Feature Archive

Mother Knows Best

Mom deserves a lot more credit than we give her. Here are 10 things that she got right.

By Laurie Barclay
WebMD Feature Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world, wrote William Ross Wallace in 1865. And still today, Mother deserves a lot more credit than we sometimes give her.

While we're honoring Mom with cards, flowers, and Sunday brunch, let's take a moment to reflect on all we owe her, especially where our health is concerned.

As much as we might hate to admit it, it turns out she was right all along about lots of those down-home notions that made us groan as we were growing up.

Here's a brief sampling, organized to spell out MOTHER'S DAY:

1. Mealtimes

If you contend that feeding us fruits and veggies while holding out on the junk food was tantamount to child abuse, you haven't got a leg to stand on. The health benefits of fresh produce and whole grains include strengthening the immune system while protecting against heart disease and cancer. Junk food, on the other hand, is high in salt and sugar, promoting high blood pressure, obesity, and dental cavities.

"Parents should offer children a variety of healthy food choices -- no junk food!" William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "The child can choose whether or not he wants to eat."

But what if Junior gets hungry?

"That's the whole idea," says Dietz, director of the division of nutrition and physical activity at the CDC in Atlanta. "Children need to learn the consequences of not eating -- then they'll make healthy choices on their own."

What about Mom's advice to eat a morning bowl of cereal rather than grabbing a donut on the run? Right on the money, according to research by M. Rene Malinow, MD, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

"Fortified cereals are a good source of vitamins," Malinow tells WebMD, and they also may decrease levels of homocysteine, which has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

"Breakfast cereal fortified with folic acid is an inexpensive and harmless way to decrease homocysteine," Malinow says. And research suggests lowering homocysteine may help decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Mom insisting we wash up before dinner is also a great idea, especially after caring for farm animals and exotic pets. These loveable critters have been linked to dangerous outbreaks of E. coli, a bacterial infection causing bloody diarrhea, fever, vomiting, kidney failure, and even death.

What about a hot bowl of chicken soup for your cold? An old wives' tale, right? Not according to Stephen Rennard, MD, a professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Although Rennard has not yet tested in people the healing powers of his wife's legendary soup recipe, the 'liquid gold penicillin' is pretty impressive in the lab, preventing movement of white blood cells that leak into body tissues and cause inflammation.

"This might explain why chicken soup makes us feel better when we have a cold, because it might prevent symptoms like sore throat, runny nose, and achy joints," Rennard tells WebMD.

2. Overcoats

"Button up your overcoat! And don't forget the galoshes/mittens/muffler!" Don't you just cringe thinking about it?

Turns out that cold weather does stress the immune system and can lower our resistance to infections, especially if we're not accustomed to it. So Maree Gleeson, an exercise physiologist at the University of Birmingham in England, suggests that athletes competing in cold climates protect themselves by limiting exposure and wearing warm clothing.

3. Television

Remember when Mom told you to spend less time glued to the TV and more time outside playing? A study published in the April 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showed that exposure to TV, video games, and other media is linked to increased violent and aggressive behavior and more high-risk behavior, including alcohol and tobacco use and earlier onset of sexual activity.



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