Debunking Folks’ Medical Advice: Part 5

Several weeks ago, I came down with a viral illness that derailed me for a couple of days. Yes, doctors get sick too. My wife gave me some tender loving care, including a foot massage, chest and back rub and herbal tea. This brought memories on how my mother and father cared for me when I was sick during my childhood days. Let’s examine if there’s some medical validity on these practices.

1. Baños or hot water bath for fever.

When I was young, whenever I would have a high fever, my mother would give me what she called baños (Spanish for bath). This involves having warm water in a small planggana (basin) and she would soak my feet in that basin, and with a small towel, wipe my neck, arms and legs with the hot water. The water was not scalding, though in my child’s mind it was boiling hot. She would though place another towel soaked in ice water on my head while she gives me the hot water sponge bath.

I was not a fan of that treatment, as I have seen her also pour hot water on dead chicken before she pluck out its feathers. And I am no chicken! Though I enjoyed the chicken in the tinola (a traditional Filipino dish) after it was cooked.

Several years later, after going through medical school and gaining more understanding, I realized that there’s science on this practice as the water bath can really bring down the fever. Though the water need not be very hot, just tepid temperature is enough. The evaporation of the water on the skin cools us and brings the temperature down. You can argue that using cold water will bring the fever much faster. However, cold water will cause more shivering and chills, and that will bring the core body temperature higher, so it will be counter productive. Thus tepid water is advisable.

How about the cold towel soaked in ice water in the head? That is to prevent the temperature in the head going even higher which can trigger fever convulsion, while having the hot bath.

My mom was right all along.

2. Salabat or ginger tea for sore throat.

You probably have been given salabat for sore throat before. Salabat has been known to be taken by singers or by people who use their voice a lot, when they are hoarse. Some suck the ginger itself to soothe their throat. Some people even believe that it can make their singing voice mellow.


Ginger has been studied for its medical properties. It was found to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. So there’s truth to this home-made remedy.

Ginger has also been used for cough, headaches, stomach ache, toothache and even joint pains. Some studies even suggest that ginger has anti-cancer properties. So go ahead and sip that salabat. It goes well with bibingka too (rice cake).

But the best use of ginger for me, is when it flavors the tinola!

3. Ampalaya (bitter melon) leaves’ extract for cough.

When we’re little and we have cough and thick phlegm, my father will get ampalaya leaves and pound it and get its extract. It was the most bitter substance I have tasted in my life! My father said that it would get the thick mucus out. Maybe it did, for I almost to the point of vomiting and coughing my lungs out after I took a teaspoonful of this bitter extract.

Ampalaya is being used for many disorders, including fever, cough, hemorrhoids, and stomach problems. There’s even studies showing benefits for diabetes, as it has insulin-like peptides that has properties to lower the blood sugar.

As far as its effect on the cough, I did not really find the exact mechanism of action of how it works. Maybe the bitterness caused my body to abhor it so much that I got better faster so I would not take those bitter extract again.

4. Warm kalamansi (calamondin) extract or juice for colds.

I remember my father or mother would squeeze 2 to 3 kalamansi into a spoon, then would give it to us to drink when we have the colds. That’s sure took away the colds as well as the smile on our face. Sometimes they will even heat the spoonful of kalamansi over the flame to make it hot before giving it to us. Or they would prepare kalamansi with warm water but no sugar for us to drink, which to me was more tolerable.

Kalamansi, as well as other citrus fruits, are rich in vitamin C. And we know that vitamin C is good for us, especially when we are fighting infection. So there is truth on this folk’s medical practice. Even today, doctors will advice people who have colds or flu to take lots of water as well as fruits rich in vitamin C to help fight off the sickness.

So taking a spoonful of squeezed kalamansi  when you have a cold? Go right ahead. But skip heating it up over a flame. Vitamin C is easily denatured or destroyed with heat.


So there you have it people. These old folks’ remedy were effective after all. Who said you need an M.D. title to give sound medical advice?


(*photos from the web)

Debunking Folks’ Medical Advice: Part 2

Here are more old folks’ medical advices that I remember receiving personally or hearing from somewhere else, while I was growing up. Let us examine if there’s medical validity behind these folks’ counsels.

1. Huwag mong hayaang matuyo ang pawis sa iyong likod, ito ay sanhi ng pulmonya.

Do not let your sweat-soaked clothes dry up on your back, you will have pneumonia.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs usually caused by an infection. This is most commonly due to virus or bacteria, that gained access to your lungs through inhalation or aspiration. Frequently, a healthy immune system is able to fight off these organisms that invade the lungs. However, it can sometimes be overwhelmed, and the result is pneumonia.

We catch viral pneumonia when we are exposed to somebody who is infected with it, when they cough or sneeze and spread the germs in the air and in things around them. Most of the bacteria though that causes pneumonia, already inhabit our mouth and throat, and are just waiting for you to let them in into your lower respiratory tract. Our body’s defense mechanisms (like cough reflex) and immune system keep them in check.

Getting wet in the rain or letting your sweat soaked clothings dry up on you, does not cause pneumonia. Some experts have examine if these can lower our immune defenses, but current medical studies indicate that they do not.

So don’t worry about having your sweat-soaked shirt dry up on you. Just be considerate of other people who will have to put up with your stinky smell, so might as well change your smelly shirt. And go ahead and play in the rain, just watch out for the lightning!

2. Huwag mong pahamugan ang bunbunan ng bata, baka ito sipunin.

Do not let the head of the child be exposed to dew, he will catch cold.

Colds are caused by respiratory viruses. Again, we catch them if we are exposed to people who likes to share their viruses, even if you don’t want them. If you don’t breath at all, you may prevent inhaling the virus, but is not recommend for obvious reason.  And if you caught the virus, please don’t share it further by taking proper precautions, like covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and by frequently washing your hands.

Being exposed to the night dew is not a direct cause of colds. However if your putting a hat or covering the head of a child because of frigid temperature, then that is something else, and that is very appropriate.

3. Huwag kang matutulog ng basa ang buhok, at baka ikaw ay mabulag.

Do not sleep with your hair wet, you will go blind.

There is no medical truth to this. I believe this advice is perpetuated by older folks who don’t want to get the pillow wet, which can get wet anyway with drool. The only thing you will get by sleeping with wet hair, aside from wet pillows, is waking up with bed head hair. However, a bed-head-hair-look is considered fashionable and stylistic nowadays.

If you wet your hair with kerosene, then that is a different story.

4. Huwag mong paglaruin ang mga bata sa init ng araw, at baka sila magkakuto.

Do not let you kids play under the heat of the sun, they will have head lice.

Head lice is an infestation caused by a parasitic insect, Pediculosis capitis. These parasites feed on blood like mini-Dracula. Head lice is spread from direct head to head or close contact from an infested person. Sharing a comb, headgear, beddings or clothings are the most common ways of spreading this.

The sunlight does not cause lice. In the contrary it may even help get rid of it. Hanging bedsheets in the sunlight might help kill lice and its eggs. But exposure to sunlight alone will not kill these parasites in the human scalp, unless you get very high UV light and reach very high temperature, like when you migrate to Mercury.

There have been many folk remedies suggested like vinegar, mayonnaise, olive oil, and butter (sounds like making a salad in your head!). The scientific evidence on these home remedies are not clear. I would recommend you ask your doctor for the proper treament of head lice.

So let your kids play in the sun. Just remember exposure to too much sun causes sunburn and skin damage, and in addition, increases the risk of developing skin cancer later on in life.

5. Huwag umupo sa nakabilad o maiinit na upuan, dahil ito ay sanhi ng balisawsaw.

Do not sit on seats that are hot or exposed to the sun, it can cause frequency or dysuria.

Frequency and dysuria are often times symptoms of urinary tract infection (UTI). And  UTI are caused by bacteria that have gained access into the urethra and bladder or even up to the kidneys. Women are more prone to UTI than men due to their shorter urethra. Sitting on a hot seat has nothing to do with this.

The only people that I would like to be in the hot seats  are the corrupt politicians, and may they suffer balisawsaw.

6. Kumain ng  butiki para mawala ang iyong asthma.

Eating house lizard is a cure for asthma.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. The exact cause of asthma is not fully understood, though experts believe it is a combination of many factors, like genetic predisposition and certain environmental exposures.

There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled with treatment. Treatment includes medicines like inhalers as well as preventive measures by avoiding the known triggers of asthma, like smoking, dust (house dust mite, which is in the dust is a well known trigger) and extreme temperatures.

A  grilled house lizard is not a cure for asthma at all. It may be a cure for a hungry stomach.

7. Uminom ng tubig dagat kung ikaw ay may sipon o ubo, upang ito ay gumaling.

Drink sea water when you have cough and cold, for this will cure it.

I have heard that parents especially in the provinces, tell their children when they have a cough or cold, to go and swim in the ocean, and take a gulp of seawater while they are in it. This may be that the ocean in the provinces are clean and clear. I don’t think any parent will advice their kid to take a gulp of water from Manila Bay (might as well drink from the toilet bowl!).

This is an interesting advice. Saline water (not necessary ocean water), has a lot of medicinal uses. It is used to irrigate the nose and the sinuses in patients with nasal congestion and obstruction. Hypertonic saline is also given as a nebulization (inhalation of mist) in patients with chronic lung disease, especially in Cystic Fibrosis, to break and loosen their phlegm. Gurgling warm salt water can also soothe a sore throat.

In spite of medicinal usage of saline water, there is no medical facts behind the advice of drinking ocean water to treat cough and colds. As a lung specialist, I am not recommending drinking seawater. And certainly I am not recommending inhaling it, that is called drowning!