Six popular holiday myths go bust

December 26th, 2008 - 2:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 26 (IANS) Researchers have busted six popular myths associated with holidays, yet relevant round the year. The myths: sugar makes kids hyperactive; suicides increase over the holidays; poinsettias are toxic; you lose most of your body heat through your head; eating at night makes you fat; you can cure a hangover. These myths are commonly accepted, not only by the general public, but also by many physicians.

Health services researchers with the Indiana University Centre for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, the Regenstrief Institute, and Indiana Children’s Health Services Research, found all six myths to be false or unsupported by medical research.

Does sugar make kids hyperactive? This is without a doubt false, reported Racheal Vreeman and Aaron Carroll, paediatricians at Riley Hospital for Children.

They write that “in at least 12 double-blind, randomised, controlled trials, scientists have examined how children react to diets containing different levels of sugar.”

“None of these studies, not even studies looking specifically at children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, could detect any differences in behaviour between the children who had sugar and those who did not.”

This includes sugar from candy, chocolate and natural sources. Even in studies of children who were considered “sensitive” to sugar, children did not behave differently after eating sugar-full or sugar-free diets.

Does the number of suicides increase over the holidays? The holidays can bring out the worst in people, and the stresses of family get-togethers, loneliness, and the cold, dark winter months are commonly thought to increase the number of suicides in the Christmas season.

But studies conducted around the globe show that while the holidays may be a difficult time for some, there is no scientific evidence to suggest a holiday peak in suicides, according to Vreeman and Carroll. Furthermore, suicides are actually more common during warm and sunny times of the year.

Are poinsettias toxic? Vreeman and Carroll found that the largest study of poinsettia “toxicity” to date involved an analysis of 849,575 plant exposures reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centres.

None of the 22,793 poinsettia cases revealed significant poisoning. No one died from poinsettia exposures or ingestions, and more than 96 percent did not even require treatment in a health care facility.

Another study, looking at poinsettia ingestion by rats, could not find a toxic amount of poinsettia, even at doses which would be the human equivalent of consuming 500-600 poinsettia leaves or a pound and a half of the plant’s sap. Vreeman cautions, though, that you should always call a poison control centre if someone eats a plant not intended for consumption.

Do you lose most of your body heat through your head? Both Vreeman and Carroll assumed this one was true. After all, mothers have been repeating it for decades. But, in fact, it is not true, said an Indiana university statement.

They believe this myth likely originated with an old military study where scientists put subjects in arctic survival suits without hats and measured their heat loss in cold temperatures.

“Any uncovered part of the body loses heat and will drop the core body temperature proportionally,” the researchers note.

They recommend keeping all parts of the body warm when out in the cold, but the head does not require special attention. As paediatricians, they counsel parents to dress their children appropriately for the weather year round.

Does eating at night make you fat? Vreeman and Carroll write that at first glance, some scientific studies seem to support this idea. But just because obesity and eating more meals at night are associated, it does not mean that one causes the other.

People gain weight because they take in more calories overall than they burn up. Eating more meals, and taking in more calories makes you gain weight regardless of when calories are consumed.

As for the hangover cures, many have found they do not work. Hangovers are usually caused by dehydration, and what usually works best is lots of water.

The study was published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal.

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