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News & Discussion

The Science of the Holidays

Dec 12, 2016 12:00 AM


It’s the season where we’d like to calmly reflect on the year that’s coming to an end, see family, and maybe even go on vacation. More often than not, it is a time where we are stretched super  thin, catching up on work that needs to be submitted before we go take time off, buying and wrapping presents and thinking up ideas to keep the kids entertained when school is out. The holidays can be stressful!  It also doesn't help when holiday myths make us worry unnecessarily.

So we at Mad Science NYC and Westchester decided to do our own research to debunk these myths, allowing you to reach a state of peace and calm this holiday season.

1. Eating turkey makes me sleepy.
Proteins help to keep our insulin levels steady, which help to maintain energy levels.  Carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, and stuffing, on the other hand, can cause our energy levels to dip. So who came up with this idea that turkey makes us sleepy?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is found in dairy products and poultry.  When it is consumed in substantial quantities, tryptophan is a natural sedative. Because it is found in turkey meat, many people believe it is what makes us feel sleepy after a Thanksgiving feast.

The truth is, tryptophan in turkey will not make you sleepy.  The levels found in turkey are also far too low. What can induce bouts of sleepiness, however, is overeating foods with a high sugar or carbohydrate content.  When you overeat, the body uses a lot of energy in the digestion process, making you feel tired. If you want to avoid post-Thanksgiving dinner tiredness, try to eat a more balanced meal and be sure to include veggies and proteins on your plate.

2. Poinsettias are toxic.
These popular red-leaved plants take center stage in holiday decorations.  They make the Christmas spirit bright decorating porches, stores, and event spaces. While these plants belong to a genus that does contain some highly toxic plants, the popular poinsettias are NOT toxic. Rumors have it that the plant was reported to be dangerous after the death of a two year-old child in 1919 was incorrectly attributed to be a poinsettia leaf. According to POISINDEX, a child who weighs 50 lbs would have to eat over 500 poinsettia leaves to reach a potentially toxic dose of compounds found in the plant.

Although accidental ingestion of poinsettia leaves will not damage your body or result in death, it may lead to nausea and vomiting. The taste of the plant is so unpleasant, however, that any child or animal who attempts to chew or consume it will probably not continue to do so after the initial taste.
While the ingestion of houseplants is never a good idea, parents of young children and pet-lovers can be assured that the poinsettia plant is not a dangerous risk at home.

If you should have any concerns around the house with regards to what your child or your pet has consumed, you can contact the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or visit their website at

3. Sugar makes the children hyperactive.
This is a popular myth that many people will swear to be true. However, study after study has shown that there is no link to hyperactivity in kids when high levels of sugar are consumed. Rather, studies how shown that when parents expect a so-called “sugar high” to occur, it will.  Post-sugar consumption hyperactivity is more likely the result of a parental expectation than a metabolic process.

Sugar is also often consumed at parties and other events where children are having fun,  Being really excited, running around with friends, and having a change in your schedule are more likely the hyperactivity-inducing culprit. Consuming large doses of sugar on a regular basis, however, can have adverse affects on children.  Studies have shown that sugar can cause a decrease in the attention span, particularly when eaten at breakfast and not accompanied by any protein.

4. We lose body heat through our head.
As a result of flawed scientific tests done in the 1950s, the U.S. Army Field Manual once claim that 40% to 45% of body heat is lost through the head, however, there is more to the story. In reality, a person actually loses 7% to 10% of their body heat through their head, a number proportionate to the amount of skin that’s exposed to the air. Heat will be lost through any exposed skin, whether it is on the head or elsewhere. If you want to stay warm this winter, limit the amount of skin that is exposed to cold air and keep your body well insulated.

Hopefully we’ve removed some stress from your mind this holiday season with the science behind some common myths.  Too bad we can’t wrap those presents too!

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