Every holiday season it seems I get asked to comment on the same questions, which have become urban legends. So here are the top 5 holiday health myths revealed:
Are poinsettia plants are toxic? The answer is a resounding no! Every year kids or pets are rushed in to their respective ERs or countless calls come into Poison Control Centers around the country for ingestion of some part of the popular holiday plant. However, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, a study released in 2000 found that out of nearly 23,000 poinsettia exposures reported to poison control centers nationwide, there was essentially no significant toxicity of any kind. Even prior animal studies found no toxicity in rats.
Do the number of suicides go up during the holidays? No this is just a common a myth. It is true that for some people all this holiday cheer just magnifies feelings of loneliness because of loss of loved ones or feelings of stress from too high expectations that inevitability lead to disappointments. There are also those people who have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) where decreased sunlight in winter months triggers chemicals in the brain to cause depression. And of course there are even those who joke that spending too much time with their families during the holidays, makes them feel suicidal. However, in actuality according to the CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics suicide rates don’t spike in the winter months, in fact they actually drop slightly. There is some speculation that being with friends and family during this time of the year actually acts as support system.
Does sugar makes my child hyper? If anything, sugar should have a calming effect. That’s because foods high in carbohydrates, including sugar, temporarily produce a high concentration of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is the biochemical messengers of the brain that has soothing anti-anxiety effects. Even studies done on children with attention deficit disorder did not find increased or hyper-activity after sugar consumption. Any wildness you think your child may have from a “sugar buzz’ is probably more from the excitement Christmas rather than the Christmas cookie itself. The two legitimate complaints against sugar are that it can cause tooth decay and it takes the place of more nutritious foods in the diet and with our obesity epidemic it’s wise to teach your children moderation when it comes to sweets.
Do you lose all your body heat from your head? It’s why your mother always made you wear a hat when you went outside in the winter. But this urban legend probably has its origins based on Arctic experiments conducted by the United States military in the 1950s. Volunteers in those trials donned survival suits (no hats) and were tested for their tolerance for exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Today’s researchers assert that the only reason the volunteers in those experiment lost so much heat through their heads is that their heads were their only body part exposed in these experiments. They also assert that, although our head and chest are particularly sensitive to temperature changes, no single body part loses more heat than others. New studies find only about 10% of the body’s heat escapes from an uncovered head, much lower than the 40% to 80% claimed by the army in their original survival manual.
Does eating late at night make you fat? While some studies show those who skip breakfast are heavier it is probably not that they are eating later in the day but the fact they are overeating later in the day. Researchers carried out experiments on female monkeys found no link between when the animals ate and whether or not they put on weight. For the monkeys and for us, it really boils down to calories taken in versus calories burned. However beware; late-night eating can lead to extra pounds, but it’s not because of the time of day. It’s because eating late at night is likely to involve alcohol and socializing, two factors that often lead us to over-eat! So as long as our overall calorie intake is in line with our needs, eating a light meal even with a beer or glass of wine to wind down late at night, after the theater should be fine.