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Feb. 8, 2024

Marwa Abd Alla, MD
WellMed at Cullen Park, Houston


Pop quiz: Does chicken soup cure the common cold? Can a person get sick if they go outside coatless on a cold day? Can someone get the flu from an influenza vaccination?

The answer is, old wives tales are just that – tales, but it’s easy to see why they persist.

The chicken soup myth
Chicken soup gets its reputation because it’s soothing and can help keep a sick person hydrated. As Dr. Marwa Abd Alla said, “Any kind of broth can keep you hydrated and provide some vitamins, but the only thing that will help heal a cold is time.”

“Catch your death of cold”? No.
Though your mother probably urged you to put on your coat before going outside in the winter, Dr. Abd Alla pointed out that people all over the world swear by cold-water plunges, even in icy weather.

The real culprit behind colds and flu? Viruses. “This misconception is probably because people tend to get sick more during the winter, but not from being underdressed,” she said. “Viruses thrive in cold weather and people tend to spend more time inside where they share these viruses.” Keep in mind, though, that extreme temperatures can be harmful, so it’s best to dress appropriately for the weather.

“I’ll get the flu from a flu shot!”
Then there is the belief that getting a flu shot will give you the flu, a myth that just will not die.

“This is one of the most common things I hear from my patients,” Dr. Abd Alla said. “Many use it as an excuse to not get their flu shots.”

In fact, it is impossible to get the flu from a flu vaccination. The most common vaccine delivery method, the shot, contains no live flu virus. Those who qualify to receive the nasal spray vaccine (people who are pregnant or immunocompromised are excluded from getting live vaccine) receive live virus, but it is so weak it cannot cause illness, Dr. Abd Alla said.

“The flu vaccine promotes antibodies, which is an immune response,” she said. “Because that immune response can vary from one person to another, some people may feel tired or unwell. That’s just your immune system responding to the shot.”

Getting the flu is much worse than any side effects from the vaccination, and older adults are especially prone to secondary infections such as pneumonia, when they get the flu.

Fresh, frozen or canned, get your produce in

And finally, though not certified wives tales, there are some misconceptions about food and nutrition, such as the belief that eating fresh produce is better than frozen or canned.

Dr. Abd Alla said, “It depends, but in general, if you are eating frozen fruits and vegetables, you are getting the exact same nutrition.”

Canned food can have high levels of sodium, and additives, but there are plenty of low-sodium and natural versions out there, so read the labels for guidance.

An apple a day . . . not a replacement for seeing your doctor
Most people have heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away or that eating lots of carrots can improve their eyesight. Sadly, the answer to both claims is no. Apples and carrots are nutritious, but they are not miracle workers.

Carrots contain lots of beta carotene, which helps produce vitamin A, important for eye development, but those nutrients are also in pumpkins, apricots and butternut squash. Apples are healthy snacks, but research has failed to prove that one-a-day prevents how often someone sees their doctor.

Marwa Abd Alla, MD practices family medicine at WellMed at Cullen Park in Houston, Texas. She earned her medical degree from Cairo University in Giza, Egypt and completed her residency at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso. She is fluent in English and Arabic. Dr. Abd Alla is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.

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