Life's little mysteries solved

Have you ever wondered why ice cream gives you a headache? Or we 'kiss it better'? It seems there are perfectly sane solutions to some of life's little health mysteries.

People die of a broken heart: The heart doesn't break, but loss definitely causes stress, depression, and decreased immunity, with studies showing an increased sudden death rate among widows and widowers after a spouse's death.

Air-conditioning causes colds: No only cold viruses can give you a cold. However, air-con can trigger two cold-like reactions: the change of temperature and humidity causes the mucous membrane of your nose to swell and weep; and a unit may spray dust and mould into the air, giving you a runny nose and red eyes.

Older people grow long in the tooth: True. With age, we lose bone in our jaws, either to periodontal disease or osteoporosis, which causes the gum tissue to draw further back up the teeth. Plus gums, like other body tissues, shrink with age.

Eating ice cream gives you a headache: Yes the pain is caused by the sudden stimulation of the cranial nerve (which carries sensations from the back of the mouth). To stop it, curl your warm tongue back against the top of your mouth.

Men hold their liquor better than women: Researchers at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine have discovered an explanation: women have much less of an enzyme that metabolises alcohol, so more pure alcohol moves from the stomach to the liver and brain. Therefore, if a woman and a man of the same weight both drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman is more likely to show signs of impairment.

We 'kiss it better': Scientists say it works by signalling the brain to release natural painkillers called endorphins.

Aristocrats have 'blue blood': This false notion originated in class-conscious medieval Spain, where the nobles avoided the hot sun so their skin remained pale. The veins looked blue, so the blood inside was presumed to be blue as well.

You can go 'white with fear': You certainly can. Faced with an imminent physical or emotional challenge, your body responds with a series of instinctive reactions designed to get you ready for fight-or-flight. One of these is the constriction of your surface blood vessels so that blood flows away from skin to the centre of your body nature's way of making sure you would lose less blood if you were injured in a battle.

'Fear can make your hair stand on end, too': Sort of. When you're frightened, all your muscles tense up, including those in your scalp, which can make the hair shafts stand up a little. Hair would have to be super-short and fine to get the porcupine effect you see in cartoons, but even long hair will ripple a bit if you are scared enough.

Redheads have bad tempers: Not necessarily. But they do often have thin, fair or freckled skin that makes it easy to tell when they are angry and flushed with emotion.

People go crazy at full moon: Human beings have always associated certain behaviour with the moon's phases (consider the word 'lunatic', from luna, the Latin word for moon.) In fact, blips in violent crime often do coincide with the full moon. University of Miami researchers charted all the murders in Miami over a 15-year period according to the moon's phases, and found there was a clear increase in the murder rate about a day before the new moon, a peak period when the moon was full, and then a decline with the cycle repeating itself with each new moon.

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