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Cold and flu myths and facts: Dr. Oz on chicken soup, cold weather and sleep

Millions of Americans have been sickened by the flu this season.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

There’s no doubt about it: Much of the country is suffering during this cold and flu season.

Widespread influenza activity has been reported in 48 states, with at least 15 million flu illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths from the flu so far this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in its latest estimate.

How can you protect yourself? I’m separating the myths from the facts about some of the most common beliefs surrounding the cold and flu.

1. Not wearing a hat and jacket in winter makes you sick

This is a MYTH.

Being cold doesn’t mean you’ll get a cold!

Colds are transmitted by:

  1. direct hand contact with someone who has a cold virus
  2. inhaling viral particles
  3. or contact with viral particles on a surface

Some viral infections are more common in the winter, which is why people may think they have to protect themselves in the winter with coats and hats.

2. Not getting enough sleep will make you sick

This is a FACT.

Lack of sleep can affect your immune system. That’s because during sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep and others that help protect you from illness. Sleep deprivation may decrease the production of these protective proteins.

In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.

Interestingly, studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.

Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover from an illness.

3. Sitting next to a sick coworker means you’ll get sick

This is a FACT.

Sitting next to a sick co-worker makes it more likely for you to touch the things they touch or breathe the air they breathe, which is how you get a virus.

Don’t be THAT person who comes to work sick! If your coworker is sick, wipe your desk at work with a cleaner or disinfectant. It will keep you from getting sick because colds can be transmitted by contact with viral particles on a surface, and removing those viral particles from possibly contaminated sources can keep the particles from getting to you.

4. Eating chicken soup will help you get over an illness faster

This is a FACT.

Chicken soup has many benefits. First, it increases nasal mucus velocity. In a study, hot chicken soup was found to be more effective than hot water in stimulating mucociliary transport in the respiratory tract — in other words, the process of moving mucus out of the airways — aiding the body to get rid of virus particles and infection.

Another benefit is that chicken soup can inhibit the migration of neutrophils, the most abundant white blood cell in humans, which may allow it to have anti-inflammatory effects.

In addition, hot liquids like soup can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids and nutrients. The best treatment for the common cold is good nutrition, bed rest and hot fluids — so why not include chicken soup?

Here is The Oz Family Chicken Soup recipe:


  • 1½ cups farro (rinsed)
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
  • 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced (ribs and seeds removed)
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, minced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
  • Juice of 1 lemon

5. You should exercise when you are under the weather

This is a MAYBE.

It depends on the severity and location of the illness.

Exercise is usually OK if your symptoms are all "above the neck." This includes having a common cold with symptoms like a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat. Exercise may even help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving nasal congestion.

But don't exercise if your signs and symptoms are "below the neck," such as chest congestion, a hacking cough or upset stomach. In addition, don't exercise if you have a fever, fatigue or widespread muscle aches.

Overall, let your body be your guide. Only exercise if you feel up to it. If you do exercise, consider reducing the intensity and length of your workout.