‘Carrots give you night vision’ and 4 other favourite myths of Irish mammies dissected

5 May 2016

Irish mammies are well known for dishing out advice that seems completely logical as a child, but often fails to live up to scientific investigation in the years that follow, but is this always the case?

Irish mammies have been hitting the headlines of late for inspiring breakthroughs in the fields of science and technology, most notably as the recent co-author of a patent for a concept for drones that would act like a swarm of bees and protect a broken drone and repair it.

Now, as part of its focus on health this month, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is taking a look at some of the advice dished out by Irish mammies in an effort to separate fact from factoid.

Eating plenty of carrots helps you see better in the dark

There is some truth to this long-believed tale, as science tells us that beta-carotene within the carrot – which creates the familiar orange colour of the vegetable – is used by the body to produce Vitamin A.

This plays a crucial role in the production of rhodopsin, which our eyes use to help us see in the dark.

However, whether you eat two carrots or 200 carrots, your ability to see in the dark will remain exactly the same.

Putting a hat on will help you keep in most of your body heat

Unfortunately for ardent hat wearers, this is a complete lie.

Interestingly, to determine this, we need to head back to US military testing in the 1950s, which was undertaken in the Arctic with test subjects either not wearing or wearing a hat in freezing conditions.

As it turns out, while your head might have less insulating fat and blood vessels in high density compared with the rest of the body, this only makes you feel colder in your head, but the amount of heat lost through it remains the same as elsewhere on your body.

The same goes for that other long-held belief that being cold means you have a likelier chance of catching a cold, as whether you’re standing in room temperature or 5ºC, your chances of catching a cold remain the same.

Kidney infections can be caught by sitting on a cold wall

This definitely falls into the category of believing it when you’re five, but immediately dismissing it when you get older, and right you were.

Kidney infections are the result of a bacterial infection in the bladder or urethra that travels into your kidneys.

Sitting on a cold wall has absolutely no connection with causing infections and, it should seem obvious, was a way of stopping a child hanging around sitting on walls all night long.

Vitamin C can help you cure the common cold

If there was such a survey, there’s little doubt it would show that the majority of vitamin C tablets are consumed during a time when someone has a cold, with the hope they will feel right as rain.

In fact, they might be on to something here, as while two-time Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling published a book Vitamin C and the Common Cold claiming that high doses could cure it (it doesn’t), there is a clear connection between vitamin C and the production and function of white blood cells, which help fight illness.

It’s still quite tenuous to say it’s actually a cure, though.

Have green phlegm? Better get an antibiotic

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is why we are talking about living in a post-antibiotic era where over-prescription of antibiotics now means that many are becoming increasingly useless as a means of treating infections.

The appearance of green phlegm is actually not a sign to worry at all, but rather one of hope, as it often means the body’s natural defences are working on getting you better again.

The greenish hue is the result of proteins found inside some of the immune system’s white blood cells that are green and the colour you see on your tissue is a result of your body fighting back.

As any doctor worth their salt should tell you, antibiotics will not help you in the treatment of the common cold or flu, so even if you have green phlegm, you should steer clear.

Baby eating carrots image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic