'Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever' takes fun look at medical folklore

October 10, 1991|By Wendy Warren Keebler | Wendy Warren Keebler,Knight-Ridder

No, chihuahuas don't cure asthma, there's no coke in Coke, and sneezing is not -- we repeat, not -- an effective means of birth control.

But bees do tend to sting sweet (well, sweet-smelling) people, carrots are good for the eyes and cranberry juice can help prevent bladder infections.

These are just a few of the nuggets of medical folklore in the new dictionary-style book "Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever" by Carol Ann Rinzler (Facts on File, $21.95).

Rinzler has collected medical myths for 17 years. She says there is some scientific truth to about 60 percent of the familiar home remedies, preventatives and nutritional old wives' tales. Rinzler tracks down the sources of these ideas and gives clear explanations for why they do or do not hold water.

And she does this in an often whimsical way that makes the book a pleasure to read. Does scalp massage prevent baldness? "No, but it does feel wonderful." Is ice cream junk food? "Aw, c'mon." Will kissing an injury make the hurt go away? "What, you have doubts about this?"

On a more serious note, the book includes plenty of cautions about some dangers of using home remedies, and there are other bits of common sense wisdom. It's not true, for example, that swallowed chewing gum will stick to your stomach, but a small child certainly could choke on it.

Folk medicine is fun and games, Rinzler says, "But when something is wrong, see a doctor. Fun is fun, and doctors are doctors -- they almost never mix."

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