Old Wives' Tales fact or fiction: Which home remedies actually work?

TUCSON - We've all heard the Old Wives' Tales and home remedies to cure colds and other common aches and pains, but which ones work?

A doctor from the University of Arizona helped us get to the bottom of a few popular remedies.

  • Does chicken soup actually do anything when you're sick?

"There are some ingredients in chicken soup, not the chicken itself, but maybe some of the side ingredients in the soup that have some anti-inflammatory components that can help your body heal when you're fighting off a cold or a cough or a flu," said Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah.

Other broth-based soups can have the same effect. "Ginger based broths, green onion based broths can also help, and these are common in a lot of the Asian soups," said Dr. Grivois-Shah.

The warm steam can also help open your sinuses and provide relief from congestion. Additionally, soups can help rehydrate your body, which is important in recovering.

  • Can reading in dim light damage your eyes?

"There might be some short-term issues like you could have some eye fatigue or have some dry eye because you're concentrating on the literature a lot more in the dim light," said Dr. Grivois-Shah. "Long term, you shouldn't have any vision damage for reading in dim light."

  • Can cracking your knuckles cause arthritis?

"We don't see any clinical evidence or any x-ray, radiological evidence of development of osteoarthritis, even after decades and decades of activity, so we don't think this is a true rumor, this is probably an old wives tale," said Dr. Grivois-Shah.

  • Is swallowing gum bad for you?

"We know that the stomach can't digest the gum, but your digestive tract will pass it along, you'll excrete it in your stool, probably intact and unharmful to you," said Dr. Grivois-Shah. "On the extreme side, however, if you're chewing and swallowing a lot of gum, you can have some intestinal blockages, but just the occasional, accidental swallowing of gum, not going to be a problem in most cases."

  • Do carrots improve eyesight?

This is just an Old Wives' Tale that's based on history. Dr. Grivois-Shah said, "the British Air Force gave their servicemen carrots and said this was the reason they were better at shooting down German aircraft at nighttime, when in fact, they were probably just hiding a new radar technology system. To make a pun, this rumor had wings, and it's continued to today. But. this probably isn't true," said Grivois-Shah.

But, this doesn't mean carrots aren't good for your eyes. "We know that carrots do have a lot of beta keratin in them which your body uses to make vitamin A, and vitamin A nourishes the eyes," said Grivois-Shah. "If you were having a severe nutritional deficiency and didn't get enough vitamin A in your system, you could go blind, and carrots might help prevent that, but in America where we aren't really nutrient deficient and vitamin A is fortified in milk and bread and other substances, this is probably not going to be beneficial."

So in the end, "eating vitamin A isn't going to improve normal vision and isn't going to give you the hawk-like vision you're looking for," said Grivois-Shah.

  • Does horseradish work for chest colds?

Dr. Grivois-Shah says this is not something he'd recommend. "There might be some harm from horseradish, especially for children and pregnant women. It might interact with some medications, like thyroid medications, so I'd recommend against horseradish for treatment of common colds and flus."

  • Will being in cold temperatures make you sick?

Tell your mom or grandma that all the years of using this Old Wives' Tale aren't backed by science. "Being out in the cold, not bundled up, won't cause you to be sick in general," said Dr. Grivois-Shah.

On the extreme side, if you are out in the cold for extended periods of time or develop hypothermia, that can compromise your immune system and increase the chances your body won't be able to fight off infections.

However, the cold does provide an optimal environment for viruses to thrive, and people are generally inside huddled together for longer periods of time during the cold months, so infections are more easily spread.

  • Does "sweating it out" help fix a hangover?

Sweating it out after drinking is only further dehydrating your body in combination with the alcohol, so Dr. Grivois-Shah said this may not be the best idea. "I would say eat some carbs, get some fluid in, and rehydrate yourself," said Grivois-Shah.

  • Does an apple a day keep the doctor away?

"Getting your servings of fruit and vegetables are going to keep you healthy in general, give you the vitamins you need to fight off infections and hopefully help prevent things, so eating an apple a day might not keep the doctor away, but it'll probably help you feel healthier," said Grivois-Shah.

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