Feature article from the March, 2004 Newsletter

Which Old Wives' Tales Are True?

The material below is based largely on the undated posting by Patricia King: "13 Old Wives' Tales Exposed" on the Web site Lifetimetv.com. In the text below, ellipses indicate passages that your newsletter editor has omitted, and portions in italics are things that he has added or modified.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Many fresh fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other diseases. Apples are good for you (but so are oranges, bananas, mangoes and other fresh produce).
Final verdict: True

You'll go deaf listening to loud music.

A study from the Institute of Laryngology and Otology at University College in London found that 62% of nightclub regulars and 72% of people who regularly attend rock concerts have experienced hearing problems, including premature hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Final verdict: True

Sitting too close to the television and reading in dim light, are bad for your eyes.

Reading in dim light can cause eyestrain, but it causes no permanent harm.
Sitting too close to the television set is not harmful if it has one of the new, expensive LCD screens. However, if it's a color set with a picture tube (standard until recently) it probably emits X-rays, so sitting up close is definitely a bad idea.
Final verdict: Mixed

Fish is brain food.

Research shows that fish eaters have less plaque in their arteries, so they have better blood flow to the brain, which may be associated with better overall mental function. In addition, fish contains important B vitamins that help with cognitive ability and memory, says nutritionist Janine Whiteson, author of "Get a Real Food Life."
Final verdict: True

You'll catch a cold if you go outside with wet hair.

This notion is malarkey, says David Whitaker, D.O., an emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. "Colds are caused only by viruses," he says. "Going outside with a soaking head (or forgetting your jacket on a chilly day) isn't going to make you sick."
Yes, colds are viral, but Dr. Whitaker is ignoring something equally important: The sudden change in ambient temperature caused by going outside on a cold day with a wet head and/or without a jacket, is a thermal shock to the body, one of the many forms of stress that compromise the immune system and thereby make you more vulnerable to microorganisms including cold viruses, which are always around.
Dr. Whitaker's Final verdict: False / Your newsletter editor's opinion: Often true.

Eat the crust of the bread -- it's especially good for you.

A crumb of bread crust has eight times the amount of cancer-fighting antioxidants as a crumb from another part of the slice, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. (However, eating the crust won't turn your hair curly or your teeth whiter, as you may have heard.)
Final verdict: True

Stress and spicy foods cause ulcers. .

Overconsumption of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil and Aleve, and the bacteria H. pylori are the two major causes of ulcers, reports Cynthia Yoshida, M.D., director of the Women's Gastrointestinal Clinic at the University of Virginia. . Stress and eating piquant foods can cause indigestion or even acid reflux, but they don't create ulcers -- they just irritate them.
Here, too, something important has been left out:
H. Pylori is present in the digestive systems of many people who do not have ulcers; as noted on Page 10, stress has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. Therefore it is quite likely that the combination of H. pylori and stress can cause ulcers.
Dr. Yoshida's Final verdict: False / Your newsletter editor's opinion: Spicy foods, False; Stress, True (though stress is not the only cause).

Eating carrots is good for your eyes.

The nutrient lutein -- found in small amounts in carrots -- has been shown to reduce the severity of the age-related eye disease macular degeneration (one of the top causes of vision loss). Broccoli, spinach and other green leafy vegetables are much better sources for that purpose.
However, carrots also contain substantial amounts of Vitamin A, which plays a major role in vision, particularly night vision. Web site's Final verdict: False / Your newsletter editor's verdict: True

You'll be healthier if your head points to the south when you sleep.

This notion may get its basis from the Chinese practice of feng shui, the art of arranging objects in your environment to achieve harmony in life. But according to Whitaker, there's no need to bring a compass to the bedroom -- this tale isn't supported by medical fact.
Final verdict: False

Don't crack your knuckles -- it causes arthritis.

"The 'cracking' is actually caused by the bursting of a bubble of nitrogen that forms inside the joint when the joint moves," says John Klippel, M.D., medical director of the Arthritis Foundation. "Popping your knuckles may be annoying to others, but it doesn't cause arthritis, enlarged joints or musculoskeletal problems."
Final verdict: False

W. A. Shapiro