First, I do not like the term “old” when it comes to the term’s historical folklore. Miriam-Webster dictionary defines “Old Wives Tales” as “…a false belief or idea”. More bothersome, is the use of the word “old” when it comes to a wife. So outdated.
What if some of these remedy beliefs were true? Or all they just a bunch of dirt?
Digging thru a few of the wives’ tales, I found interesting truths in some but not all the common myths.
- Starve a Fever and Feed a Cold: false. Medieval beliefs surrounding body fluids (bile, blood and phlegm) impacted treatment strategies that were not always in the best interest of the patient. The flushing associated with high fever “indicated” excess blood and fasting may have been the prescribed option to slow down metabolism. On the other hand, excess phlegm and fatigue associated with a cold were “fed’ with food fuel to boost healing metabolism. Truth be told: both illnesses NEED food and fluids to fend off and fight infection.
- Take Vitamin C to fight a cold: (maybe) true. The “everything is better with Vitamin C” phenomenon was famously spread thru chemist, Linus Pauling. He believed in megadoses of Vitamin C for multisystem cures. While daily Vitamin C requirements are 90milligrams (75mg for women), up to 200mg daily vitamin C may, in fact, help decrease number of respiratory infection sick days by one or two (Harvard Med). Taking a supplement is fine, but more than 400mg Vitamin C daily is excreted in the urine and therefore wasted (literally). It is best to obtain your vitamins thru healthy foods which are thus far more bio-available (easier absorbed thru the intestine). Good examples of Vitamin C rich foods include a medium-sized orange which has about 51mg of Vitamin C and a medium bell pepper with approximately 95mg.
- Carrots can improve vision: (Not entirely) true. Carrots are rich in beta carotene which when converted to Vitamin A enables cells within the eye to capture light. This is essential to normal vision and lack of Vitamin A can lead to night blindness (hence, the link between Vitamin A and eyesight). Carrots are rich in lutein, which along with beta carotene contain antioxidants which help prevent eye damage by free radicals. Other foods rich in Vitamin A include red meats (especially liver), and fish.
- Cracking your knuckles can cause or worsen arthritis: (mostly) false. Cracking of the knuckles occurs when stretching the capsule and fluids around the joints. The stretching of the capsule allows gases to expand within the joint space and bubbles form that eventually “pop”. While straining a knuckle (or other joint) might increase the risk for arthritis with repeated over stretching, no study has linked “cracking” knuckles or other joints directly with the degenerative disease.
- Sugar makes kids hyperactive: false. A 1995 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated no association between a high sugary snack and hyperactivity. An earlier study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (1994) did show that parents who believed their children were affected by a high sugary diet were more likely to perceive their children as hyperactive after a sugary snack. The caveat is that most likely there are a select number of children who may be more sensitive to sugary sweets. I will leave this one to the parents to sort out.
- You can catch a cold from being outside in wintry weather: false. It is true that many common viruses such as the flu thrive in cooler temperatures. There is evidence that exposure to cold weather may adversely affect the climate inside our nasal passage and immune system. However, a study published about 40 years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated no evidence of a link between cold exposure and the common cold.
- The flu shot causes the flu: false. The flu shot contains inactivated virus. It can not give you the flu. The nasal flu vaccine is a weakened virus that will not transmit the flu in someone with a healthy immune system.Understandably, some individuals feel achy and tired after a flu vaccine, but it is not the flu. In addition, the flu shot may have been received in an environment where there was exposure to other respiratory illnesses (a pharmacy or medical clinic).
There are many more “experienced” wives’ tales to sort thru but hopefully I have clarified a few. In the meantime, stay warm, eat healthy, and get your flu shot.