Staying Healthy

6 Winter Health Myths

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Michigan residents know how unpredictable winter weather can be. Freezing temperatures can shake the state one day, and then record-highs can melt a foot of snow the next.

Some things you might not know about this fluctuating season: How the weather affects your body and how to make the best choices for you and your family. Does going outdoors without a jacket really make you sick? Should you be loading your children up with vitamin C in preparation for the winter months?

Bridget McArdle, D.O., a pediatrician at Henry Ford Health System, debunks six wintertime myths that will help you and your loved ones stay healthy this time of year:

Myth #1: You lose most of your body heat through your head.

The truth: Not true.

“You don’t lose any more heat out of the top of your head than you do from the rest of your body,” McArdle says. “It’s just that when you go outside during winter, everything else is covered except your head, so it feels colder.”

A natural defense many people have is their hair, which adds a protective layer from winter cold and wind. Earmuffs and headbands are useful alternatives to keep your ears warm without causing messy hair.

Myth #2: Drinking hot liquids warms you faster than cold liquids.

The truth: Not true.

While drinking a cup of hot chocolate or other warm beverage on a cold day is a winter activity many people enjoy, it could be counterproductive.

“Drinking warm liquids makes you feel warm, but it actually could be cooling your body,” she says. “Your body senses the warm liquid and thinks the body temperature has increased and works to lower it.”

When you drink a warm beverage, do you notice you start to sweat a little? This is your body’s way of cooling itself down.

Myth #3: Going outside without a coat will make you sick.

The truth: Not true.

But wait – why is it when you step outside into the cold that your nose starts running and you feel congested?

It’s all because of the cold air, McArdle says.

“You get sick because you get a virus or bacteria – not because you get cold,” she says. “During the winter months, people are inside more, which allows germs to spread more easily – meaning that when one person gets sick, the likelihood that others will also get sick increases.”

Myth #4: Vitamin C prevents colds.

The truth: Not true.

“It won’t usually hurt you to take vitamin C, but it doesn’t significantly help you, either,” she says.

While taking too much vitamin C usually isn’t harmful, it can cause side effects like diarrhea, nausea and headaches. For most people, a healthy diet provides an adequate amount this vitamin – so it’s best to talk with your health care provider before adding extra to your diet.

Myth #5: Women are colder than men.

The truth: It’s tricky.

“The core body temperature of women is a bit warmer than that of men, but studies have found that a woman’s exterior body temperature can be up to 3 degrees colder than a man’s,” McArdle says.

A cooler external body temperature helps explain why many women tend to have colder extremities – like their hands and feet, while men don’t often experience this sensation.

Myth #6: Fluctuating temperatures make you sick

The truth: Not true.

Viruses and bacteria are the culprits of wintertime colds and bouts with the flu, not extremes in climate. So while mid-60 degree days in February are uncommon in Michigan, they aren’t to blame for your runny nose and sore throat. But if you have a condition like asthma, the varying temperatures could cause some issues.

“For those who have asthma or an underlying respiratory condition, fluctuating warm and cold temperatures could contribute to flair ups,” McArdle says.

Looking for more ways to keep you and your family healthy this winter? Schedule an appointment with a pediatrician or family practitioner by visiting henryford.com or calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Bridget McArdle is a pediatrician who sees children at Henry Ford Medical Center – Sterling Heights.