Start on the right path by reading this list that busts seven of the most common immune system myths. Learn what does and doesn’t make you sick. And discover the facts about steps you can take to stay healthy year-round.
Immunity Myth 1: Cold weather makes you sickSure as the changing of the seasons, you can be certain you’ll wind up catching something in the winter. The question is, why? People often contract common cold viruses in cold months. So, you might believe low temperatures are responsible for making you sick.
A link does exist between chilly temperatures and sickness, but it is a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Most likely the changes in behavior associated with cold weather are what trigger these seasonal surges.
Cold weather keeps people indoors for longer periods of time. This leads to the spread of germs between people who are in close contact. Think family members, co-workers, classmates, or the people with whom you share a bus ride. Proximity to others is the primary way viruses spread, regardless of outdoor temperature.
A similar pattern occurs when children return to school after summer break, or when you start attending a new gym. Physical closeness to lots of people increases the chance you’ll catch a bug (whether it’s warm or cold outside.)
Some research highlights that cooler temperatures provide a better living environment for specific viruses. Rhinovirus (the microbe responsible for the common cold) is usually living dormant in your nasal passages waiting for more suitable temperatures. When cooler weather comes along, it wakes up and reproduces.
If you stay inside due to the weather, an inadvertent cough or sneeze sends the cold virus into the air you share with others. Because colder weather brings people closer, a sneeze might be all it takes to spread a cold. But the temperature change was only part of the equation.
Immunity Myth 2: Seasonal allergies are a sign of a weakened immune systemThe opposite is true. Seasonal allergies are the result of an over-reactive immune response mistaking small particles in the air for harmful microorganisms. Consider allergies the hallmark of an over-vigilant immune system, rather than one slacking off.
It can be difficult to distinguish allergies from other upper-respiratory issues. They share many of the same symptoms, but are not contagious. You might experience a headache, congestion, runny nose, watery/itchy eyes, or even a sore throat. All are symptoms of a cold, too.
The difference is allergies aren’t triggered by bacteria or viruses. Harmless particles like dust, pollen, or mold are introduced to your body when you breathe. If you have seasonal allergies, your immune system responds to these particles like it would a potential pathogen.
To minimize your allergy symptoms, try to identify the source of your allergy. If it is pollen, avoid blooming plants. Dust allergies can ramp up when it is windy outside. So, consider protecting your mouth and nose with a mask on windy days.
These allergies are seasonal, as their name implies. That means time will start to bring relief. Allergy symptoms can be controlled well with proper medication prescribed by a physician. Talk to a doctor and see if they can help you find a way to manage your seasonal allergies.
Immunity Myth 3: Handwashing “kills” virusesYou might be surprised to learn that washing your hands doesn’t actually kill viruses. Viruses aren’t alive, which means they can’t replicate on their own, but washing does rid your hands of viruses in another way.
Soap adheres to the membrane, or outer wall of viruses. And soap molecules also compete with the lipids within the virus membrane to help pry it apart and render it harmless. This stickiness means microbes can be rinsed away with water. When you wash your hands, you are literally washing off the viruses that can make you sick.
If you want a refresher on how to properly wash your hands then check out this handy guide. Proper handwashing technique is important, and there’s more to it than you might think.
After you are done washing your hands make sure you dry them thoroughly. It is harder for viruses to transfer from dry hands. Wash and dry often throughout the day. Handwashing won’t kill the germs that can make you sick, but can effectively get rid of them.
Immunity Myth 4: Hand sanitizer is more effective than handwashing
Handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. When handwashing is not available, hand sanitizer is a good backup option.
Unlike handwashing, hand sanitizers do destroy microbes. The alcohol in hand sanitizer deactivates viruses and keeps them from transferring from your hands. Hand sanitizer made of at least 60 percent alcohol effectively kills bacteria and microbes on your hands.
To make the most of your hand sanitizer, try to remove visible dirt and debris first. Wipe your hands off with a napkin or cloth before using sanitizer to clean. Dirt and oils from your skin make hand sanitizer less effective at killing microbes.
Hand sanitizer isn’t as effective at removing microbes as hand washing, but it is practical. Having hand sanitizer with you is a convenient way to clean your hands on the go. When you are out shopping or driving in your car, you can’t always stop to wash your hands. Use hand sanitizer in these situations to keep yourself safe from germs.
Immunity Myth 5: “Feed a cold, starve a fever”This refrain is one of the more pervasive immune system myths. Your body needs adequate fuel to fight off infections of any kind. Imagine trying to fight a battle on an empty stomach. That’s how your immune system will behave if you restrict what you eat when you’re sick.
There isn’t much evidence to support the notion that fasting reduces a fever. In fact, your body’s calorie demands increase when you fight off an infection. Your immune system needs energy from your diet to increase white-blood-cell production. The rise of your internal body temperature boosts your metabolism, too. This means you need more calories to keep up.
However, if you’re feeling sick you might not have a big appetite. This is completely normal. Don’t force yourself to eat if you don’t want to. You might end up feeling nauseous.
But whether you have a cold or fever, it is important to eat what you can when you’re sick. Stick to whole, nutritious foods if you’re under the weather. Many fruits, cooked vegetables, and protein are easy on the stomach and supply you with the essential nutrients your body needs. Choose those that sit well with you.
Immunity Myth 6: Chicken noodle soup will shorten your coldAs good as this sounds, a bowl of soup is not a cure of any kind. Chicken noodle soup is, however, a time-honored comfort food. Unfortunately, the soup itself boasts no magical healing powers—the plumage of the chicken used to make the soup doesn’t either.
Time, rest, and appropriate medication are the only ways to defeat an infection.
That isn’t to say chicken noodle soup is a bad idea. It’s a great way to deliciously acquire some hearty nutrition. It’s full of quality ingredients that can help fuel your body in its time of need. Antioxidants and vitamins from the veggies help support your immune system. And protein from chicken gives sustainable energy to aid in the fight.
Soups (and other hot meals) will help alleviate some of the symptoms of a cold. The steam from the broth can help clear the sinuses and heat can soothe a sore throat.
Other foods can provide similar relief. Hot tea, honey, rice, bananas, and applesauce are palatable and can settle an upset stomach. Try some of these foods the next time you’re feeling unwell. They won’t cure your cold on their own, but will fill you up with the nutrition you need to support your immunity.
Immunity Myth 7: Exercise weakens the immune systemTaking on an Olympic-style training program might throw your immune system for a loop. But regular, low-impact exercise can do your body good. A habit of exercise is a reliable way to prepare your body for germs that might come along.
White blood cells flourish when you work out. Exercise increases cell turnover in your body and stimulates the production of these important immune cells. After all, they’re the front-line troops fighting against viruses and bacteria.
Make it a goal to exercise for your immune health, and overall wellbeing. Be sure not to overdo it, as too much vigorous exercise can have a detrimental effect. Keep it simple with walking, jogging, or swimming. Just make sure to move your body every day to support your immune system.
Stop the Spread of Immune System Myths and MisinformationNow that you know the false facts surrounding immunity, do your part to replace the myths with the truth.
Make sure you practice appropriate safety measures during times of increased viral spread. Demonstrate your knowledge about immunity myths by prioritizing exercise and eating nutritious foods to keep you feeling strong. Teach your family and friends about the importance of handwashing.
Bust the myths about your immune system and do what you can to help your body stay healthy.