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BODY WATCH : MYTH BUSTERS : Don’t Be Bugged by Drafts--Viruses Cause Colds

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was the kind of health information you never questioned. After all, it came from an authority--not your doctor, but from your mom, your grandpa or maybe even your pal who once dated a med student.

From time to time, we’ll look at these long-held health “facts” and answer the question--sorry, Mom--true or false.

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“Sitting in a drafty room increases your chance of catching cold.”

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“False,” says Elliot Dick, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison, and a longtime researcher of the cold virus.

“The draft would have to contain a virus that went up your nose and attached to a mucosal cell,” he says. In other words, a draft doesn’t give you a cold, a virus does.

Once you have a cold, drafts don’t make them worse, he adds, citing research by colleagues.

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“Get out of those wet clothes before you catch your death.”

Forget it, Dick says. “Wet clothes don’t increase the risk of a cold, either.”

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“Cranberry juice will cure a urinary tract infection.”

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A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. and funded by Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., suggests cranberry juice can reduce bacteria in the urine. The Harvard researchers, who led the study, aren’t certain how the juice might work, but speculate a chemical in it might deserve the credit. The researchers suggest more research.

Until more data is in, cranberry juice probably can’t hurt, says Dr. Eila Skinner, USC assistant professor of urology. But it won’t necessarily rule out the need to see a doctor, she adds: “In adult women with symptoms of urinary tract infection, 50% will clear without treatment, usually by drinking lots of fluid--and if it happens to be cranberry juice, great. Any liquid helps get out the bacteria. If symptoms don’t clear in two or three days, though, see a doctor.” Antibiotics might be necessary.

Infections in men and children can be associated with potentially serious disorders, so they should always see a doctor.

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“If a man isn’t bald by age 30, he probably never will be.”

Not true. “Some people start balding later,” says Dr. Bernard Raskin, a Valencia dermatologist and UCLA assistant clinical professor of medicine/dermatology.

“People who start balding earlier tend to lose more hair and become bald earlier,” he says. “People who lose hair later tend to lose it more slowly. If they do become bald, it occurs at a later age.”

Raskin is often asked if baldness passed through the mother’s side of the family. His answer? No. Laying to rest another misconception, he adds: “There is no relationship between baldness and sexual potency, sterility or fertility.”

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