Medical myths that come with a health warning

So you know how to keep warm? Think again. Jeremy Laurance reveals research that sets the record straight


Sugar makes kids hyperactive

Many parents have seen the gleam in their child's eye after a can of cola. But Drs Vreeman and Carroll, paediatricians at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, say sugar is not to blame for out-of-control offspring. At least 12 double-blind, randomised trials have examined how children react to diets with different levels of sugar – none detected any difference between children who had sugar and those who did not. Even in studies of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, no difference in behaviour was detectable. Yet when parents believe their children have had sugar they rate their behaviour as more hyperactive, even if what they ate and drank was sugar-free. "The differences were all in the parents' minds," the authors say.

You lose most of your heat through your head

It is widely believed that wearing a hat is the most effective way of staying warm in winter because "40-45 per cent of body heat is lost through the head" (as stated in a US Army manual). But this is wrong. There is nothing special about the head. If it were true, people would be colder going hatless than trouserless, which is "patently not the case", the authors say. The myth arose from a military study which measured heat loss in people wearing Arctic clothing and, as they were hatless, naturally they lost most of their heat through their heads. In fact, people lose around 10 per cent of their body heat through their head. If it's cold outside it makes sense to wrap up, but a hat won't make a huge difference.

Cures for a hangover

None, the authors say. Many are offered, even by medical experts, but no good evidence shows they work. Propranolol, tropisetron, tolfenamic acid, glucose and supplements such as borage, artichoke, prickly pear and Vegemite have all been suggested but all failed to end the throbbing head and heaving gut. (They do not mention the pint of water and paracetamol before bed). The only preventive, they say, is to drink less.

Poinsettias are toxic

The red-leaved Christmas plant is widely suspected of being poisonous. It is not. Of almost 850,000 reports involving plants to the American Association of Poison Control Centres, none of the 23,000 relating to poinsettias involved significant harm. Even in cases where children ate substantial amounts, none needed medical treatment. Parents can relax that the Christmas table decoration is safe.

Suicides increase over the holidays

Dark, cold nights, family dysfunction, loneliness – all can contribute to feelings of despair. But the evidence suggests that while the holidays can be difficult, they also give people something to live for. Studies show suicides decrease in the days before a holiday and increase in the days after. They are also lower in the winter and higher in the summer.

Night food makes you fat

Some diets suggest not eating late helps weight loss and some research backs it. A Swedish study found obese women ate later than slimmer counterparts – but they were fat by eating more meals and their eating pattern was thus extended over a longer time, not because they were night eaters. The timing makes no difference; how much is eaten does.

The research was carried out by Aaron Carroll and Rachel Vreeman of the Indiana University School of Medicine and published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

    £15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

    £11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

    £15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy