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Wednesday, February 13, 2013


We all grow up hearing myths handed down from one generation to another. Many often involve health issues. Our guest today, John Wills, addresses some of those myths he heard from his mother. John is an award-winning author of books, short stories and poetry. He reviews books for the New York Journal of Books, writes a monthly column on Officer.com, is a speaker for the NCAA on the topic of dangerous drugs, and holds a personal trainer certificate. Learn more about him and his books at his website.

Cold Weather Myths And Other Scary Things My Mother Taught Me

Sadly, Mom wasn’t always right. 

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are probably the most memorable holidays of the year. It’s a time when we gather together with family, friends and co-workers to celebrate. These special occasions invariably include lots of high fat, high-calorie food, along with things like eggnog and liquor. Many of us think, “Hey, it’s the holidays. I can make an exception and eat and drink what I want.” But, can you?

What are the implications to your waistline of eating and drinking in excess on holidays? Conventional wisdom, as well as many of our friends and family, tells us that eating all that extra chow will put on at least five pounds of holiday weight. But, does it really? Not according to The New England Journal of Medicine. Their study suggests that few data support this accepted assertion, debunking the notion that we gain weight during the holidays. Holiday weight gain is a myth.

Let’s explore another oft-heard bit of advice. Wear a hat outdoors to stay warm. Anyone who runs or walks outside in the winter has heard that you must wear a hat to keep warm. If you fail to wear one, you’ll lose up to 75% of your body heat. True or false? False. The correct figure is probably closer to 10% for an adult.

The old adage about losing 75% of one’s body heat applies only to newborn babies, and is predicated on their head size, which is a much greater percentage of their total bodyweight at birth. Thus, the reason we see babies in the hospital nursery-wearing caps. Truth is, adults lose body heat through any part of their body that’s exposed to the cold (arms, hands, feet). Therefore, the no-hat rule is a myth.

Holidays can be a difficult time for some folks. It is said that the suicide rate increases during the holiday season. If you’ve lost a loved one, or have other stressors such as health issues or loss of a job, depression can become overwhelming. However, a 35-year study of Minnesota residents found that suicide did not increase during the holidays, or other important events such as birthdays. Another myth.

Everyone loves brilliant red poinsettia plants at Christmas. These beautiful flowers decorate homes, businesses and churches throughout the holiday season. However, I remember my mother telling me to keep my younger brothers and sisters away from the plants because they were poisonous. She also warned us to keep our pets away as well. But is the poinsettia plant really harmful to our health? No, not according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In 1996, their analysis of 22,793 poinsettia cases reported no significant poisoning. It is possible to become ill by consuming large amounts of the plant, however, that is also rare. Poinsettia poisoning is, therefore, a myth.

Don’t go outside with wet hair—you’ll catch a cold! Ever hear that warning? I have. But what about that, will you really get sick by going out in the cold with wet hair? No. You will feel cold, but feeling cold does not affect your immune system. According to Dr. Jim Sears, co-host of the TV show, The Doctors, going outside with wet hair is harmless. Sears cited a Salisbury, England study that proved the wet hair notion was indeed a myth.

Feed a cold—starve a fever. Which one is correct? Actually, Dr. Sears advises that in both cases one should eat and drink, and then drink some more. “Staying hydrated is the most important thing to do, because you lose a lot of fluids when you’re ill.” However, should you drink special beverages such as Gatorade? Sears advises that unless you’re severely dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea, there’s no need to drink anything containing electrolytes.

Have you ever heard your parents tell you that if you swallow your gum it stays in your stomach for seven years? It’s true, they explained to you, because gum isn’t food, therefore, the stomach has a difficult time breaking gum down in the digestive system. Myth or fact? That is another myth. Most non-food items swallowed by kids will pass through the system in a couple of days, and won’t even cause a tummy ache.

How about this one? You should wait an hour after eating before going swimming. True or false? False. The digestive system will not make your muscles cramp and cause you to drown. Blood flow to the muscles will decrease, since more blood is directed to the digestive system to break down the meal you just consumed, meaning you may have less energy. However, swimming immediately after eating will not cause one to drown. Go ahead and dive right in after enjoying that cheeseburger.

We all know that eating at night makes you fat . . . or does it? That is a myth. According to registered dietician, Dr. Jeannie Gassaniga-Moloo, who is also a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, don’t worry if you are forced to eat dinner later than usual. “The time of day a person eats is not as important for overall weight gain as the amount of calories eaten during the day.”

During the holidays, we feed our children much more sugar in the form of cakes, pastry and candy. Does sugar make the kids hyperactive, or is that a myth? You’ll be happy to learn that according to twelve placebo-controlled studies, kids who eat sugar do not act any different than those who did not. Another myth.

And speaking of kids, did your mom ever tell you that if you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way forever? Well, according to Ophthalmology Professor W. Walker Motley, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, that warning is yet another myth. “There’s no harm in voluntary eye crossing,” the good doctor tells us. But it sure did sound scary when mom said it.

The bottom line about myths is that any advice that is anecdotal in nature should be researched. Don’t take advice at face value every time someone tells you something. Ask an expert, or research it yourself. The internet provides instant access to authoritative sources that can help you decide what is a myth and what is not.


Holiday Health Myths: Sugar, Suicides, and Cold-Weather Clothes

Women Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line features a compelling collection of stories about women in law enforcement. From a dispatcher on the radio trying to remain calm and do her job while her husband is involved in a gun battle, to a desperate search for a missing child during a frightening storm, to a courageous lone officer staring down the barrel of a gun inside a crowded department store, the tales in this book will have your pulse racing.
Police officers, federal agents, chaplains, corrections officers and dispatchers all share their stories, each one written in their own hand. The diverse tales will make you laugh, cry and cheer as these Women Warriors face unknown danger during their shifts.
From the red-hot streets of Texas, to the frozen Alaska tundra, these true stories will capture your imagination and give you a true sense of what today’s women encounter as part of the Thin Blue Line. 


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Women Warriors is a terrific book and John Wills is a great guy. I know him from Public Safety Writers Association. He's written some other exciting books too.

John M. Wills said...

Thanks, Marilyn, that is a very nice compliment coming from such a successful writer as yourself.

E. Ayers said...

Hi, John. Thanks for debunking a few myths. I've heard that people who work in cold storage units almost never get sick. Maybe it is too chilly in there to support germ growth, but they do come out and therefore are exposed to all the other germs we face. Maybe we just need to think this stuff through and the answer will be come clear. But when it really gets cold...I'm keeping my hat on, and my gloves, and my lined boots, and...
I just finished reading your book, The Nightstand Collection. A great little collection of stories and thoughts. Perfect length for those with only a few minutes to read.

John M. Wills said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I've been an outdoor guy all my life. Having lived in Chicago and Detroit, and running every day regardless of weather, I can attest to the fact that cold does not make one ill.
Glad you enjoyed my book of short stories, The Nightstand Collection. By the way--it will be free on Amazon on Valentines Day!

Jill James said...

John, looks like a great book.

My mom told me if you tickle babies feet they will end up stuttering. Pretty sure that is a myth too. LOL

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Thanks, John, for addressing these myths many of us grew up hearing ~ and for setting the record straight! Great post :-)

John M. Wills said...

Never heard that one, Jill.

Rose Anderson ~ Romance Novelist said...

Great post John. I love information, and you've packed it full. Thanks for sharing.


John M. Wills said...

U r welcome, Kath.

John M. Wills said...

My pleasure!

Morgan Mandel said...

Thanks for debunking some of those myths. Despite the truth, I still don't care for going out of the house with my hair wet, unless it's very warm outside!

Good luck with your new release!

Morgan Mandel

John M. Wills said...

Ur welcome, Morgan.