Question of the Week

April 21, 2003

Ever notice, when you're sick, everyone has an opinion? Still others have opinions on how to stay healthy, even when you're feeling fine. Think it's just your family? Families for centuries all over the world have shared their ideas of the best ways to get healthy and stay healthy.

"As a child, your mother probably made you wait an hour after eating before jumping in the pool. Her reasoning was that jumping in right away would cause stomach cramps. Well, she was wrong. According to the August issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, many of these traditional beliefs, or old wives' tales, contain a kernel of truth, but others are simply folklore. Here's the truth about some of these age-old pieces of

From Australia:
"Good Medicine sets the record straight on a few old wives' tales. Cracking your knuckles won't cause arthritis. The awful popping sound you hear is caused when you pull on your finger, pulling the knuckle joints apart. That breaks the vacuum in the joint and bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the joint fluid. The cracking noise happens when those bubbles collapse...."

From the United Kingdom:
"There are lots of old wives tales about colds and flu. This is probably because whatever you do about them, they will get better on their own, in their own time. The trouble is that the infection often gets better despite what is recommended, rather than because of it! As the other sections show - there is a lot you can do to reduce your chances of catching colds and flu. There is also a lot you can do to treat the symptoms, and make them as mild as possible.
Here are a few old wives tales that a lot of people still believe, which are just not so:..."

From Canada, with a link to the past:
"For centuries, grandmothers have spooned chicken soup into the mouths of ailing children, firmly believing that chicken soup can cure the common cold. It's a belief that persists even though doctors routinely dismiss it. However one American doctors has so much faith in his family's recipe, he's out to prove chicken soup really is good medicine....Soup has been in the medicine chest since time immemorial. A thousand years ago trusted healers were prescribing 'the broth of fowl' for patients. In the 12th century, the famed physician to ancient kings, Maimonides wrote extensively of the soupy elixir....'Without doubt there are biologically active compounds in the chicken soup that can slow neutrophil migration,' Rennard said."

From the Mayo Clinic in the United States:
"Feed a cold, starve a fever. You always need nutrients and fluids when you're sick. Both colds and fevers can cause dehydration, so drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy foods that sound appealing....

"Carrots are good for your vision. Carrots are packed with Vitamin A, which is important for good eye health, but eating carrots in excess won't improve your vision. It may, however, give your skin an orange glow."

So, what can you believe?

"Fish is brain food.
True. Fish is high in protein, which is important to brain function - but protein from fish is no better for the brain than protein from other food sources."

"Too much loud noise can cause deafness.
True. Just 15 minutes of listening to loud, pounding music; machinery; or other noises can cause temporary loss of hearing and tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. Loud noise causes the eardrum to vibrate excessively and can damage the tiny hairs in the cochlea, a cone-shaped tube in the inner ear that converts sound into electrical signals for the brain to process. Although temporary hearing loss usually disappears within a day or 2, continuous exposure to extreme noise can result in permanent hearing loss. For example, if a child is wearing headphones - and those around him can hear the music - the volume is too high."

What should you question?

"If you go outside with wet hair, you'll catch a cold.
False. Cold weather, wet hair, and chills don't cause colds. Viruses do. People tend to catch colds more often in the winter because these viruses are spread more easily indoors, where there may be more contact with dry air and people with colds. Dry air - indoors or out - can lower a person's resistance to infection."

With modern medicine to help us understand the science behind these home remedies, some questions still exist.

"The research to get the full scoop on soup would cost millions. And because chicken soup can't be patented, a company would not be able to recover the research costs. So until chickens can talk and explain what their secret ingredient is, we may never know what good medicine chicken soup really is."

While the examples given here are limited to four countries, this does show how people brought ideas with them as they immigrated many years ago. Now, we have similar thoughts shared through generations that are living thousands of miles from their roots. With modern transportation and communication, people and ideas are moving more easily around the world. Ideas that were once more isolated by geography, are being shared and combined in new ways. People bring their cultures and ancestral wisdom with them as they travel and relocate.

Question of the Week:
Which "Old Wives' Tales" are a part of your life? How and why have these health tips (those you trust and those you don't) survived for generations? Why have these ideas become such an integral part of life in countries and cultures thousands of miles apart.

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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