Does Mother Always Know Best? What the Evidence Shows

May 1, 2009

It seems that every mother operates from a standardplaybook.

Bundle up, drink chicken soup, get plenty of sleep-are these motherly maxims supported by clinical data?

It seems that every mother operates from a standard playbook. Did you ever try to go to school when it was snowing or raining without “bundling up”? Or did you have the audacity to refuse chicken soup when you had a fever? Furthermore, it's next to impossible to believe that it was Ben Franklin and not a mother who sagely determined that “early to bed” was essential to both a healthy and a productive life. Have mothers always been right about their medical advice? An evidence- based look may be in order.

DOES THE EVIDENCE SUPPORT MOM'S MEDICAL ADVICE?

“Bundle up.” It appears that influenza epidemics populate the winter months not because the viruses in question have selected hosts who are careless enough to get chilled but rather because the influenza virus is strengthened-envelope and all-by humidity and colder temperatures.1,2

“Drink your soup.” Although Mom may have been wrong about the bundling up, chicken soup may be a successful therapeutic venture. In 1978, it was discovered that the steam from hot chicken soup was better at clearing up nasal congestion than steaming water.3 The reason may be that cooked chicken releases an amino acid that resembles acetylcysteine, which can thin mucus and thereby improve breathing.3,4 There is also evidence that chicken soup may inhibit neutrophils and thus mitigate inflammation.5

“Get enough sleep.” This month's Top Paper is a study that looked at whether sleep duration and efficiency before cold virus exposure correlated with susceptibility. 6 Included were 153 participants who kept a 14-day diary of sleep duration and efficiency. Afterward, they were given nasal drops with rhinovirus, and their risk of developing a cold was studied.

Persons with less than 7 hours of sleep were almost 3 times more likely to get a cold than those who slept at least 8 hours. Persons who did not sleep well (tossing and turning with difficulty in falling and staying asleep) were 5.5 times more likely to a get cold than those who slept more soundly. Other variables that can affect susceptibility to cold viruses, such as titers to the specific rhinovirus used, body mass, socioeconomic status, and general health status, were adjusted for in the study. These factors were not the culprits. The bottom line was that not sleeping well or not sleeping enough (at least 8 hours) lowered ability to combat the common cold.

MOM WAS RIGHT

So, your mother was right on target when she forced you to get to bed early. Included in her playbook was cutting down your sugar and caffeine intake before you retired for the night. That deprivation helped you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep without disturbance. The fact that she was less tolerant about breaks in sleep hygiene during the school year and the winter months has also been justified by the results of this study. Winter is the optimal time for influenza and cold viruses. Whether there are Top Paper candidates out there that address running around with scissors may be unclear, but we can hazard a guess that Mom was right about her strong caveats in that arena as well.

References:

REFERENCES:

1. Lowen AC, Mubareka S, Steel J, Palese P. Influenza virus transmission isdependent on relative humidity and temperature.

www.plospathogens.org

.Accessed April 30, 2009.
2. Why the flu virus is more infectious in cold winter temperatures.April 2008.

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080330203401.htm

.Accessed April 30, 2009.
3. Wilson A. Chicken soup: the miracle prescription for winter illness.February 5, 2007.

www.associatedcontent.com/article/135384/chicken_soup_the_miracle_prescription_for winter_illness

? Accessed April 30, 2009.
4. Saketkhoo K, Januszkiewicz A, Sackner MA. Effects of drinking hot water,cold water, chicken soup on mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance.

Chest.

1978;74:408-410.
5. Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, et al. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophilchemotaxis in vitro.

Chest.

2000;118:1150-1157.
6. Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to thecommon cold.

Arch Intern Med.

2009;169:62-67.