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Six Holiday Myths Debunked

As the holidays approach, two doctors have decided to burst some popular holiday bubbles. No, they're not here to tell us there's no Santa Claus. But they are contradicting some long-held notions.

Aaron Carroll and Rachel Vreeman of the Indiana University School of Medicine decided to review the medical literature to examine whether there's any truth to six widely held ideas:

--Sugar makes kids hyperactive.

--Suicides spike over the holidays.

--Poinsettias are toxic.

--You lose most of your body heat through your head.

--Eating at night makes you fat.

--You can cure a hangover with (your remedy here).

You guessed it: There's no evidence that any of these are assertions are true, even though lots of people--including lots of doctors--believe them, the pair reports in a study published today by the BMJ, a British medical journal.

At least 12 well conducted studies have examined the sugar-makes-kids-crazy idea, and none found that it was real, even those that examined various sources of sugar, kids with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and those considered "sensitive" to sugar, the researchers say.

Same goes for the suicide-spikes-around the holidays idea. Even though the holidays may be stressful and occur when it's dark, cold and gloomy in many parts of the world, research in many countries has found no scientific evidence to support that idea. In fact, suicides are more common during warm and sunny times of the year, the researchers report.

The largest study to look at the dangers of poinsettias is an analysis of 849,793 cases in which people told the American Association of Poison Control Centers that they'd been exposed to potentially dangerous plants. Of these, 22,793 were poinsettia cases and none of them involved significant poisoning. No one died. More than 96 percent did not require treatment, the study found --not even 92 children who ingested "substantial quantities of poinsettias." Another study looked at poinsettia ingestion by rats and could find no toxic levels, even at doses that would be the equivalent of a human consuming 500 to 600 poinsettia leaves or a pound and a half of the plant's sap.

The idea that people lose a disproportionate amount of their heat through their heads probably originated with an old military study that involved scientists putting subjects in arctic survival suits without hats and measuring their heat loss in cold temperatures. The soldiers did lose heat through their heads, but only because it was the only bare part of the body. A more recent study found there's nothing special about the head, which will lose no more than 10 percent of body heat if left uncovered, say Caroll and Vreeman.

Even though some studies have shown that people who eat a lot at night gain weight, research indicates it has nothing to do with darkness. Those night eaters were simply eating more meals. It's all about the total number of calories in compared with the number burned up, no matter what time of day, the pair says.

If all this is making you want a drink, there's more bad news. The pair said there is "no scientific evidence" that any of the widely touted hangover remedies --aspirin, bananas, Vegemite, artichokes, prickly pears, etc.--actually work.

Would anyone like to share their favorite holiday myth?

By Rob Stein  |  December 19, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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Next: New Guidelines for Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome


So much for my planned xmas suicide by eating a bunch of poinsettias...

Posted by: ozpunk | December 19, 2008 5:08 PM | Report abuse

This info came out of a British medical journal. Why should it be trusted?

Posted by: is4817 | December 22, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

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