Science Explains How Heat Therapy May Help You Avoid The Common Cold

man wiping mouse with tissue paper

Body temperature plays a key role in regulating the immune system’s response to the common cold virus, new research from Yale reveals. Although the immune system works to prevent the virus from taking hold, if the body’s temperature drops, so does its cold-fighting abilities. The research gives further credence to the power of heat therapy as an effective strategy to prevent and treat common colds.


Keep your nose warm


In an earlier study, the same Yale researchers found the cold virus replicates most easily when the temperature in the nose falls below the core body temperature (37 degrees C). One in five people carry the rhinovirus — the most common cause of the common cold — in their nasal passages at any one time. The research found the immune system doesn’t work as well when temperatures in the nose are at slightly colder temperatures of 33 degrees C. So, although keeping your nose warm can’t keep the virus out, it may strengthen your body’s ability to fight it. “That proves it’s not just virus intrinsic, but it’s the host’s response that’s the major contributor. In general, the lower the temperature, it seems the lower the innate immune response to viruses,” said Akiko Iwasaki, Professor of Immunobiology at Yale.


New cold-fighting mechanisms discovered


During the new study, the Yale researchers looked at human airway cells, which generate little cold-fighting interferons in response to the cold virus. When studying infected cells kept at temperatures of either 33 or 37 degrees C, the researchers found the cells successfully controlled the virus — even when the interferons were absent. This suggested the presence of other effective cold-fighting mechanisms at play. The researchers conducted further investigation, and discovered two more mechanisms. Firstly, infected cells were found to die faster at core body temperature, which prevents viral replication. Secondly, an enzyme called RNASEL that attacks and weakens viral genes becomes stronger at warmer temperatures. Both these cold-fighting mechanisms work best at warmer temperatures.


Building a strong immune system holistically


Although heat therapy plays an important role, it’s important to realize that there’s no single way to build a strong immune system. Improving immunity requires a holistic approach, which includes eating a healthy diet with plenty of green vegetables and fermented foods, getting regular exercise, sleeping well, and practicing stress management techniques. Heat therapy products like body wraps, warming blankets, anti-stress shoulder wraps, and warming mitts can be effective at further supporting the immune system. These heat therapy products work to raise the body’s temperature, and therefore strengthen your ability to fight off viruses like the common cold.


Ultimately, the Yale study shows how varying temperatures influence the body’s immune response, rather than the power of the virus itself. The researchers hope their findings can be used to explain how temperature impacts immune response to other conditions like childhood asthma. But, for now, staying warm with heat therapy remains one of your best defenses against the common cold.


Written by: Jennifer Ellen