch. Some “medical” advice passed down through the generations may even be harmful, particularly when combined with certain medications or chronic conditions.

“Even if your doctor doesn’t have the information you’re requesting, he or she can investigate your concerns and guide you accordingly,” says Dr. Panchagnula.

To find a doctor or make an appointment, visit or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Soumya Panchagnula is a family medicine doctor seeing patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Royal Oak.

Categories : FeelWell

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