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Minsky’s Got your Back

by Archives January 27, 2009

If your mom is anything like mine, you probably heard this a thousand times each winter while growing up:
“Bundle up before you go outside. You’ll catch your death of a cold out there!”
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but moms are liars.
There is absolutely no causal relationship between cold weather and colds, according to Dr. Ariel Fenster from McGill University’s office for science and society.
“No matter what your mother told you, it’s not true,” Dr. Fenster recently told his classroom full of students. “There is no indication this is the case.”
Yes, more people get more colds during the winter, but it has nothing to do with the bitter, bitter cold. People in the Caribbean get more colds during the summer months, which is their rainy season. The wet weather tends to discourage people from being outside.
“This brings this whole notion to why we get more colds in the winter,” Dr. Fenster said. “We’re spending more time indoors, in close contact with one another, which leads to more colds.”
If you’re around someone who has the cold virus, being in the cold won’t help your chances of fighting it, though. Director of the office of science and society, Dr. Joe Schwarcz, said cold weather could act as a stress on the body, which, in turn, can compromise the immune system.
But you still can’t catch a cold unless you come into contact with the cold virus. “You can roll around naked in the snow at the North Pole,” Dr. Schwarcz said. “But you’ll not catch a cold unless you meet someone who is also rolling around . . . and has a cold.”
Basically, the chances of catching a cold increases as you spend more time indoors, in close contact to others, according to Dr. Schwarcz. “It has nothing to do with how much time you spend outside,” he said.
Think about how you and your friends tend to get sick in the fall; we’re back at school, some of us are living in residence and most of us are stuck in classrooms and the library – we’re basically living in a cesspool of germs. We get sick because we’re constantly around cold viruses.
Some of you reading this probably don’t care how you get sick, you just care that you’re sick and want to know how to get better.
According to Dr. Fenster, North Americans spend about $4 billion per year on cold remedies, despite the fact there is no cure for the common cold. “Medications treat the symptoms,” he said. “You’ll feel less miserable, but they will not shorten the duration of the cold.”
Natural remedies like vitamin C and echinacea don’t appear to be much better in curing the cold. Studies carried out at University of Toronto with respect to vitamin C’s effect on colds showed no amount of the vitamin will prevent the cold. It can, however, alleviate the symptoms.
Under a double-blind test, the ginseng-based (and NHL player-endorsed) medication Cold-FX didn’t prove to be useful in helping fight cold viruses.
What does help, according to Dr. Fenster, is chicken soup. He said the broth actually increases the release of mucus from the nasal passages, helping sick people breathe better.
Dr. Schwarcz had a simple recommendation for reducing the chances of getting a cold: wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes and mouth.

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