The truth behind 7 popular old wives’ tales about being sick


Have you heard of some of these old wives' tales? As we head deeper into cold and flu season, we checked with UC Davis chief of pediatric infectious diseases Dean Blumberg and UC Davis pediatrician Daphne Darmawan on common cold and flu myths and old wives’ tales.

Does chicken soup have healing properties? Dean Blumberg and Daphne Darmawan weigh in.
Does chicken soup have healing properties? Dean Blumberg and Daphne Darmawan weigh in.

1. Wives' tale: Cold weather makes you sick.

DD: We do know there’s some seasonality with getting these respiratory illnesses, but I think it has more to do with people being indoors and crowded together in rooms when it’s cold outside. It’s not that the weather itself is actually making people sick.

DB: There is a survival advantage among many common respiratory viruses. Humidity drops when we are indoors with the heaters are on and viruses like influenza can survive a longer time in those conditions.

2. Wives' tale: Starve a cold and feed a fever.

DD: Eat as much as you are willing to, but it’s more important to stay hydrated.  

DB: Yes, hydration is much more important. If you are sweating with a fever, you will be losing more of your fluids.

3. Wives' tale: Avoid dairy when you’re sick.

DD: Whatever you have an appetite for, you should eat. If you can stomach cereal and milk, go ahead and have it.

DB: I’ve heard that dairy increases your secretions, but I’m not aware of any data to show that is true. If you want to have some cheese or milk, go for it.

4. Wives' tale: Gargling saltwater cures a sore throat.

DB: I’m not aware of any evidence to show that saltwater helps, but if it makes you feel better, do it. When you’re sick with a respiratory infection, you might be breathing more from your mouth. This means your throat can dry out get really sore. Gargling with saltwater or just water can help soothe the dryness of a sore throat.

5. Wives' tale: Cold compresses or cold baths help with fevers.

DD: A cold bath is not something that I want if I am feeling sick. It just gives me the chills. Chills are your body’s way of telling you to raise your body temperature.

DB: Fever is good to fight infection. Unless your child has a medical condition like febrile seizures, it’s okay to wait until the fever breaks to bring temperature back down. You can also use acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It’s OK to have a fever.  

6. Wives' tale: Vitamin C helps get rid of colds.

DD: We know that Vitamin C boosts immunity, but once you are already sick, it doesn’t help. As long as your child is eating a generally healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, they don’t need extra vitamins. They will get their Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables in their natural packaging and get other benefits like fiber and other vitamins. It’s much better to go the natural way.

DB: Taking a megadose of Vitamin C doesn’t help because you don’t retain it. But taking Vitamin C regularly might help prevent colds. Once you have a cold, there is no data to show that you get better faster by taking vitamin C.

7. Wives' tale: Chicken soup has healing properties.

DD: Well, there are a lot of nutrients in chicken soup. There’s protein in the chicken and vitamins in the vegetables. And it makes you feel good.

DB: Most people make chicken soup with onions, celery and carrots and these have vitamin C and Vitamin K. It doesn’t hurt. If you are huddled over a hot bowl of soup, it probably helps break up secretions and also the broth helps keep you hydrated. If you are vegetarian like me, you can try vegetable soup.

UC Davis Children's Hospital is the Sacramento region's only nationally ranked, comprehensive hospital providing care for infants, children, adolescents and young adults with primary, subspecialty and critical care. It includes the Central Valley's only pediatric emergency department and level I pediatric trauma center, which offers the highest level of care for its critically ill patients, as well as a level I children’s surgery center. The 129-bed children's hospital includes the state-of-the-art 49-bed neonatal and 24-bed pediatric intensive care and pediatric cardiac intensive care units. For more information, visit