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Doctors Defog a Wintry Mix of Health Bunk

Dec. 17, 2008 -- With the winter holidays gearing up, a duo of doctors is crying "Bah, humbug!" over some seasonal health myths.

From poisonous poinsettias to heady heat loss, no holiday health myth is safe. Here are the facts, according to Rachel Vreeman, MD, and Aaron Carroll, MD, who are assistant professors of pediatrics at Indiana University's medical school:

  • Sugar and children's behavior. Sugar doesn't make for hyperactive kids. "Regardless of what parents might believe ... sugar is not to blame for out-of-control little ones," write Vreeman and Carroll.
  • Holiday suicides. Suicides don't increase around the holidays or in the winter. Worldwide, suicide rates are actually higher in the summer. And "while the holidays might indeed be a difficult time for some, there is no good scientific evidence to suggest a holiday peak in suicides," Vreeman and Carroll write.
  • Toxic poinsettias. Vreeman and Carroll found no proof that ingesting poinsettia parts makes for a medical emergency. But there's no need to nibble on one just to test that, and of course it never hurts to call Poison Control.
  • Wearing hats. People don't lose a big percentage of body heat through their head, according to Vreeman and Carroll. They write that "any uncovered part of the body loses heat and will reduce the core body temperature proportionately." So bundle up when it's cold, but wearing a hat may not make as much of a difference as you might think.
  • Nighttime feasting and weight gain. It wouldn't really matter if you pillaged the holiday buffet table in broad daylight. Ultimately, it's the calories that matter, and that's true 24-7.
  • Hangover cures. Vreeman and Carroll found no scientific evidence that "supports any cure or effective prevention for alcohol hangovers" except for drinking alcohol only in moderation or not at all.

Vreeman and Carroll have reported on health myths before, and next year, they will publish a book on the topic. Meanwhile, their truths about holiday health myths appear online in BMJ, formerly called the British Medical Journal.

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