Delaware Health: Medical Myths

Medical Myths Debunked: An apple a day … or not?

My mother and grandmother were queens of old wives’ tales. Growing up in the ’60s, I sweltered on the beach after gobbling my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, having to wait a whole hour—which, for a kid, is pretty much eternity—before I could jump into the surf. After all, I didn’t want to suffer those hideous and legendary lethal cramps Mom warned me about.

By the time I grew up and moved to Rehoboth Beach, I threw caution to the wind, gobbling Thrasher’s fries and wading instantly into the surf. But what if Ma was right?
And for that matter, would I really ruin my eyes reading in dim light? (“Put a stronger light on, dear. You’ll positively ruin your eyes.”) Would I invite a painful case of advanced arthritis from cracking my knuckles” (“Really, Fay, that’s such a nasty habit. And besides, you’ll get arthritis!”)

Though I have come to ignore such family medical advice, I admit to a residual voice in my brain wondering if I’m doing myself or my loved ones harm.

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To the burning question of those stomach cramps from swimming after eating: “After you eat, there is theoretically a shift in blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract and a reduction of blood flow to muscles,” says Dr. Craig Hochstein, medical director of the emergency department at Bayhealth Medical Center. “But, in practical terms, unless you’re somebody already compromised, I don’t believe this is an issue.” Whew. I’m taking that as vindication.

OK, Dr. Hochstein, what about knuckle-cracking giving you arthritis? Says he: “I haven’t seen any literature that would substantiate that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis, but I hate it when my kids do it.”

Moving right along: Should we really feed a cold and starve a fever? According to Dr. Jeffrey Hawtof and his wife, Dr. Nancy Gideon, of Beacon Medical Practice in Millsboro, “A fever is a symptom and a cold is a disease. Actually, a cold can come with a fever.” The docs say “food for either is irrelevant. But you need plenty of water to stay hydrated for both a cold and a fever. So feel free to dine as you please with a cold or fever, but please keep yourself hydrated.”

And what about ruining your eyesight if you read without the perfect lighting conditions? Newark’s Yvonne Kneisley, O.D., says, “Reading in the dark overworks the eye muscles, which may lead to headaches, eye strain, fatigue and eye pain. However, these are all temporary symptoms that will resolve.” So if it was good enough for Abe Lincoln to read by the flicker of candlelight, it’s good enough for me.

Do carrots improve your vision? According to the eye specialist, yes and no. “The myth presumably evolved from propaganda used by the British in World Was II, claiming that carrots were responsible for the increase in accuracy of British night pilots,” Kneisley says. “In truth, this was an effort to conceal their new radar technology, the true source of this improved accuracy.

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“However, carrots do contain key nutrients such as beta-carotine, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are vital for eye health and known to combat premature cataracts and macular degeneration,” says Kneisley. “So eat your carrots, but don’t throw away your glasses.” Cool.

Here’s a good one: Does caffeine stunt a child’s growth, or did grandma just want me out of her coffee cup? According to pediatrician Renee Grob of Middletown and Dover, “There have been multiple studies done, but none have been able to confirm this old wives’ tale. But caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system and can cause anxiety, dizziness and sleep disturbances. It is also addictive and is a diuretic that causes dry mouth, dental problems and even dehydration.” But affecting height? Nope.

Hey, years ago, long before fresh fish became a gourmet staple, Mom used to coax me to eat my fish sticks by promising that eating fish was good for my brain. I love my tilapia and rockfish, but is it brain food?

“Yes, your mother was right,” says neurosurgeon James Mills of Dover. “Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, contain high levels of DHA, an important molecule for brain development and function.  In addition, the omega-3s are good for the heart, which, in turn, is good for the brain.”

What about butter on a burn? “No,” says a physician pal of mine. Ice is bad, too. Cold water helps most.

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The doc also reported that nightcaps don’t induce sleep, although clear spirits like vodka mess less with your sleep than bourbon or Scotch.

So there you have it. I did not feel guilt when my schnauzer sipped from my coffee cup this morning. I feel better reading in dim light, and I’m off to fix brain food for dinner. After that, I’ll enjoy a clear liquid nightcap. And come summer, you won’t find me on the sand too long after that Grotto Pizza. Gee, I never did find out about that apple a day thing. Heck, it can’t hurt. Can it?