My mother says: Health myths

 
By Joelene Huber
 
 
My mother always said: “Don’t pout or your mouth may stay like that,” and “Don’t swallow your gum or your bum will stick together!" These are obviously not true, but there are a number of ‘old wives tales’ about health that actually have some scientific basis to them, while others are unfounded but remain commonly accepted beliefs and practices. Below are a number of medical myths, and expressions you may have heard your mother say. I’ll discuss these phrases that ‘mother always said’ and breakdown whether they are false, partly true, or actually true! Some of this fun health information will surprise you and may help to keep you healthy and living well.
 
 
Myth #1 – Sugar makes kids hyper
 
As a mom it kills me to say that this is actually not proven. I mean we’ve all been there, right? We’ve seen our kids running wild at birthday parties and on Halloween. However, the doctor and researcher side of me knows the science behind this and although there has been a lot of research surrounding this, there isn’t evidence to support that sugar makes kids hyper. This myth is likely based on the fact that children often become active or hyperactive at events such as a birthday party or Halloween with lots of excitement, and lots of sugary treats (especially if it’s chocolate, which contains caffeine).
 
The idea that sugar makes children hyper became popular in the ‘70s when improved behavior was reported in a child when sugar was removed from the diet. Since then there have been numerous studies which don’t support this. Some of the studies have been “double-blinded studies”, where children were given either sugary drinks or artificially sweetened drinks but the parent and researcher didn’t know which one the child received (i.e., they were “blinded” to reduce bias). Their behaviors were observed and rated and there was no difference found in behaviors between the children who got the sugar drink and those who didn’t.  Others studies have shown that when parents thought their child was given sugar, they rated the child’s behavior as worse.
 
Understanding how sugar is metabolized and used in the body may help to explain this. Many people know that sugar enters the bloodstream quickly and that simple sugars are calories (energy). Contrary to what some may think, this excess of sugar does not need to be “worn off." Instead, when sugar enters the bloodstream it is used by the internal organs and muscles. Any excess sugar is turned into glycogen in the muslces and liver and stored for future use. If there is still excess sugar after the storage capacity is maxed out, it does not remain in the blood stream to be “worn off”, but instead is turned into fat.
 
Thus, we should be concerned about the amount of sugar our kids are consuming because high sugar foods can contribute to obesity which can lead to diabetes and heart disease. Further, high sugar foods can contribute to tooth decay.
 
Bottom Line:  It is likely that sugar is guilty by association (i.e., the environment or activity, such as a birthday party. Importantly, however, sugar can be associated with obesity and tooth decay.
 
Myth #2 – Carrots improve your eyesight
 
How many of your moms have said “eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyesight”? This myth is really interesting because it actually has some truth to it and it is one of those sayings that has been present for generations, even before we knew the science behind it.
 
The scientific basis for this one is that Vitamin A is vital for the eyes as it is used by the photoreceptor cells in the retina which enable eyesight. Carrots do not contain Vitamin A but do contain beta-carotene which is a pro-vitamin that is used by the body to generate Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is also found in other vegetables such as squash, and bell peppers. You can also get Vitamin A from eating fish and meats with a high content of Vitamin A, such as liver.
 
Some research suggests that carotenoids (an antioxidant) present in carrots, as well as in other fruits and vegetables, may help reduce macular degeneration (a common cause of age-related visual impairment and blindness).
 
Bottom Line:  Carrots do not improve or correct impaired vision or help you to see better in the dark but they can contribute to good eye health.
 
Myth #3 – Junk food causes acne in teens
 
When I was a teen, I definitely believed this one, but there actually has not been a proven link between acne and junk food. It is another case where junk food is probably guilty by association. Teens as a group consume a great amount of junk food and also are at the prime age when acne hits hard.
 
In order to understand this myth it is helpful to understand how acne actually forms.  During puberty the oil glands at the base of the hair follicles are stimulated by hormones. Acne occurs when the hair follicles become plugged with excess oil and dead skin cells and form a plug, which an environment where bacteria, (commonly found in the follicles) can thrive. It causes a bulge and produces a whitehead (a.k.a. “zit”) or a blackhead.
 
Acne triggers can include hormones and stress. In some individuals, some foods may aggravate acne (i.e., dairy and high sugar foods) but foods are not a proven cause of acne.
 
Bottom Line: Junk food is not a proven cause of acne, but bacteria and hormones have a greater impact.
 
Myth #4 – Green mucous indicates sinus infection
 
As moms we can become very focused on the color of the secretions coming out of our little ones. Most people know that viruses and bacteria cause infections and are the cause for the common cold or upper respiratory tract infections. Both viruses and bacteria lead to increased mucous production of various hues of yellows and greens that cannot be differentiated by color. Antibiotics are effective only for infections caused by bacteria, not viruses.  Most often, the common cold does not need to be treated with antibiotics.
 
Bottom Line:  The color of mucous does not typically indicate the type of infection or the need for antibiotics.
 
Myth #5 – Vitamin C helps cure a cold
 
Most adults catch a cold two to three times per year and the average child gets six to twelve colds per year. Because it is so prevalent, we are always in search of ways to decrease colds. There is a lack of evidence that Vitamin C cures the common cold. A large review study found very minimal effects of daily large doses of Vitamin C, reducing the time of sickness by only about 1 day per year in total. Vitamin C is however an antioxidant. Vitamin C in your diet may be helpful in the prevention of some diseases caused by oxidative stress and may help to prevent conditions such heart disease, high blood pressure, and asthma.
 
In contrast to Vitamin C, zinc may have more promising effects to fighting the common cold. A recent Canadian study showed that in adults zinc may shorten the common cold by >2.5 days when compared to placebo.
 
However, while zinc may have more promising effects in adults, this needs to be further researched before recommendations can be made and you should always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.
 
Bottom Line: There is a lack of evidence that Vitamin C prevents/cures the common cold. One of the best ways to prevent a common cold is hand washing.

 

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