Does Cold Weather Make You Sick? A New Study Says Your Mom Was Right All Along

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: A commuters makes a sub-zero trek through the Loop on January 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Temperatures in the city dipped to -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning on the heals of a polar vortex that has swept into the Midwest bringing with it dangerously cold temperatures not seen in the area in about 20 years. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Your mom has probably told you to wear a jacket before you go out in the cold because you’ll catch a cold, but you’ve also heard that’s an old wives tale, right? Sorry to confuse you even further, but now science says that being cold increases your chances of catching a cold after all. So you can go call your mom up and apologize for doubting her since once again she was right all along.

A new study published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that even a slight temperature decrease can cause rhinoviruses (the virus that causes a cold and despite the name, has nothing to do with rhinoceri) to multiply. In other words, the cold virus thrives in the cold — is that why they call it that?

These findings aren’t completely new, since a study performed in 1960 established that the cold virus grows more quickly even under a slight chill, multiplying faster at 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit than at body temperature. However, this new study expands on these results and pinpoints exactly what it is about colder temperatures that makes our bodies more susceptible to catching a cold.

First, some quick background on the study: it was conducted at Yale University, and it used mice as subjects instead of humans. See, I told you that would be quick. Anyway, it found that genes that produce interferon (a protein that fights viruses) located in the mice’s nasal passages were less active at colder temperatures.  Coincidence that these reduced-virus-fighting-capacity genes were located in the nasal passages?

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Also, in general your body becomes less sensitive to viruses at colder temperatures, making it harder to detect viruses and produce the necessary proteins to fight them off properly.  

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Despite all this new research, you still need to be around the rhinovirus in order to catch a cold — just being chilly on your own won’t spontaneously give you a virus (take that, mom!). But it does mean that if you’re around the cold virus and you’re freezing, the virus replicates more aggressively and your immune system becomes less effective at fighting it off. Yale immunologist Akiko Iwasaki said that “Altogether these temperature effects can result in a 100-fold difference in the level of the cold virus.” Yikes! So bundle up just in case because ain’t nobody got time for a cold.

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Bonus: you can use this study as an excuse to buy a bunch of new hats and scarves. That’s not irresponsible spending; it’s being proactive about your health. You can thank me later!

Images: Getty; Giphy (3)

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