When it comes to our health, everyone has a home remedy or anecdotal suggestion they can share. From our grandmothers to Dr. Google, there is an abundance of health information out there and it can be hard to know what's true and what's not.
In honour of the first week of April, here are a few common questions that have come up in my office that will hopefully dispel and confirm common health myths and truths:
If I swallow my gum, does it really stay in my gut for seven years?
Likely started by parents to prevent their kids from swallowing their gum, the image of the sticky substance getting lodged in our intestines is one that most of us can remember being scolded about as kids. But the truth is – gum, like any other food, will exit your system in about three days without getting stuck.
I had a number of sleepless nights last week – can I catch up on my sleep on the weekend?
While it sounds plausible to replenish sleep debt, it is actually not possible to 'catch up' on lost sleep. In fact, getting those extra hours on the weekend can make you feel worse. The best way to recover from a few sleepless nights is to try to maintain a regular sleep schedule (even on weekends) with consistent hours of going to bed and waking with a goal of six to seven hours a night.
I have trouble falling asleep and find that having a warm glass of milk sometimes helps. Is this real?
This one is true and false. Milk is commonly thought to help with inducing sleep because it contains tryptophan, the same sleep-inducing amino acid found in turkey. The reality is though, there's not enough tryptophan in a glass of milk to really trigger sleep. It is more likely that the comforting effect of having glass of milk triggers a feeling of well-being and relaxation that helps us sleep better. If you make a glass of milk a daily habit as part of your sleep routine, that cup of milk may help you get into sleep mode just like dimming the lights, turning off the phone and tucking into bed.
Although I'm a 35-year-old woman, my mom still tells me to dry my hair before going out to prevent catching a cold. Is there any truth to this?
Feeling chilled or going out with wet hair does not cause colds. Colds happen when we're exposed to viruses that we either breathe in or touch from infected droplets passed through sneezing, coughing or from contaminated surfaces. Colds and flus are more common in winter months, but this is most likely due to a decrease in humidity with cooler temperatures. A decrease in humidity causes the nasal passages to dry out, making it easier for viruses to pass through and infect cells. We also spend more time indoors in cold months which translates into sharing the air in closer quarters which may increase exposure to viruses.
Is chicken soup really good for colds?
Not only does it taste good and warm us up, there is some evidence that shows that chicken soup may help with colds. While it's still unclear what particular ingredient may affect the immune system, research has shown that both homemade and store bought soups had similar effects. Chicken soup when compared to hot water was also found to help clear the nasal passages and improved the function of cilia – hairs in nose that prevent infection. Further research needs to be done to see what the true effect is of chicken soup are but for now – it seems like it helps, it's not harmful and can help to hydrate and comfort when we're not feeling well.
I'm starting to notice grey hairs and I've started plucking them. My grandmother tells me that I'll get three more in place of each one I pull. Is this true?
This is one of my favourites, as my grandmother also swats my hand away when I reach for one of my grey hairs. Think about it though, if we could multiply our grey hair through plucking, wouldn't that mean that the same would happen for coloured hair? This would be a cure for balding! Hair grows out of follicles and each follicle has one hair. If you pluck one hair, one hair will grow back. Overplucking can actually cause damage to the follicle which over time can stop hair growth. The best thing is to protect your hair it by not plucking but colouring or trimming if needed.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.
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