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Posted on over 3 years ago by Laurentina Kennedy


Following April’s month long celebration of all things tech, May aims to shine a spotlight on health. Through Science Foundation Ireland’s #ScienceRising campaign the nation has been joining the conversation, sharing news of Confey College in Kildare’s success at the National CanSat competition, and sharing videos of the contestants who took part in the FameLab Ireland 2016 finals. Pfizer Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland announced three new partnerships around therapeutic research and let’s not forget the excellent Big Week on the Farm, if you want to see what our cricket and meal worm based food of the future looks like you can catch up on missed episodes on RTÉ Player.

Kicking off health month, Science Foundation Ireland is looking into the science behind the things Irish mammies say. We’ve all been told at one stage or another to bundle up in winter to avoid catching a cold, as well as the magical powers of carrots and Vitamin C, but is there any truth to these tales?

1.       Put a hat on before you go out, you lose more heat from your head.

False: The misconception that we lose more heat through our heads began as a result of early cold weather experiments performed by the US military in the Artic back in the 1950’s. However, these tests were performed on subjects wearing full body cold weather gear with or without a hat. The lack of insulating fat and the high density of blood vessels in your head means you feel more sensitive to the cold in this area but you do not actually lose heat any faster through your head. In fact, a study by the New England Journal of medicine demonstrated that subjects exposed to the influenza virus at room temperature or a cool 5°C contracted the flu at the same rate, disproving the notion that being cold is a risk factor to “catching” a cold.

2.       Eat your carrots so you can see better in the dark

True and False: It is true that the beta-carotene, the orange colour found in carrots is used by the body to produce Vitamin A. An important component in the production of rhodopsin, a pigment used by the cells in the eye to help us see in the dark. However, eating an excess of carrots will not help you to see better in the dark, if you had a vitamin A deficiency you could suffer with night blindness, carrots would help to correct this but only to the point of healthy vision, not beyond.

3.       Don’t sit on that cold wall or you’ll get a kidney infection

False: This tall tale was more than likely an effort to stop you loitering than looking after your kidneys. Kidney infections are caused by bacteria generally originating in your bladder or urethra and traveling up to your kidneys. The cold wall has nothing to do with contracting an infection and everything to do with getting out of your mam’s hair.

4.       Take some Vitamin C to help cure your cold

True…sort of:  In the 1970’s the two time Nobel prize winning chemist, Linus Pauling published a book "Vitamin C and the Common Cold" in which he claimed that high dose Vitamin C could cure the common cold, however, he had little scientific evidence to support this claim. More recent studies into Vitamin C have shown a clear connection between Vitamin C and the production and function of white blood cells, the principle cells in the immune system. So although there is no clear cut evidence that Vitamin C can cure a cold, it is certainly good for the immune system.

5.       Green phlegm means you need an antibiotic

False: In fact, the presence of green phlegm in a cough or cold often means the body’s natural defences are on the job. Proteins found inside some of the immune systems white blood cells are green and the colour you see on your tissue is a result of your body fighting back. Mucus production is also not just a side effect of bacterial infection, it is also a result of the bodies response to viral infections, which importantly cannot be treated by antibiotics.


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