Grandma sang the praises of chicken soup, cod liver oil, carrots and an apple a day, and shook her gnarled finger at spilled salt, feeding a fever, making faces (“Your face is going to stay that way!”) and venturing outside without a hat on frigid winter days. But did Grandma really know best?
It turns out many of those time-tested old wives’ tales and elixirs might have more than a morsel of medical truth to them. Several area doctors weighed in on eight of the most popular medical myths and did some debunking — and affirmation — of their own.
Tale: A teaspoonful of cod liver oil a day wards off disease.
What the doctor says: “There is some truth to that,” confirms Dr. Edward Fleming, of Holy Spirit Health System’s Dillsburg Family Health Center. Despite its legendary “yuck” quotient, cod liver oil indeed delivers a host of health benefits, Fleming said.
Some reports claim that the ingestion of cod liver oil hearkens back to the days of the ancient Roman Empire and the mighty Vikings, who equated the oil with physical strength. Besides its crucial omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for brain and nervous system vitality, cod liver oil is packed with plenty of vitamins A and D, nutrients many people don’t get enough of from our daily diet. In studies carried out by the National Institutes of Health, Fleming said that scientists recommended 600 IUs of vitamin D a day for healthy adults.
“While it won’t fend off every disease or cold, vitamin D is important in the function of the immune system,” he said, contributing to both bone health and overall health. Fleming cautions, however, that people should talk to their doctor about how much vitamin D or cod liver oil to take, because you can take too much, which leads to vitamin D toxicity.
Tale: Butter cools and heals sunburn and other minor burns.
What the doctors say: “I would never put butter on anything but toast,” said Dr. Christine Mackley of Brownstone Dermatology in Hummelstown. Mackley speculated that butter may have once been used for burns because it was thought to be a potent moisturizer, but many other products are much better for promoting skin moisture. Mackley also voices concern that butter may cause infection, “depending on how long you’ve had the butter and how long it’s been sitting out.”
Fleming agrees. “It’s not good to put butter immediately on any burn. It can potentially trap in heat.” And by applying a “non-sterile substance” to an open wound, it carries a “subsequent danger of infection.”
“With any burn, cool it with cool water,” Fleming recommended. And for second- and third-degree burns, where blackened skin or blisters are present, definitely skip the stick of butter and seek medical attention.
For sunburn, Mackley recommends ibuprofen for inflammation, and for a kitchen burn, cold water. To stave off infection, she recommends an antibacterial product, such as a triple antibiotic cream.
Tale: Ginger ale soothes an upset stomach.
What the doctor says: “This one is real,” said Dr. Craig Shrift, of Heritage Pediatrics in Camp Hill, part of the PinnacleHealth System. However, you must use the real deal.
“The classic old ginger ale has ginger root, which is a known anti-emetic (vomiting-fighter),” Shrift said. However, many of today’s ginger ales are artificially flavored.
Carbonated water can also ease an upset stomach, but “it can go either way,” Shrift warned. If you are gassy and bloated, the carbonation may help relieve painful stomach pressure; but on the flip side, if you are vomiting, the carbonation and bubbles may cause additional problems.
Shrift recommends a caffeine-free, low-sugar, all-natural ginger ale if you have an upset digestive system that can stomach the carbonation. Or, you might want to take the bubbles out by making it flat.
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