Old Wives’ Tales and Your Health

While people used to laugh about it being “just an old wives’ tale” we now know that chicken soup really does help relieve the symptoms of a cold. While the broth soothes the throat and acts as a “comfort food,” it also helps open up sinus passages to let you breathe easier.

What about cod liver oil? Kids and adults alike used to dread taking it and think Mom was just old fashioned and silly. But now most health professionals say the benefits of fish oil are many. It just tastes better now that it’s wrapped in a little pill that goes down quickly.

I’m not so sure about these next two, but time will tell. Perhaps the old wives will again be proven right.

When my Grandmother was a child going to a one-room country school in the late 1890’s, most of her classmates were of Italian heritage. Since the Italians liked to cook with garlic, the kids smelled like garlic most of the time, but in winter, the aroma was stronger. Their mothers habitually put a clove or two of garlic on a string and hung it around their necks to ward off colds.

In other geographic locations, the Italian community used a different cure: asafetida. It is, apparently, an herb with a strong onion-like flavor. It probably didn’t grow around here, so they used garlic.

You could assume that perhaps the reason people wearing garlic or asafetida didn’t get sick was because they had limited contact with others who might be sick. No one wanted to go near them because they smelled so strong! But, that probably wasn’t the reason.

We laugh when we think of that, but now researchers say that eating garlic can help build the body’s immune system – to fight off colds and flu! It can also help lower blood pressure. I guess those old wives weren’t so silly after all!

My grandmother hated the smell of garlic the rest of her life. In her mind, the aroma was mixed with the smell of dirty children and dirt-encrusted wool coats drying by the wood stove in that one-room school house. (Yes, nearly all children were dirty in those days… those were the days of a washtub in the kitchen being filled for the Saturday night bath. No daily showers in the 1890’s!)

Another one, that I just read about last night, sounds even more far-fetched, but you never know.

Few of us alive today remember the flu epidemic of 1919. 40 million people died and no one could quite understand why some families were devastated while others, like my Great-grandmother, stayed well and able to help nurse the sick. Some who were stricken were old hermits, living alone in the mountains where they had no contact with other people. Why did they catch it?

The story I read tells of a country doctor who stopped by a farm where everyone was well. The “old wife” at the farmhouse told him that she had taken precautions against the flu – she kept bowls of un-peeled onions in the rooms.

The theory was that the onions attracted and “trapped” the flu virus, keeping it away from the family. Supposedly, the doctor took one of the onions and examined it under a microscope and found this to be true. (Could they do that back in 1919?)

I don’t know if future studies will indeed show that onions ward off flu bugs. We do know that onions are one of nature’s most versatile health foods – giving protection against numerous diseases. They also contain anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial compounds, which could indeed help protect against colds and flu.

Still, un-peeled onions as “flu bug traps” in the house does sound a bit wild. I think probably the “old wife” was also feeding her family plenty of onions.

But in the meantime, why not try it? Onions are pretty. An assortment of red, white, and yellow in a bowl with some fall leaves would make a nice decoration.

Weight Loss and Your Health

Maintaining a healthy weight is truly vital to keeping yourself in tip-top shape, and not just so you can get in to that little dress for the holiday parties.

Keeping your weight at a healthy level is a huge step toward the prevention a of a large number of diseases that you don’t want to find yourself burdened with. These can include: diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and cancer, just to name a few.

If you maintain a healthy weight, it can also help you manage diseases that you may already have such as Paget’s disease, Osteoarthritis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In addition to disease prevention, when you maintain a healthy weight, you will set an excellent example for your children which in turn will make it easier for them to make appropriate choices in the future.

With all the temptation out there though, maintaining that healthy weight and weight loss can be challenging for many people. And really, is there one specific thing that will keep you in perfect shape? The short answer is no; however, moderate exercise and eating right are absolutely vital to any healthy weight loss-maintenance plan.

By instituting even small changes, you will be well on your way. It is amazing what even a short walk after dinner can do for weight loss, not only for the way your body metabolizes the food you just ate, but also for your mood in general.

Diabetes is a disease that is being diagnosed in record numbers, not only in adults, but also in children. This is the most obvious red flag that America is overweight, yet many people have no idea how extra weight and diabetes are connected.

Diabetes is a lifelong disease that is not curable and therefore requires that you take some form of medication for the rest of your life to manage it. Poor eating habits affect your body chemistry; when it is thrown off, it can cause your pancreas to fail in its job of insulin production. The result is diabetes.

Another reason to maintain a healthy weight is your joints. Excess weight carried on your frame puts extra stress on your joints. This will cause aches and pains every day, and really, who wants to live with that?

Later down the road, you may find yourself with Osteoarthritis as a result; this is a chronic disease that causes the cushioning between your joints to wear away which, as you can imagine, can be excruciating. It can also cause bone spurs to grow around the joints. By maintaining a healthy weight, you can lessen the likelihood of getting this disease, and if you already have it, dropping even a few pounds can help ease some of your pain.

Are you always tired? You might be suffering from what’s known as Sleep Apnea. A few extra pounds can weigh against the muscles in your throat when you lie down to sleep.

As those muscles relax, they can push against your airway and force it to close; the result is periods of time during the night when you actually stop breathing, followed by gasping for air. Whether you are fully aware of it or not, this disrupts your sleep pattern and can cause you to become increasingly tired, seemingly without reason.

Cancer is a word that no one likes to hear; a common disease, many people worldwide are faced with fighting it. There is no one single thing that causes it, yet there are many possibilities.

One of these causes is being overweight. Several types of cancer are linked with being overweight.

In women, these include cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, cervix, ovaries, breast and colon. Overweight men are faced with an increased risk of developing cancer of the colon, rectum and prostate. High-fat and high-calorie diets have been found to be attributing factors in cancer of the breast and colon; common sense would say that both of these would lead to a less than healthy weight and therefore, also this could also be a contributing factor.

The message is clear: weight loss and health go hand in hand. Maintaining a healthy weight is vital to your health. No matter your age, it is never too late to start practicing a healthy lifestyle. Not only will you feel better and be healthier, your friends and family will thank you for it as they will likely get to spend many extra years with you.