Mom was right: Getting a chill can cause a cold


Q. My husband hates wearing a coat in the winter. Unless it is freezing and blowing, he mostly throws on a flannel shirt over a turtleneck. Forget hat, gloves or boots. He won't have anything to do with them.

He's had one bad cold already and is still taking a lot of cough medicine. He insists that catching a cold has nothing to do with getting cold outside. Please settle this argument.

A. For years, science supported your husband's side of the battle. There was no evidence that getting chilled actually led people to catch colds, and the connection was dubbed an old wives' tale.

But once again, the old wives may have the last laugh. A study at the Common Cold Center in Cardiff, Wales, found that 29 percent of study subjects who sat with their feet in icy water came down with colds later that week (Family Practice, December 2005).

Only 10 percent of the subjects whose feet stayed warm and dry started sniffling and coughing. This might not convince your husband to put on his coat, but at least he should wear his galoshes.

Q. You recently responded to a question about expiration dates on prescriptions. You were cavalier about suggesting that expired drugs might still work.

As a pharmacist, I am horrified by your approach. When patients take outdated medications, they are exposed to serious side effects.

A. The biggest risk with expired medications is that they might not work. The reader who asked the question reported that the Ambien he took helped him get to sleep, though it was a few months beyond its "use by" date.

As a pharmacist, you know that the date typed on a prescription label is rarely the manufacturer's actual expiration date. Rather, the "discard date" is usually one year after the prescription was filled. This might mislead people to throw away medicine that could still be viable.

Proper storage is just as important as expiration. Some medicines, notably nitroglycerin and Tegretol (carbamazepine), are sensitive to storage conditions and might lose potency even before their expiration date if they are not stored properly. The consequences of having heart medicine or an anti-seizure drug lose effectiveness are indeed serious. Such drugs must be kept in tightly closed containers away from heat or moisture.

Q. I seem to have no sexual desire anymore. Beautiful women don't excite me, even when they are nude. Also, I don't feel romantic.

I've tried all of the pills, as well as Muse, which is very uncomfortable. I also tried the pump. I would like to know more about Caverject. Any information you can send will be greatly appreciated.

A. Lack of libido and erectile dysfunction are two separate issues. The medicines you mention can only assist with erections, not sexual desire. They won't be very effective if you are not feeling romantic.

Ask your doctor to check your testosterone. A low level can contribute to lack of desire in either men or women.

We are sending you our Guide to Treating Sexual Dysfunction for more information on testosterone as well as drugs like Caverject and Viagra. Anyone who would like a copy may send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (63 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. P-93, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It can also be downloaded for $2 from

Q. Yesterday, I had a slow-motion tumble off my bike onto my knees on the way home. They were bruised, but I was able to pedal home and get arnica gel on them in about 10 minutes. I also took some homeopathic arnica pills.

My mother swears by this herb, but I had not had occasion to use it much. I applied more gel before bed and again in the morning.

Today, one knee shows NO effects of having been bruised, and the other is not black and blue and barely hurts at all. I am stunned by the effectiveness of this arnica. Have studies been done?

A. Arnica montana is a flower that grows in Europe. It has traditionally been used for bruises and sprains. There is relatively little scientific evidence to support its use, but your report is not the first we've heard.

A recent study published in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery (January/February 2006) found that homeopathic arnica pills seemed to have a small but measurable effect on bruising following a face-lift.

Homeopathic tablets contain very little arnica. At higher doses, though, arnica should not be taken orally since it can be quite toxic.

Q. A year ago, your column mentioned the benefits of low-sodium V8 juice for muscle cramps. For years I had suffered from severe leg cramps almost nightly. I would awaken in agony, even though I was eating bananas and taking potassium supplements daily.

After seeing your column, I immediately began drinking 8 ounces of low-sodium V8 every day. Now, more than a year later, I have not had one episode of muscle cramping. It has fewer calories than bananas (which I don't care for), little sodium and the solution to a painful problem.

A. Several readers mentioned the high potassium content of low-sodium V8 juice (840 mg in 8 ounces). This offers more potassium for fewer calories than either bananas or orange juice. We're glad it has prevented your leg cramps.

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