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Cold Weather Myths My Mom Taught Me

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are probably the most memorable holidays of the year. It’s a time when we gather together with family, friends and co-workers to celebrate. These special occasions invariably include lots of high fat, high-calorie food, along with things like eggnog and liquor. Many of us think, “Hey, it’s the holidays. I can make an exception and eat and drink what I want.” But, can you?

What are the implications to your waistline of eating and drinking in excess on holidays? Conventional wisdom, as well as many of our friends and family, tells us that eating all that extra chow will put on at least five pounds of holiday weight. But, does it really? Not according to The New England Journal of Medicine. Their study suggests that few data support this accepted assertion, debunking the notion that we gain weight during the holidays. Holiday weight gain is a myth.

Let’s explore another oft-heard bit of advice. Wear a hat outdoors to stay warm. Anyone who runs or walks outside in the winter has heard that you must wear a hat to keep warm. If you fail to wear one, you’ll lose up to 75% of your body heat. True or false? False. The correct figure is probably closer to 10% for an adult.

The old adage about losing 75% of one’s body heat applies only to newborn babies, and is predicated on their head size, which is a much greater percentage of their total bodyweight at birth. Thus, the reason we see babies in the hospital nursery wearing caps. Truth is, adults lose body heat through any part of their body that’s exposed to the cold (arms, hands, feet). Therefore, the no-hat rule is a myth.

Holidays can be a difficult time for some folks. It is said that the suicide rate increases during the holiday season. If you’ve lost a loved one, or have other stressors such as health issues or loss of a job, depression can become overwhelming. However, a 35-year study of Minnesota residents found that suicide did not increase during the holidays, or other important events such as birthdays. Another myth.

Everyone loves brilliant red poinsettia plants at Christmas. These beautiful flowers decorate homes, businesses and churches throughout the holiday season. However, I remember my mother telling me to keep my younger brothers and sisters away from the plants because they were poisonous. She also warned us to keep our pets away as well. But is the poinsettia plant really harmful to our health? No, not according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In 1996, their analysis of 22,793 poinsettia cases reported no significant poisoning. It is possible to become ill by consuming large amounts of the plant, however, that is also rare. Poinsettia poisoning is, therefore, a myth.

Don’t go outside with wet hair - you’ll catch a cold! Ever hear that warning? I have. But what about that, will you really get sick by going out in the cold with wet hair? No. You will feel cold, but feeling cold does not affect your immune system. According to Dr. Jim Sears, co-host of the TV show, The Doctors, going outside with wet hair is harmless. Sears cited a Salisbury, England study that proved the wet hair notion was indeed a myth.

Feed a cold - starve a fever. Which one is correct? Actually, Dr. Sears advises that in both cases one should eat and drink, and then drink some more. “Staying hydrated is the most important thing to do, because you lose a lot of fluids when you’re ill.” However, should you drink special beverages such as Gatorade? Sears advises that unless you’re severely dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea, there’s no need to drink anything containing electrolytes.

Have you ever heard your parents tell you that if you swallow your gum it stays in your stomach for seven years? It’s true, they explained to you, because gum isn’t food, therefore, the stomach has a difficult time breaking gum down in the digestive system. Myth or fact? That is another myth. Most non-food items swallowed by kids will pass through the system in a couple of days, and won’t even cause a tummy ache.

How about this one? You should wait an hour after eating before going swimming. True or false? False. The digestive system will not make your muscles cramp and cause you to drown. Blood flow to the muscles will decrease, since more blood is directed to the digestive system to break down the meal you just consumed, meaning you may have less energy. However, swimming immediately after eating will not cause one to drown. Go ahead and dive right in after enjoying that cheeseburger.

We all know that eating at night makes you fat . . . or does it? That is a myth. According to registered dietician, Dr. Jeannie Gassaniga-Moloo, who is also a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, don’t worry if you are forced to eat dinner later than usual. “The time of day a person eats is not as important for overall weight gain as the amount of calories eaten during the day.”

During the holidays, we feed our children much more sugar in the form of cakes, pastry and candy. Does sugar make the kids hyperactive, or is that a myth? You’ll be happy to learn that according to twelve placebo-controlled studies, kids who eat sugar do not act any different than those who did not. Another myth.

And speaking of kids, did your mom ever tell you that if you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way forever? Well, according to Ophthalmology Professor W. Walker Motley, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, that warning is yet another myth. “There’s no harm in voluntary eye crossing,” the good doctor tells us. But it sure did sound scary when mom said it.

The bottom line about myths is that any advice that is anecdotal in nature should be researched. Don’t take advice at face value every time someone tells you something. Ask an expert, or research it yourself. The internet provides instant access to authoritative sources that can help you decide what is a myth and what is not.

Finally, since this is my December article, I want to wish every member of the Thin Blue Line a Merry Christmas. God bless each of you. Stay safe, Brothers and Sisters!