Myth or fact? 5 things people think deter illness


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Chicken noodle soup, essential oils and other nonprescription remedies exist to fight illness.  With cold season coming, The Universe researched some of these remedies to find out whether they actually work or their healing effects are mythical.

Essential oils

The background: “Plants have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes,” said Chantel Sloan, a professor at BYU and one of the teachers for HLTH 311: Infectious Disease. “Today’s essential oils are derived from plants, as are about half of our pharmaceuticals.”

Essential oils, depending on the compound and purpose, can be rubbed directly onto the skin as a liquid or inhaled as a gas. Well-known companies, such as DoTerra, have brought essential oils to the forefront of the home remedy discussion, “oftentimes causing a lot of contention in the ‘mom world,'” Sloan said. With an aggressive multi-level marketing technique, DoTerra and other essential oils companies are well known, but do they make people well?

The facts: “People go to the extremes and say that essential oils are no good, or that they’re cure-all. They’re both wrong,” Sloan said. “(People) think drugs are non-natural and oils are, but they’re both from plants. Some (oils) might successfully boost the immune system. Some have antibacterial properties. But they shouldn’t replace the doctor, general hygiene … or vaccines.” Although the quality may differ between companies due to production techniques, it sounds like oils pass the test.


The background: Created by a schoolteacher in the early 1990s and championed on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Airborne company sales now exceed $100 million a year. Airborne offers a unique mixture of vitamins, minerals and herbs. But does it actually work, or are those who swear by it experiencing the placebo effect?

The facts: Once heralded as a “cold remedy,” Airborne took a hit when the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) evaluated it in 2007. “There’s no credible evidence that what’s in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment,” said CSPI Senior Nutritionist David Schardt in a CNN interview in 2008. “Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that’s been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed.” This got the ball rolling, starting a lawsuit and ending in a $23.3 million settlement due to false advertising. Airborne is now labeled as a “dietary supplement” or else an “immune booster.”

Store juices: Odwalla drinks 

The background: Natural fruit juice concoctions are said to boost immune systems. Packed with Vitamin C, zinc and other immunity-related nutrients, Odwalla drinks have seen a surge in the past 30 years. Odwalla is a fully-owned subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Company, so it is on campus due to BYU’s longstanding contract with the company. But do these cocktails of vitamins and nutrients actually help those who are already coughing and sneezing?

The facts: In a study last year, the Cochrane Collaboration found that zinc can actually shorten colds by about a day. Other studies, however, have found less significant results. Research likewise found that Vitamin C supplements had little to no benefit in healing an illness. Research on the vitamin’s potential role in reducing the severity and/or duration of cold symptoms when taken at their onset has yielded mixed results. Vitamin C is still, however, recommended to keep the sickness away in the first place. According to Sloan, “Stuff that’s good for you is good for your immune system.” Odwalla drinks may, overall, have a positive effect, but the sugar count (sometimes higher than that of their fizzy-drink counterparts) may not be worth it.

Hand sanitizer

The background: In 1988 PURELL Instant Hand Sanitizer was introduced to the world, offering a cleansing solution when soap and water aren’t available. BYU has set up hand sanitizing dispensers throughout campus. Occasionally, people may hear warnings about using too much hand sanitizer; but is it really a cause for concern?

The facts: “Soap and water washes off the oils and the germs. Some die, but most are scrubbed off. Hand sanitizer actually kills the bacteria,” Sloan said. While this sounds like a win for sanitizer, there are a couple of drawbacks. If used too much, “hand sanitizer can strip the good stuff too,” Sloan warned. Her advice was to thoroughly wash hands (wrists, between the fingers, base of thumb) if possible but to use hand sanitizer in the absence of soap and water. So, while carrying a gallon of hand sanitizer in one’s backpack isn’t necessarily healthy (for one’s skin or one’s back), people can feel free to use it on occasion when soap and water are nowhere to be found.

Food: Chicken noodle soup

The background: Thousands of chicken soup recipes exist. Chicken noodle soup has been claimed as the cure-all, feel-good solution for centuries. But does it actually work?

The facts: Using an in-depth laboratory analysis of old-fashioned chicken soup, a team of medical researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center decided to see if Mom really knew her stuff. Turns out, she did. Led by Stephen Rennard, the team found that, across the brands and recipes, chicken noodle soup actually alleviates cold symptoms.

Rennard said in a report by the university’s newsroom that “a variety of soup preparations were evaluated and found to be variably, but generally, able to inhibit neutrophil chemotaxis.” He continued, “Chicken soup might have an anti-inflammatory activity.” When viral infections hit the respiratory tract, it is believed that the body then responds partially with inflammation. As white blood cells rush to the affected area, the side effects of mucus, stuffy heads, coughing and sneezing soon follow. With chicken noodle soup’s supposed ability to reduce inflammation, it can also reduce the normal symptoms of colds.

Good hydration and nutrients also help heal an illness, as fighting a sickness takes a lot of calories, said Sloan.


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