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The truth behind mum's cold advice

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

'Wrap up warm and have a hot toddy'. Is there any truth in the words of wisdom your mum gives about colds? Are her homespun remedies spurious, or do they have a grain of science behind them? And what about preventing a cold in the first place - should you take her words as facts or with a big pinch of salt?

We've asked the UK's leading expert Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University.

You'll catch your death of cold

So your mum tells you not to go out in the cold without wrapping up warm or else you'll catch a cold. Colds are caused by viruses not by the temperature outside, so catching a cold from going out in the cold is a myth. However, there's a little more to it.

One theory is that our noses are colder in winter which lowers resistance to infection. A study at the Common Cold Centre took 90 students and chilled their feet in cold water for 20 minutes. They had twice as many colds over the next 5 days as a control group of 90 students whose feet weren't chilled.

Researchers suggested that some people carry the cold virus without showing symptoms, and getting chilled may cause blood vessels in the nose to constrict which lowers defences in the nose and allows the virus to replicate and cause cold symptoms.

Professor Eccles says: "Exposure to the cold can increase your risk of getting cold symptoms, it's the last insult and weakens your defences but only if you have a virus present anyway."

So getting cold won't give you the cold virus but might make a latent virus that’s already in your nose more likely to develop into a cold. So half a point to mum.

Soup will make it better

Soup is often mum's answer to a whole range of health issues! Will it make your cold better or at least ease your symptoms? Chicken soup in particular is a pretty popular remedy.

A study by the University of Nebraska found that chicken and vegetable soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity, including an anti-inflammatory mechanism that could ease symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

"Chicken soup will make you feel better but so will any hot tasty drink. We've done trials with blackcurrant cordial, which also gives relief to cold symptoms," says Professor Eccles.

Keeping up fluids is definitely recommended, especially warm and comforting broths. So mum may be right on one level.

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