Many supposed holiday hazards are as innocuous as a tepid mug of apple cider. A review article in the current issue of the British Medical Journal cites five fears that can officially be crossed off the holiday worry list.
Myth 1: Sugar makes kids hyperactive.
"There have been more studies on this than on many drugs," said article author Dr. Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine, "all of which show there is no link between sugar and hyperactivity." Even if the kids are "sugar sensitive" or have attention-deficit disorder, he continued, sweets do not change their behavior.
Parents may think their kids become more chaotic after candy and other treats but "it is in their heads," said primary author Dr. Rachel Vreeman, also of the Indiana University School of Medicine. She pointed to a study that told parents their kid was slurping a sugar-loaded beverage, when the drink instead was essentially water. The parents reported the child going bonkers when objective observers thought otherwise, she said.
Myth 2: Suicides increase over the holidays.
The weather is woeful, the relatives are rude and melancholy moods abound. "But contrary to what many of us think, suicides are actually more common, around the world, during times of year that are warmer and sunnier," Vreeman said. The article also cites a 35-year study conducted in the United States showing that holidays – including Christmas, the Fourth of July and birthdays – are not preferred times to take one’s life.
Myth 3: Poinsettias are toxic.
Shooing the dog or child away from the perilous plant of holiday cheer? Let the hollering subside. The American Association of Poison Control Centers has a record of 22,793 cases of human poinsettia ingestion and zero resulted in significant poisoning. Ninety-six percent of the poinsettia-eaters didn’t even need to see a doctor, Vreeman said. And rats that gobbled several hundred grams of the pureed flower, the equivalent of a human eating 500-600 poinsettia leaves, did just fine. Still, it’s best to call the poison control center when any non-food plant is eaten, she said.
Myth 4: You lose most of your body heat through your head.
Your mother said it. Every hat salesman touts it. Even the U.S. Army Field Manual claims "40 to 45 percent of body heat" is lost through the head, the researchers write in this week's article, but it is simply not true. Body heat leaves from any skin surface in proportion to the area exposed, said Vreeman. As for people who claim a hat renders shorts acceptable in cold weather? "Those people are being very, very foolish," Carroll said. "There is nothing special about the head."
Myth 5: Eating at night makes you fat.
While eating late at night has been associated with obesity, midnight munching does not cause obesity. "You shouldn’t be afraid to have that midnight snack anymore than a mid-day or mid-morning snack," Carroll said. The article, citing several studies, suggests that Santa’s jolly belly is the result of too many calories overall, not just the holiday treats laid out for him in the evening.
Carroll and Vreeman’s book "Don't Swallow Your Gum: Myths, Half-truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health" will be published in 2009 by St. Martin Press.
- 7 Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe
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- The Most Popular Myths in Science
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Robin Nixon is a former staff writer for Live Science. Robin graduated from Columbia University with a BA in Neuroscience and Behavior and pursued a PhD in Neural Science from New York University before shifting gears to travel and write. She worked in Indonesia, Cambodia, Jordan, Iraq and Sudan, for companies doing development work before returning to the U.S. and taking journalism classes at Harvard. She worked as a health and science journalist covering breakthroughs in neuroscience, medicine, and psychology for the lay public, and is the author of "Allergy-Free Kids; The Science-based Approach To Preventing Food Allergies," (Harper Collins, 2017). She will attend the Yale Writer’s Workshop in summer 2023.