Prevention & Recovery

Does Mother really know best?

Does Mother really know best?

© Image by: © Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

Does Mother really know best?

They say Mother knows best, but can all of her guidance be treated as gospel? Despite having our best interests at heart, not every bit of health-related advice our moms gave us growing up is necessarily true.

We consulted a group of experts to find out which of Mom's oft-repeated adages are rooted in reality and which are pure paranoia.

"Drink ginger ale to soothe your queasy stomach."

Verdict: False…sort of
While the ginger ale of old was chock-full of ginger, a known stomach stabilizer, many brands of modern-day ginger ale depend on artificial flavours to deliver that ginger jolt.

"As a result, ginger ale likely does not provide the benefits of ginger in soothing an upset stomach," says Rebecca Noseworthy, manager of nutrition education at Breakfast for Learning, a Canadian nonprofit organization dedicated to child nutrition programs. However, don't stow the soda away just yet. Sipping on any clear, flat, carbonated beverage can reduce nausea, Noseworthy says.

"Don't go outside with wet hair or you'll catch a cold!"

Verdict: False
Despite the shared name, being cold is not enough to give you a cold; for that you need actual contact with the virus.

"You can roll around naked in the snow and you will not catch a cold unless you meet someone who has a cold and also happens to be rolling around in the snow," says Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director of the McGill Office for Science and Society, and the bestselling author of Dr. Joe's Health Lab (Doubleday Canada, 2011).

That said, stressors -- including being physically cold -- can decrease your immune system activity, so if you insist on rolling around with cold sufferers, choose a warm location instead of a snowbank to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Page 1 of 3 -- Check out Mom's cure for hiccups, plus more health-remedies verified on page 2

"Coffee will stunt your growth."

Verdict: False
While coffee consumption won't make your wee one permanently pint-size, caffeine intake in youngsters should be monitored, Noseworthy says. "Caffeine can increase anxiety, heart rate and jitters in children, as well as stomachaches, headaches and sleep disruptions," she says.

Children ages four to six should consume no more than 45 milligrams of caffeine per day; children seven to nine, no more than 62.5 milligrams; and 10- to 12-year-olds, no more than 85 milligrams.

To put that into perspective, an eight-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 135 milligrams of caffeine and one can of cola contains 36 to 46 milligrams.

"Hold your breath if you want to get rid of those hiccups."

Verdict: True
These little annoyances, brought on by spasms of the diaphragm, have prompted dozens of suggested cures over the years, ranging from gulping down water to standing on your head.

But, although no one really knows why it works, holding your breath is indeed the best way to go, says Schwarcz. "The best bet is to build up carbon dioxide in the lungs," he says. "Holding your breath can do that, whether you do it standing on your head or swinging from a tree limb to limb." But we suggest coping with hiccups with both feet firmly planted on the ground.

"Don't hold back your sneezes: It's bad for you."

This one's as plain as the nose on your face: Let those sneezes rip! Sneezing is the body's way of expelling unwanted visitors from the nose, such as dust, insects and other allergens.

Besides allowing these irritants to overstay their welcome, physically preventing a sneeze can cause injuries such as burst eardrums, nosebleeds and broken blood vessels in the eyes because of the pent-up pressure, says Dr. Peter Spafford, secretary of the Canadian Society of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Just how much pressure are we talking? "The built up pressure would be enough to deliver a baby," Spafford says. Ouch!

"Don't sit on a cold surface too long or you'll get hemorrhoids."

Verdict: False
Hockey moms can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Those long stints at the rink won't wreak havoc on your backside after all. The true cause of hemorrhoids is straining, Schwarcz says, which causes the lining of the intestines to literally be forced out the rear.

Constipation and childbirth are common causes -- not where you bench your behind. "Whether you sit on a block of ice or a stovetop makes no difference," Schwarcz says.

Page 2 of 3 -- Mom says drinking milk is good for your bones and you can find out why on page 3

"Don't sit too close to the TV or you'll ruin your eyes."

Sorry, Mom: Experts don't see eye-to-eye with you on this claim. It turns out that children actually have an amazing ability to adapt to blurred vision without experiencing eye strain, according to Rachel Hill Campbell, an optician at Personal Optical in St. Catharines, Ont.

That said, noticing your son is sitting too close for comfort to his cartoons could be a sign he is nearsighted and needs glasses.

"The strain isn't caused from sitting so close; the child has simply found a way to see things better," Hill Campbell says. But don't fret: A proper pair of glasses will have him back curling up on the couch in no time.

"Stay out of the shower and off the phone during a thunderstorm."

Verdict: True
While neither showers nor phones actually attract lightning, your mom's weather warning is legit. "If lightning strikes the plumbing system, it can be conducted into the tub or shower," says Valerie Powell, communications and media program coordinator at the Canada Safety Council (CSC).

And that could turn a bath or shower into an electrifying experience. Likewise, the CSC recommends limited use of landline phones and other electrical appliances during storms, since electricity from a lightning strike can travel through wires.

If you must be on the phone -- to, say, wish a certain someone a happy Mother's Day -- reach for your cell and avoid venturing outside.

"Drink your milk if you want strong bones."

Verdict: True
Bottoms up, kids: Your mom hit the mark with milk. "Bone is made up of calcium and other minerals, as well as protein. All parts of the body need calcium to function properly, and if you are not taking in enough calcium, the body will take what it needs from your bones," says Dr. Famida Jiwa, president and CEO of Osteoporosis Canada.

As one of the best sources of calcium (an eight-ounce glass contains around 300 milligrams, about a third of the daily recommended intake for adults ages 19 to 50) and bone-building protein, milk can help fight the risk of osteoporosis and fractures for drinkers of all ages.

But milk's not just for the betterment of bones. Nutrients found in milk help muscles and nerves function properly, improve vision and support energy metabolism, says Noseworthy. "Whether you are 15 or 50, be sure to make milk a part of your diet," says Jiwa.

Adam Ledlow is a freelance writer in Brampton, Ont. After years of being told to stop reading in the dark, lest he ruin his eyes, Adam and his mother have reached a mutual understanding -- now that he pays for his own hydro.

This story was originally titled "Things Your Mama Said" in the May 2012 issue.

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Prevention & Recovery

Does Mother really know best?