The wisdom of mothers

Flickr photo-Ian Sane

Flickr photo-Ian Sane

This weekend marks Mother’s Day, a time when we pay tribute to those women who have always known best. Sorry Robert Young and those who were fans of his old TV show, Father Knows Best. This is all about Mom.

The wisdom of the ages – just how is it that mothers were so smart decades and even centuries ago? Science is now showing that many old sayings are, in fact, very sound in promoting good health or are even remedies for some ailments. Maybe it’s based on survival of the fittest. Those who took the sage advice flourished and then passed it on to the next generation.

Over the next two posts, I’ll present some mothers’ great sayings that research shows have real merit.

•    “Dress warmly or you’ll catch a cold”

While this one may seem to veer off the topic of nutrition, when you consider how much thought people put into their daily nutrition routines and how they affect their immune system function, I couldn’t leave this out.

Almost everyone laughs at this mothers’ wisdom but again, it seems they knew what they were talking about.

Obviously simply going outside without being dressed warmly  in freezing temperatures does not cause you to catch a cold but it does appear to have an effect on your immune system.  In a scientific review, published in September 2013,  entitled, Immunomodulators in Day to Day Life: A Review, the authors outline  those factors that can impact your immune system including various nutrients. But they also state,  “Proper environmental temperature is essential to maintain body’s functions and experiments carried out regarding the effect of temperature suggest that extremes of the temperature are often cause immunosuppression directly by acting on the cells of immunity or indirectly through inducing stress and thereby increasing production of catecholamine which are potent anti-immune molecules.”

If your immune system isn’t working at top capacity and you’re then exposed to a cold virus,  let’s say from a well-intentioned person with a nasty cold who shakes your hand to greet you (yes, people still do this!), if you don’t immediately run and wash your hands, you could have a cold brewing in a flash.

I’ve always believed this since my university days when I went to school wearing sandals on a beautiful warm day in April. My mother warned me that it would be freezing at night when I returned home  but of course, I laughed her cautions off.  (I will apologize on Sunday!). While reading through my physiology text that day, I came across a section about extremes in temperatures and their potential impact on the immune system. As I travelled home from the library that night feeling the frigid cold on my feet, I thought of my mother. A few days later when I had a fever and cough, my mother’s words and those in my text book were imprinted in my brain. Who knows who I picked the bug up from at school.

So of course, I always told my daughters how to dress in cold weather. But truth be told, I love seeing scientific papers which back me up!

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”

The evidence on this one just keeps piling up.  But a few decades ago, when nutritional analysis tools were less sophisticated, it seemed that apples, as a top notch choice, had lost their luster.  Then new methods of measuring fibre showed that these fruits are packed with pectin, a soluble type of fibre that offers a potent blood cholesterol lowering punch.

Research subsequently found that apples are packed with compounds called flavonoids which offer plenty of disease-fighting perks including a lower risk of both having a heart attack and dying from heart disease and stroke. But as you go to choose your apples, go for variety as research suggests that different apples have varying levels of these compounds.

Researchers from the University of Illinois found that apples’ fibre supplies an anti-inflammatory effect and also promotes a healthier immune system. Inflammation through the body is thought to be the origin of many common diseases. For example, an inflamed artery is much more susceptible to plaque build up while inflamed cells are more like to become cancerous ones.

To reap maximum benefits from apples, be sure to eat the peel.

“Fish is brain food”

Just how did mothers know this?

What’s fascinating about this saying is that fish offers benefit to the brain right through the life cycle – from the development of the brain of a fetus right through to protecting the brain from the ravages of ageing and cognitive decline. It’s the omega-3 fats in cold water fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines that are critical to the neurological development of a baby. Other research links these same fats to the ability to learn and behaviour in children along with protection against cognitive decline in the elderly. And there’s even more than just matters of intelligence to consider.

Scientists are also studying fish and psychological issues such as post-partum depression and depression in general.

Up next: More of mothers’ wisdoms science has now confirmed.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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