Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Commonly held beliefs are not always true

When it comes to your health, everyone seems to have some friendly advice to offer. But can you believe everything you are told?

By Anahad O'conner  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Do you put on more weight when you eat late at night? Most of us know strict dieters who eschew food in the hours just before bedtime, thinking that any calories they consume in the evening will count more. They usually cite the "fact" that a person's metabolism slows down significantly in the evening, or that no one burns calories in the middle of the night. But in reality, a calorie at noon is really no different from a calorie at midnight.

The reason this myth is so widespread may have something to do with skewed perceptions. Many people who eat at night do so after skimping all day, leaving them with a ravenous nocturnal appetite. When they finally get around to eating, they are prone to grabbing the first thing in sight, which is likely to be something quick and easy, such as fast food. There are also those who eat full meals during the day and eat again at night anyway, packing in extra calories.

Does drinking milk make you phlegmy? Most people believe that milk causes excess mucus and as a result should always be avoided during a cold, but this is plain wrong. What can seem like an increase in mucus after drinking milk is just a slight thickening of your saliva.

A team of Australian researchers weighed the nasal secretions of dozens of people who volunteered to have cold viruses squirted up their noses. For 10 days, the scientists followed the subjects, keeping track of how much milk they drank and how much mucus they produced. They found no connection between milk intake, nasal secretions and congestion.

Other studies that examined whether asthmatics or people suffering from a cold produce more mucus after a glass of milk also found no difference.

For the extremely small percentage of people with an allergy to the protein in cow's milk, there's a slight possibility that drinking milk could increase mucus.

CRANBERRY JUICE

Does cranberry juice prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs)? In the past two decades, scientists have documented that cranberries contain a host of antibacterial properties, capable of preventing a variety of infections, chief among them UTIs.

A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998, showed that cranberries contain proanthocyanidin, a substance that prevents E. coli from adhering to cells that line the urinary tract. Three years later, another study, published in the British Medical Journal found that women who drank cranberry juice every day for six months had a far lower risk of urinary tract infections than those in a control group. Six months after they ended their daily regimen, the women in the cranberry group still had a lower risk, suggesting there were long-term benefits.

But there are some limitations. It takes at least two glasses of cranberry juice a day to produce an effect and, while cranberry juice has preventive powers, there is no evidence that it can clear up infections once they begin.

Does alcohol really kill brain cells? Alcohol is a powerful disinfectant and in high concentrations it can damage or kill off human cells.

But the blood alcohol concentrations that make a person drunk -- 0.1 percent or greater -- are far below the extremely high concentrations that are lethal to cells (sterilizers, for example, are typically 100 percent alcohol). Even a person who drank non-stop would almost certainly stop breathing (alcohol causes respiratory depression) and hit the floor long before their blood alcohol level got anywhere near 1 percent.

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