Colds and flu

12 July 2016

Why keeping warm might help you avoid a cold

Researchers found that when infected cells were exposed to healthy core body temperatures, the cold virus died off more quickly and wasn't able to replicate as well.

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Scientists may be proving Mom right: Your odds of avoiding a cold get better if you bundle up and stay warm.

Enhanced enzyme activity

Warmer body temperatures appear to help prevent the cold virus from spreading, in multiple ways, researchers at Yale University found.

For the study, a team led by immunology professor Akiko Iwasaki examined human airways cells. These cells produce essential immune system proteins called interferons that respond to a cold virus.

Read: 15 tips to stay healthy in winter

The cells were infected with the virus in a lab and incubated at either a core body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or a cooler temperature of 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using mathematical models, the researchers found that when infected cells were exposed to healthy core body temperatures, the virus died off more quickly and wasn't able to replicate as well.

Warmer body temperatures also seemed to help on another front. Iwasaki's group reported that the activity of an enzyme called RNAseL – which attacks and destroys viral genes – was also enhanced at higher temperatures.

Three immunological ways

This new work adds to prior research by the Yale team. In that study, conducted in mice, Iwasaki's group found that at several degrees below core body temperature, virus-fighting interferons were less able to do their job.

Read: Fight flu with these foods

The cooler temperatures also enabled the cold virus to spread in the animals' airway cells, the researchers said.

The combined research suggests that "there are three [immunological] ways to target this virus now," Iwasaki said in a Yale news release.

Each of the pathways influence the immune system's ability to fight the virus that causes the common cold. Iwasaki and her team believe the findings could provide new strategies for scientists working to develop treatments against the pesky illness.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more:

What are colds? 

Causes of a cold 

Treating a cold

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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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