Old Czech Wives’ Tales Put to the Test

Challenging age-old beliefs about the menace of air conditioning and the healing power of booze

Living here, you’re sure to have heard different tips from Czech friends and family members about what is and is not healthy. If you’ve ever been told that slivovice and beer are potentially healthy but to beware of air-conditioning, you’ll be curious, as I was, to know if there are any truth to these claims.

Cold drinks cause stomach aches.

Claim: Whatever you do don’t drink cold water. Cold water is a great shock to the body. Or so you can read here and here (both in Czech). 

Truth: Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice page answered this one well. Cold water is not dangerous because we are warm-blooded and regulate our core temperature. We heat up what comes into our stomachs. Furthermore, cold water may actually be absorbed faster than warm water.

Status: Busted

Beer and slivovice burn up fat.

Claim: You have to love a country which insists alcohol is not only a good accompaniment for food but actually helps you lose weight (not to mention ward off illness if you drink a shot a day).

Truth: The slimming effects of alcohol are questionable. Acetate, which the body produces from alcohol, interferes with fat metabolization because your body metabolizes the acetate first.

Status: Busted, although as for the claims about alcohol protecting against bacterial illness, Scientific American has an interesting article on the subject.

Drinking mineral water improves health.

Claim: Taking the waters is an old tradition in Central Europe. People claim that various mineral waters treat digestive ailments and even diabetes.

Also read:  Alcohol advertisements should not depict living people, says Czech Health Minister

Truth: Recent studies are finding that mineral waters with high levels of sodium can cause high blood pressure or heart problems, much like too much table salt (sodium chloride) can. 

Status: Busted

Kids shouldn’t eat pickles because it leaches calcium from the bones.

Claim: I came across the claim about pickles in an article refuting myths in a widely-read Czech newspaper, so I assume the myth is widely known.

Truth: The vinegar used to preserve pickles may actually aid in calcium absorption. This is especially true of calcium found in leafy green vegetables.

Status: Busted

Kids’ feet and kidneys must be warm at all times.

Claim: The soles of the feet and the lower back are the entry point for illnesses. The best defenses are slippers and tights or trousers pulled way up high. 

Truth: The slippers may actually help. The Common Cold Centre at the University of Cardiff found that chilling people’s feet increased cold symptoms. As for the kidneys, most of the advice on this, like this article, has been in Czech so it could possibly be a cultural thing.

Status: Possible

Sleeping outside is good for children.

Claim: Surely, you’ve seen this – little nippers asleep in their prams in the nippy air. I was shocked the first few times, but friends and family insist it’s beneficial and children who sleep outside sleep for longer are ill less frequently.

Truth: This practice may have some validity. Allowing little kids to sleep outside even in winter is widely practiced not only here but in Nordic countries where ongoing studies on the topic are currently being conducted.

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Status: Likely

Washing your hair every day causes baldness.

Claim: This is a myth I’ve heard here and abroad but that is particularly perpetuated by the older generation of Czechs. Washing too often damages the hair, strips oils and/or leads to hair loss is the belief.

Truth: WebMD provides a balanced response, namely that there is no conclusive evidence. They even include a recommendation for some people to, ahem, wash their hair more often. As for the baldness, genes, serious illness and extreme stress are all given as more likely causes. 

Status: Busted

If a woman sits on a cold floor, her ovaries will be damaged.

Claim: This claim is not isolated to the Czech Republic. I also found that this idea is believed in Russia. It seems grandmothers in Central and Eastern Europe like to frighten their grand-daughters (or other young women) with this advice.

Truth: There is a good reason this is not true, says WebMD. The ovaries are located deep inside the body, which can, as mentioned before, regulate its own temperature quite well.

Status: Busted

Air-conditioning makes you sick.

Claim: More precisely, the belief is that a temperature difference of more than five degrees will adversely affect your health. In other words, having the air-conditioning cranked to arctic levels in the middle of summer may lead to colds. Even the Ministry of Health warns about this problem.

Also read:  Most Prague tap water will soon be going through a granular activated carbon filter

Truth: An article in the International Journal of Epidemiology from a few years ago said people in air-conditioned buildings showed more signs of illness than those from buildings without AC. The likely explanation is the presence of microorganisms in the condensation in the system. 

Status: Sort of upheld (though more likely for reasons other than just temperature change).

Stick up your arms to cure hiccoughs.

Claim: Sticking your arms straight above your head while you slowly sip from a glass of water held by another person to cure hiccoughs.

I’ve tried this and it seems to work, though no better than other remedies.

Truth: There seems to be no firm medical opinion on any of these remedies.

Status: It works for me.

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Which wives’ tales have worked for you and which ones don’t?


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