Science versus old wives’ tales

Posted on 18 December 2012

Does your gran’s advice really work? Our experts give the lowdown on some accepted wisdom, but take heart, sometimes your grandma did know best!

1. Should I starve a fever, feed a cold?
Expert’s verdict: NO
While you should choose fruit and vegetables that are high in vitamin C to boost your immune system, there’s not much evidence to show that going without food when you have a temperature helps, or that you should fill up on nutrient-dense foods when you have a cold. According to Duke University in the US experts, your appetite tends to go anyway when you’re running a fever. Loss of appetite means your immune system can focus on warding off the infection. But if you’re hungry you should eat, and you should make a point of drinking fluids as this will help fight the fever.  As for feeding a cold, rather eat normally as the cold may last a few days. The best advice is to rest and eat healthily all year.

2. Will a hot-water bottle on my tummy ease period pains?
Expert’s verdict: YES
Menstrual pain can be numbing, but fortunately cuddling up to a hot-water bottle really does seem to work. In fact, one study showed that applying low-level topical heat continuously can be as effective as ibuprofen in treating painful menstruation (dysmenorrhoea). The heat helps the uterine muscle to relax. If you don’t have a hot-water bottle handy, relaxing in a hot tub should probably also do the trick.

3. Can I use rooibos tea in my bathwater to relieve eczema?
Expert’s verdict: MAYBE
Rooibos truly is a remarkable tea, which, thanks to high levels of the antioxidant aspalathin, holds promise in preventing and possibly treating heart disease and cancer. The tea has been used in skin creams and ointments for decades but there’s no conclusive evidence that it can help treat eczema or other skin problems, although it might help if the rash was caused by an allergic reaction. However, promising research shows that rooibos tea, applied to the skin of mice, inhibits the growth of skin tumours. Hopefully future research on human skin will be just as positive.

4. Does it really help to hold my breath to cure hiccups?
Expert’s verdict: YES
Holding your breath may in fact produce mild respiratory acidosis – a situation where the lungs can’t remove all the carbon dioxide the body produces. And this is what may possibly cure hiccups, although it hasn’t yet been confirmed by clinical research.

5. Should I rub honey on cuts and grazes to disinfect them?
Expert’s verdict: YES, IN SOME CASES
Your grandma was spot-on with this piece of advice. Honey is an ancient remedy for treating wounds and it’s been the focus of much research lately. Numerous studies have shown that honey prevents the growth of Staphylococcus aureus – bacteria commonly associated with skin infections. It’s believed that the magic of honey lies in its high osmolarity – in other words, the high concentration of sugar particles in the solution. However, there’s some concern that the bacteria and fungi naturally contained in honey may, in certain instances, make matters worse. So to be safe, use honey on superficial cuts and grazes only, and never on deep cuts or burn wounds.

6. Will milk take away the burn of a spicy meal?
Expert’s verdict: MAYBE
This remedy does help – to a degree. Capsaicin in chilli peppers is responsible for their ‘heat’, but because it isn’t soluble in water, beer or cool drinks won’t ease the discomfort. Milk, on the other hand, contains fat, and is much better at washing away the lipid-like capsaicins.

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The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Healthy Life

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