Medical Mythbusters – Do you really lose 80% of your body heat from your head?

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True or False:  80% of your body heat is lost from your head.

FALSE!!

I love this one. My mother must have used it on me a million times growing up to get me to wear a hat, which I would not do since I grew up in the 70s and my Farrah Fawcett hair would have been ruined.

Where did this “80%” come from? Apparently from a weak US military study done in the 1950s that examined heat loss from Arctic volunteers dressed from neck to toe in survival gear. Duh, their uncovered heads lost more heat than the rest of their bodies. Were I to go outside in the bitter cold naked (as awful as that image is to contemplate) 100% of my body heat would be lost from my whole body. A slightly higher proportion of the heat might be lost from my head thanks to the greater blood supply to the head and face, but the head doesn’t have a lock on heat loss.  If you go outside in a pair of shorts you’re going to lose a lot of heat through your legs.

What my mom was worried about, of course, was the dreaded frostbite, of Jack Frost nipping at my nose. What exactly would put my nose (or ears or toes) at risk?

Environmental: Prolonged exposure, extreme cold, damp cold, high altitude. During severe cold, frostbite can develop in a matter of minutes. Everything that is exposed is at risk.  Feet and hands are affected most frequently, but ears, noses, cheeks, and even corneas are also at risk.  I challenge you to find a hat for your cornea.

Poor underlying health and/or altered mental status: Prior cold injury, alcohol use, tobacco use, malnutrition, diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and severe mental health all limit the body’s ability to respond to any severe stress, including cold temperatures. Of note, prior cold injury can quadruple the risk of a subsequent cold injury.

Clothing: Inadequate clothing obviously increases exposure. But constrictive clothing that limits blood flow to the extremities, toes, etc. also increases risk of cold injury.

Being male: Whether this is because of some kind of genetic susceptibility or because males tend to spend more time outdoors isn’t clear.  African American males appear to be at special risk.  During both the Korean and Falkland Wars, there was a higher prevalence of frostbite in African American men than in other similarly attired races.

The bottom line? Mom was right, especially if you’re a male who likes to train for marathons during sleet storms at very high altitudes in super tight clothes while crazy drunk and smoking like a chimney.  So…

  • Minimize exposure, especially if it’s extremely cold and/or damp. Higher altitudes (like ski trips) warrant even more caution.
  • Wear sensible, warm, non-constrictive, layered clothing.
  • Stay dry.
  • If you’re going to be out in the cold, avoid drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

Victoria Rentel MD (OSU SHS)

The truth about antibiotics and birth control!

Q: I heard that antibiotics interfere with birth control pills, but I’m on the birth control that gets implanted under my skin – will antibiotics interfere with that too?

A: I’m so glad you asked this question!  This is one of the biggest medical myths of all time; one that gets propagated in doctors’ offices, health clinics, hospitals, blogs, magazines – and OK fine, student health centers – every day.  So now, for the first time ever… in print… online… on this blog… the TRUTH!

The only antibiotic that has ever been shown to interfere with birth control levels and effectiveness is a medicine called rifampin which is used to treat tuberculosis.  Rifampin may also interfere with the birth control patch and vaginal ring so if you are taking it, be sure to use a back-up, non-hormonal (i.e. condom) form of birth control.

There are some other medications that can interfere with your birth control, however, and if you are taking any of them you should always use back-up contraception.

  • Griseofulvin
  • Phenytoin (Dilantin)
  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • Phenobarbital
  • Topirimate (Topamax)
  • St. John’s Wort (herbal supplement)

But in general, your birth control will not be affected by any run-of-the-mill antibiotic that you might be taking for things like sinus infections, strep throat, urinary tract infections, skin infections, acne, etc.  Some people believe that because antibiotics disrupt the normal bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, they will interfere with the absorption of the birth control pills from your stomach.  But this is not an issue, and even if it were, it wouldn’t apply to birth control methods that don’t involve swallowing pills like the skin patch or the vaginal ring or Implanon.

Now, there are enough women out there who swear that they have little antibiotic babies running around the house that your health care provider will probably still tell you to use back-up just in case.  And birth control doesn’t do anything to protect you against sexually transmitted infections, so using a condom is a good idea no matter what medications you’re taking.  But you can rest assured that your birth control is just as effective when you’re taking antibiotics as when you’re not.

More questions about your medicines?  Make an appointment to discuss them with a healthcare provider, or stop by and visit the SHS Pharmacy.  Our friendly Pharmacy staff will be happy to answer your questions.

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU Student Health)

Oh my – that soldier just fainted!

A couple of years ago I had the gBriansBasicGradreat privilege of attending my sons graduation from boot camp at Fort Benning. It was quite the ceremony with a tremendous amount of pomp and circumstance. The graduates has been up for the majority of the night and then stationed down at the parade ground waiting for the ceremony to begin and so I’m guessing that while excited they were not physically at their best. We watched all of the young men line up and then stand at attention on the parade ground while the band played, demonstrations were given, and officials spoke. And during the course of all these activities, one of the graduates, front and center, fainted. A couple of sergeants rushed over to him, dragged him to the back behind all of the other graduates while everything else continued. I’m assuming that this young man quickly recovered because the units marched off the parade ground I did not see anyone lying on the ground. When I mentioned the fainting graduate to my son he said something about the soldier locking his knees.

SpencerTurner - FaintingWhenStandingAtAttentionA question of why some people faint after standing at attention for some time was posed of Dr. Spencer Turner in Oct of 1973. Fainting, also called syncope, is defined by WebMD as the sudden, brief, loss of consciousness and posture caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. While there are medical conditions that can cause fainting, what occurred with the soldier was most likely a simple episode known as a vasovagal attack or neutrally-mediated syncope. This type of fainting occurs because blood pressure drops, reducing circulation to the brain and causing loss of consciousness. Typically it occurs while standing and is often preceded by a sensation of warmth, nausea, lightheadedness and visual grayout.

Locking the knees can indeed lead to fainting as it hinders the flow of blood to the brain. The lack of circulation often leads to a light-headed feeling and can end in the individual fainting. The best way to avoidthis situation, if you have to stand for a prolonged period of time, is to bend your knees.

The original article written by Dr. Spencer Turner can be found at the Lantern Archives .

Brain Gain – Gate not Weight

brain-grows-with-knowledgeSpencer Turner MD, received the above question from a student in the 70s about the brain.  He had been told, by a high school teacher, that the more a person learns the heavier the brain becomes. He wondered if, after a couple of semesters, his brain was becoming heavier and if this would impact him medically.  I’m assuming he was wondering about supporting his soon to be enormous brain on his neck and back.  Ok – so just to debunk this myth, his high school teach was WRONG.

According to WebMD the human adult brain weighs approximately 3 pounds which is about 2% of body weight.  At age 2 the brain has reached 80% or so of its adult size.  Maximum size is reached between 19 and 21. Although growth in size has stopped, development of the brain continues for several more years. The neural connections (gateways) continue to form, change, and redirect when confronted with new experiences and ideas.

Conclusion –  the brain will not increase in weight while you are studying those calculus equations, but it will increase in gate, forming, changing, and redirecting those neural connections.

Oh – and about Einstein’s brain.  A study was conducted of his brain in 1999 based upon images taken at the time of his death.  Despite what a high school geometry teacher might say, Einstein did not have a larger than normal brain.  In fact it was a bit smaller than most.  His parietal lobes, linked to math ability, however, were 15% wider than most.

Here are some other tidbits WebMD has to offer on the brain:

  • There are 100 billion brain cells, most of which are present from birth to death.
  • A good night’s sleep allows your brain to store memories – good to know as finals approach.
  • Multitasking is not really multitasking after all, instead the brain switches quickly from 1 task to another.
  • The best way to keep the brain fit is with exercise. Learn new skills or do mental tasks.

Original Lantern article can be viewed in the Lantern Archives.

Medical Mythbusters – Poisonous Poinsettas!

True or False: Poinsettias are poisonous to kids and pets.

FALSE!!

This is one of those holiday myths that just refuses to die. It supposedly began back in 1919 when a 2-year-old boy was found dead after eating a poinsettia leaf – it was just assumed that the plant had killed him. However, since that time, many studies have shown that kids (and pets) that are exposed to poinsettia plants do just fine.

The sap of the plant is mildly irritating but according to POISINDEX (the resource used by Poison Control Centers) a 50-pound kiddo would have to eat about 500 leaves to have any toxic effects.  And while I myself have never dined on a poinsettia salad, the leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even hyperactive pets would be willing to eat that many! The most common side effects that have been reported from poinsettia ingestions are upset stomach and vomiting, and some people with serious latex allergies have had a skin reaction after touching the leaves.

If you or any of your relatives happen to nibble on a poinsettia (or any other plant for that matter) and you are concerned, you can always call your Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 to speak with an expert.  But in the mean time, go ahead and get decorating for the holidays – with your crazy Uncle Louie coming over to celebrate with his famous High Octane Egg Nog, the plants are the least of your worries!   

Angela Walker (OSU COM)

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)

Medical Mythbusters: The turkey made me do it!

There are a lot of traditions at Thanksgiving; turkey, pumpkin pie, football games, shopping, and of course “the nap”.   At my house dinner usually begins around two.  After the meal has been blessed, the football fanatics fill their plates and head to the family room to cheer on their favorite teams.  The non-football inclined take their plates to the table and kibitz.  About an hour or so later a quick glance into the family room usually reveals that the football fanatics have transitioned to “the nap”. 

The fanatics, of course, would argue that the turkey made them sleepy.  Turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan.  Tryptophan helps the body produce the B-vitamin niacin which in turn helps the body produce serotonin.  Serotonin acts as a calming agent in the brain and plays a key role in sleep.  Hence the myth that turkey makes you sleepy. 

But… tryptophan works best on an empty stomach and let’s face it, at Thanksgiving, no ones’ stomach is empty!  The turkey is competing with the potatoes, veggies, rolls, and deserts and only a small part actually makes it to the brain to produce serotonin.

The more likely culprit for the after dinner nap is a combination of things.  You have on a new fall sweater, dressed up for the relatives, which is making you a bit warm.  It’s the middle of the afternoon and the sun is shining through the windows causing you to squint a bit, i.e. close your eyes.  You’ve just consumed an enormous meal of 3000+ calories with significant carbs, and more than likely you’re a bit sleep deprived.  All of these together have the perfect makings of a nap!

So, don’t blame the turkey for that after dinner rest.  Instead, give thanks this Thanksgiving for the blessings of a wonderful meal eaten with family and friends and for the opportunity to catch up a little bit on your sleep.

Submitted by Tina Comston, M.Ed.

Medical Mythbusters – Can you catch the flu from the flu vaccine?

Q: I’ve heard that you the flu shot can give you the flu.  Is that true?

A: Definitely not! This is one of the most pervasive and frustrating medical myths out there. The flu shot contains only dead virus so there is no way it can infect you.

It is possible that the shot can induce an immune response that gives you flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches or a low grade fever, but nothing compared to getting the actual flu.  If you do get the flu after a flu shot, it is likely that you were exposed to the flu or another illness before getting the shot, since it takes about 2 weeks after your shot for full immunity to develop. The flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee 100% protection; it is always possible to catch a strain of the flu not included in the vaccine.

Certain people who are at especially high risk of complications from the flu definitely need to get vaccinated every year, but the flu shot is available to anyone who wants to avoid getting the flu.

You can find information on getting the flu vaccine at OSU Student Health Services here.  

Angela Walker, Med IV (Ohio State College of Medicine)

John A. Vaughn, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)

Reviewed by Tina Comston, M.Ed. (Ohio State Student Health Services)

An Apple a Day – Fact or Fiction

Last year I participated in a study here on campus regarding apples.  I had always wondered about the ‘Apple a day keeps the doctor away’ saying and I liked apples, so I thought, why not.  When I signed up for the study I was told that participants would be divided into four groups.  Group 1 would take a placebo each day; Group 2 would take a capsule each day containing polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in apples; Group 3 would eat an apple each day; and Group 4 would not only eat an apple a day, but also apple sauce and drink a glass of apple juice.  Lucky me – I ended up in Group 4.  Let me just say, that was a lot of apple.

The study was held over a 4 week period.  Prior to starting the study a blood sample was taken and I was asked to spit in a cup.  After the 4 weeks another blood sample was taken and again I spit in a cup.  I wondered about the whole spitting in a cup thing, but having read the results of the study it now makes sense.

And the results, they were fairly significant.  Those individuals who consumed an apple a day for 4 weeks lowered by 40% the blood levels of oxidized LDL – “bad” cholesterol.  This is what contributes to the hardening of arteries.  As far as spitting in the cup, they also found that eating apples has some effect on the antioxidants in saliva which has implications for dental health.

It appears that ‘An Apple a Day’ could indeed keep the cardiologist away.  As for an apple, apple sauce, and apple juice – that was a bit much. 

To read more about this study:

Submitted by Tina Comston, M.Ed.

Medical Mythbusters – Does gum really stay in your stomach for 7 years?

photo: wikimedia commons

My belly hurts!

Q: Is it true that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for 7 years?

A:  This myth is definitely false.  The body is very good at digesting material that it can use and passing the rest out in the stool.  It is true that your body is unable to digest the synthetic portion of chewing gum, but it doesn’t stay in the stomach for an extended period of time because the stomach periodically empties into the small intestine.  The gum then moves through the small intestine into the colon and is eventually passed in the stool. 

There are many substances that the body cannot digest that pass harmlessly through our system – for instance, this is why you will often see the outside fiber shell of corn in your bowel movements.  Tougher things than gum will often pass through harmlessly in a couple of days, as any parent of a toddler who swallowed a penny can tell you. 

Of course, if you swallow something that is too large to fit through the various valves and tubes in your guts, it can cause an intestinal obstruction.  So if you swallow a large amount of gum in a relatively small amount of time it can theoretically clump up into a large mass of indigestible substance (called a bezoar) that can get trapped in your GI system.  This medical emergency is very rare, but believe me – it if does happen, it’ll take a lot less than 7 years for you to figure out something ain’t right.

So the next time you’re at a fancy restaurant with a cloth napkin and nowhere to put your gum, you can swallow it with confidence.  Despite what the “old wives’ tale” says, it’ll be out of your system in a day or two.

Adam Brandeberry (Ohio State College of Medicine)

John A. Vaughn, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)

Medical Mythbusters – Green Snot!

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sheknows.com

True or False: My snot is green so I need an antibiotic, right?

AFalse!!

This is one of the most tenacious, and frustrating, medical myths out there: that clear snot indicates a viral infection that will clear on its own while green snot automatically means a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic for treatment. 

This is simply not true! Coming down with a sinus infection is very common this time of year. You may know the symptoms: headache, stuffy nose, nasal discharge, facial pain and pressure, fever, cough and ear pressure. The vast majority of cases are caused by viruses and resolve on their own within 10 days.  The only time antibiotics are recommended is when the infection lasts for more than 10 days, or worsens over 5-7 days.

Many people come to the doctor expecting antibiotics for minor viral infections but keep in mind that not only do antibiotics do nothing against viruses, they are not always benign either. They can have side effects such as upset stomach and diarrhea. More importantly, overuse can lead to resistance, so that if heaven forbid you come down with a serious infection that does require antibiotics in the future, they may not work as well and the infection will be more difficult to treat.

As for the myth of the green snot, microbiologists believe the color comes from enzymes released by your white blood cells (myelo-peroxidases and other oxidases) to break down bacteria and other organisms. These enzymes contain iron, which gives off a greenish color. Also, the longer the mucus stagnates in your sinuses, the more likely it is to look green when it comes out. So when your sinuses are clogged up during a sinus infection, it is more likely to stagnate and appear green, just as your early morning snot will be more green just from sitting in your nose all night. The only kind of snot that deserves antibiotics is purulent (think pus) mucus coming from your nose or throat.

Remember, most of these infections clear on their own with a little TLC. Over the counter products such as pseudoephedrine (“Sudafed”) or my personal favorite, the neti pot are usually effective at alleviating the symptoms while the infection runs its course.   

If your sinus infection has been going on for more than 10 days, or it’s been getting worse over the past week, be sure to contact Student Health Services to be evaluated.

Angela Walker (OSU COM)

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU Student Health Services)

photo: sinusinfocenter.com