Five Common Health Adages: Fact or Myth

Long-held health adages and the well-meaning advice of parents and other elders shape some of our health beliefs and practices – but are the things we’ve heard true?

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

When it comes to health, little is as simple as it seems. Apples are a good part of a nutritionally balanced diet, as is other produce, including vegetables and other fruits.

Research conducted and published in May 2015 in “JAMA Internal Medicine” conducted specifically to determine if, in fact, people who ate an apple a day visited the doctor’s office less frequently than people who did not eat an apple daily. After adjusted analysis of the data, it was found that those who ate an apple daily did not make fewer doctor visits than those who didn’t, but the daily apple-eaters did take slightly fewer prescription medicine than those without the habit.

Apples supply good nutrition and fiber, but in and of themselves, they aren’t a wonder food – but then no single food item is. Still, apples are part of a healthy diet and often recommended for as a healthy snack with or without the addition of peanut butter or a low fat cheese.

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

When Mary Poppins sang this song, it was in a 19th century setting. Medicines at that time were the basic chemical compounds, often in liquid form, and bitter-tasting. A spoonful of sugar or applesauce or jam might have made taking those medications more palatable.

Today’s liquid medications come flavored from the manufacturer, reducing or eliminating the need to add sugar to make the taste more pleasant. A dry spoonful of sugar wouldn’t be easy to swallow, so using it to take uncoated tablets isn’t recommended. A spoonful of applesauce, yogurt or pudding is often used by people who have difficulty swallowing medicine or to disguise the taste of uncoated pills and tablets.

Feed a Fever, Starve a Cold or Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

Whichever way you heard it, it’s half-right. The truth is, both the common cold and a fever should be fed – or at least not starved. During illness, the body uses extra energy to fight the invading organism, whether that be the viruses that cause the common cold or other general illnesses that cause a fever. If you have an appetite when you have a fever or are sick with a cold, there is nothing to be gained by not eating.

If you find yourself without an appetite, that’s okay, too, for the short-term. But don’t skimp on fluids, no matter the cause of the fever or with the common cold. Fever depletes fluids from the body with the potential of causing dehydration. Even if you don’t feel like drinking liquids, motivate yourself to take frequent sips. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages though because both of them cause the body to lose excess fluids.

Chicken Soup Will Cure the Common Cold

Alas, nothing cures the common cold – at least not yet. But a steaming bowl or cup of chicken soup has been proven to help increase your body’s ability to move mucus out of your nasal passages, to ease congestion and to clear your airways.

A warm liquid such chicken soup can also be therapeutic when you have a cold, just helping you to feel better by taking in fluids (the importance of which is noted above). The warmth of the liquid can be soothing to your throat as you swallow it. In addition, there is thought to be a compound, carnosine, found in chicken that may inhibit some of the inflammatory responses of the body to the cold virus – namely the bothersome symptoms of runny nose, sore throat, congestion.

Being Cold Gives You a Cold

The answer to this is both yes and no. No, because it is exposure to rhinoviruses that actually cause the common cold. When you are outdoors in the cold, you’re less likely to be exposed to rhinoviruses than you are when indoors and/or in close proximity with other people, one of whom may have a cold.

However, if you are cold and exposed to a rhinovirus, your body is less likely to activate its normal system of fighting off invading organisms. Also, rhinoviruses thrive in cooler temperatures, multiplying more quickly the lower your body temperature is below 98.6F. If you are exposed to a rhinovirus while you are cold or outdoors in the cold, inhaling the cold air through your nose not only allows the virus to begin to infect you, the cells will thrive before your immune system has a chance to respond.

These are five of the most commonly known health adages. If you know any and wonder whether they are true or not, leave them in the comment section. I’ll look up the science behind them and share the information.

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  1. Barbara Radisavljevic
  2. Deb Jones

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