Researchers Debunk Widely Believed Holiday Myths

But while suicides are not an annual epidemic around the holidays, this holiday season may be a bit different, said Mark Kaplan, a professor of community health at Portland State University and a member of the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA's National Scientific Advisory Council. He notes that the economic downturn may contribute to a sense of desperation not seen in the past.

"How do you separate the current holiday seasons from everything else going on?" Kaplan said. "This holiday season is quite different from past holiday seasons... It's challenging people's emotions far more than in the past."

Poinsettias Are Poisonous

While the red and green flower arrangements are popular at Christmas time, many people worry that the plants themselves are poisonous.

Carroll and Vreeman noted that despite hundreds of thousands of calls to poison control centers over poinsettia poisonings, none of those cases resulted in death. They also noted a study showing that rats could consume the equivalent of 500 to 600 leaves without problems.

But Ayoob notes that we should still avoid making any house plant an entrée.

"It's probably a good idea to make sure that your kids don't eat the house plants on any level," he said, noting that paint, glitter and chemicals applied to the plant could cause stomach problems for youngsters and pets.

Even if the plant itself is not poisonous, "I still wouldn't turn it into a mojito," said Ayoob.

You Lose Half Your Body Heat Through Your Head

Wearing a hat in the winter may help keep you warm, but it isn't necessarily more critical than the rest of your body.

Carroll and Vreeman note that this myth even made it into a U.S. Army field manual for survival. They suspect the myth originated when, for a military study, scientists put subjects in arctic survival suits without hats. Had they put them in swimsuits, the pair said, the heat loss from the head probably would have been closer to 10 percent.

"You don't lose 50 percent of your body heat through your head," said Dr. David Cook, an emergency physician with Christiana Care in Newark, Del., and a member of the public relations committee for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Ten percent, he said is probably a better estimate, because that is roughly the amount of the body's surface area that the head composes.

Cook said he remains unsure of why this myth has persisted.

"I'm not sure if it's just an old wives tale that just kind of lingered, like going outside with wet hair will give you a cold," he said. "There's a lot of things that have hung around in the form of wives' tales that haven't been disproved to people in the general public."

But Paul Pepe, chair of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center notes that it is still important to cover your head and neck, as they will cool faster than other body parts because of wind, and it can range up to 20 or 30 percent.

"You do lose a lot of your body heat around your head and neck."

Eating a Lot at Night Will Make You Fat

Carroll and Vreeman noted that this myth may have taken hold because most heavy night-eaters are heavy eaters at all times of the day.

They note that skipping breakfast may lead to weight gain, however, because it leads people to overeat at other meals.

Ayoob said spacing out meals is the key to avoiding weight gain, since it keeps calorie consumption level throughout the day. And total calories will matter more than when they are eaten.

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