5 Old Wives' Tales About Health (Confirmed by Science)
On the list of the most important jobs of a mom, keeping your kids healthy comes in second only to making sure they don't grow up into the type of person who would "accidentally" leak a sex tape. And if that means occasionally bluffing or passing along the same BS myths that were passed down by her mother before her, then by God, that's what a mom does.
But you might be surprised to find out that some of that motherly health advice that sounds suspiciously like superstitious nonsense now wasn't so made up after all.
Got a Cold? Have Some Chicken Soup
It might be the oldest wives' tale in the history of old wives telling tales -- what you really need for a case of the sniffles is a nice hot bowl of chicken soup. Sure, it's not medicine, but it makes you feel better, right? So what's the deal -- is chicken made of magic, or are our mothers falling for the propaganda Big Soup pushes through its willing puppets in the media?
"Congratulations. Here's the keys to your brand new soup. Enjoy it."
But Science Says ...
You'd think the answer to this one would be simple -- it's a hot, salty comfort food that's easy to swallow with a sore throat. But apparently the healing powers of chicken soup go way beyond that.
In a study published in CHEST Journal ("Official Publication of the American College of Chest Physicians," in case you forgot to renew your subscription), researchers found that chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis, giving it anti-inflammatory properties that could help relieve the symptoms associated with upper respiratory infections. So in addition to "improving hydration and nutritional status," chicken soup has the potential of "accelerating mucosal clearance," which is science's fancy way of saying that it helps make your sniffles better.
Especially if you add vodka.
In addition, experts have said that chicken contains the amino acid cysteine, which is released when Mom magically transmogrifies the chicken into tasty, tasty soup. This compound is awfully similar to a drug called acetylcysteine, which doctors prescribe for patients with bronchitis and respiratory infections to help them hork up all that crap in their chest. So yeah, when you look at it that way, chicken soup is actual medicine. Sort of.
"I'm sorry, but it appears he overdosed on soup."
Honey Cures a Cough
Using honey to treat a child's cough sounds like a brilliant idea that came about one late night when all the drug stores were closed and one mom at the end of her tether stared groggily into the kitchen cabinet. That bear-shaped bottle of goo has the same consistency as cough syrup, and hopefully the placebo effect will be strong enough to let everyone get back to sleep, because goddammit, I have to work in the morning.
"You may think I'm old-fashioned, but here, eat this."
But Science Says ...
To see whether there's actually anything to this, researchers decided to compare the effects of honey to those of dextromethorphan on children's nighttime coughs. (Dextromethorphan is the active ingredient in pretty much all over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, and a favorite among particularly reckless recreational drug users.)
So the researchers gathered up a group of 105 sickly children ranging from 2 to 18 years old and split them into three groups: The parents of the first group would treat their children's coughs with honey, the second group would get honey-flavored dextromethorphan, and the third group would get no treatment at all, otherwise known as the "harden the hell up" method.
"You can stay in bed if you're OK with a charley horse every hour. To keep your immune system on its toes."
Not surprisingly, the real medicine scored better than nothing at all in treating coughs and sleeping difficulties. What was surprising was that the honey did even better than the drug, coming out head and shoulders above dextromethorphan at relieving cold and cough symptoms.
Researchers think that the stickiness and viscosity of honey is what helps it alleviate coughs, while the natural antioxidants can help in the healing process. Thanks, bees!
Also, ew. Seriously, just ... gross.
But as implausible as honey is as a cure, it still sounds way less stupid than ...
A Spoonful of Sugar Cures the Hiccups
Hiccups are the mother of half of the world's folk remedies. History has suggested everything from holding your breath to putting a plastic bag over your head to cure hiccups (the latter presumably through death), but many of you probably best remember Mom's old placebo cure: a spoonful of sugar. It won't really do anything, but the kid will probably forget all about his hiccups once he's bouncing off the walls, right?
"Yeah, you just stay your ass outside for an hour or two."
But Science Says ...
Actually, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study by Dr. Edgar Engelman touting ordinary white granulated sugar as a cure for the hiccups way back in 1971. So there's a chance that our moms were just really well-versed in the medical literature.
"And the red square represents why you are genetically predisposed to cystic fibrosis."
What Engelman found was that a spoonful of sugar immediately cured the hiccups in 19 out of 20 patients. That may not sound like much, until you find out that some of those patients had the hiccups for more than six hours, while others had been suffering from them for weeks. Presumably Engelman's clientele consisted mainly of stereotypical cartoon drunks.
But why does it work? The most likely explanation is that the sudden influx of sweetness overstimulates the vagus nerve (the nerve that connects your brain to your abdomen), effectively distracting it from the task it was previously focusing on, which in this case is jackhammering your diaphragm. The old "scare the crap out of the kid" tactic can sometimes work on this same distraction principle, although sugar is the preferred method of moms who don't keep a ready stash of clean underwear on hand.
"Hiccup again, motherfucker! I'm daring you to hiccup one more goddamn time!"
The Crust Is the Most Nutritious Part of the Bread
Kids seem to have a natural aversion to that gross brown part on the outside of bread, while moms have a natural aversion to the pain in the ass of having to trim sandwiches every day. So generations of mothers have told their children that the crust is the most nutritious part of the bread. It gets moms out of a pointless task and simultaneously teaches kids that little white lies are an effective means of getting out of unnecessary work.
"I'm ... uhhh ... on my period. Yeah. Totally perioding it up, sorry."
But Science Says ...
A group of German researchers led by Dr. Thomas Hofmann decided to get to the bottom of this by studying the chemical makeup of bread crust versus the rest of the loaf. And their research only proved that their mommies were right all along.
How is this possible, considering that both parts of the bread are made from the exact same stuff? It's because when it's baked, bread undergoes a process called the Maillard reaction, which is what gives it a crust (it's the same thing that gives meat and even beer that distinctive brown color). Besides giving the bread much of its flavor, studies have shown that this reaction produces antioxidant compounds that act as Batman to your body's Gotham City, stalking and then beating its degenerate citizens (cancer cells) into an acquiescent pulp.
Or a posse of vigilantes unleashed upon the horse-thieving cancers of your body.
When Hofmann and company scienced their bag lunches, they discovered that the bread contained a specific antioxidant called pronyl-lysine -- a compound that further study showed was the most important component in bread for leveling up your body's cancer prevention points (CPP). And here's the kicker: This compound was eight times more abundant in the crust than in the rest of the bread. And stuffing is even better, since it involves breaking the bread into smaller pieces, giving it more surface area to brown.
So consider this an official endorsement from Cracked to take a double serving of crusty bread and turkey stuffing next Thanksgiving. Or, at the very least, to cherish your kids' faces when they find nothing but bread crust in their sandwich box.
"So, legally, what can they actually do to us if we ... 'retaliate'?"
Cold Weather Will Make You Catch a Cold
Despite the fact that we named it the common cold, we've known for a very long time that this illness is in fact caused by viruses and has precisely jack to do with the weather. But that hasn't stopped generations of mothers from telling their children that going out in the cold without bundling up is a surefire way to get sick, which is why they wind up forced to cosplay as the Michelin Man come December.
"No, you don't need your sled -- we're just going out to check the mail."
But Science Says ...
The role of weather in the spread of the common cold has been the subject of much debate in the scientific community. If there were nothing to the cold weather theory, then why would there be a "cold and flu season" that falls right smack dab in the middle of winter? You could say that it's just because winter forces people indoors, where proximity to other sick people spreads disease faster. But doesn't it affect people who live alone, too? That's what researchers at Cardiff University's Common Cold Center in Wales thought, and they set out to find out once and for all.
So they rounded up 20 people and blasted the fuck out of them with high-powered snow cannons.
They gathered up 180 volunteers in the midst of common cold season and somehow convinced half of them to sit with their feet immersed in ice water for 20 minutes. What they found was that over the next week, nearly a third of the frozen victims -- er, volunteers -- developed cold symptoms, versus only 9 percent of the unfrozen ones. Chalk up another point for motherly advice!
Professor Ron Eccles explained that, "If they become chilled this causes a pronounced constriction of the blood vessels in the nose and shuts off the warm blood that supplies the white cells that fight infection." So while a warm body might have been exposed to the virus yet show no symptoms, chilling that same body like a nice white wine sets up a perfect environment for the virus to take hold, and in turns allows cold symptoms to develop.
"I am so sorry, I had no idea I'd locked you outside for two days."
So take the reduced humidity of the cold winter months (which allows viruses to travel more easily), the reduced defenses of a cold body, and the human tendency to go inside and warm up that cold body in an enclosed space surrounded by a bunch of snot-noses, and it all adds up to a virus kegger in your nose. And if there's one lesson we truly took to heart as kids, it's that you should always listen to your mother when it comes to advice about what not to put in your nose.
Jason is a freelance editor for this fine website, Cracked.com. Your mom said you should like him on Facebook.