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LIVING WELL: Poisonous poinsettias just another myth

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Raise your hand if you have heard that poinsettias are poisonous.

Is that a myth or fact?

I recently spent some time searching for the veracity of that claim.

I learned it is largely an urban myth.

Although poinsettias can cause a mild upset stomach if ingested, actual harm is very unlikely.

One account of the history of this claim ties it to a story that began circulating in the media in 1919, following a child’s death that was blamed on a poinsettia.

Once the rumor was out there, it spread across the country without close examination and verification.

Wow, even without Facebook people managed to spread sensational rumors without checking the facts.

The next version of the poinsettia poison myth involves pets.

Many people continue to declare that poinsettias are deadly to cats and dogs.

I checked with the ASPCA and learned that the poinsettia plant is mildly toxic to cats and dogs and may cause stomach upset, but is not the silent killer that many people imagine.

In their words, it is generally over-rated in terms of toxicity.

The organization recommends pet owners contact their local veterinarian if they believe their pet may have consumed any poisonous substance.

However, lilies that may be given as gifts can be highly toxic to pets.

Mistletoe is listed as toxic as well and can cause mild to severe reactions.

Holly berries, stems and leaves, amaryllis and cyclamen plants can also be severely toxic to humans and pets if enough is consumed.

Other plants such as Jerusalem cherry can be toxic, so parents and pet owners should use caution in where they place ornamental decorative plants.

Next is the question of whether kids become more hyper when they eat sweets.

This is one that I think is destined to create dissention between the experts and parents forever.

The experts say this is a myth.

Parents say the experts have never raised kids.

Several medical sources state unequivocally that sugar does not cause hyperactivity in kids.

The one study most often cited originated in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1994. Researchers concluded that children’s behavior did not change as a result of eating sugar when compared to the artificial sweetener aspartame.

The study found that even parents could not tell the difference after children had eaten treats sweetened with sugar and those who consumed artificial sweetener aspartame.

Critics of that study express concern that aspartame or other artificial sweeteners or colors may cause just as many reactions, so that single study cannot justify the conclusion.

Other research indicates sugar does affect brain activity and may provoke altered behavior. Even the same experts who say kids don’t get hyper after eating sugar will readily agree it alters brain function.

Although in popular literature this is often described as a myth that has been overturned by science, I don’t think that there has been enough science to make the call.

One thing I noted while researching this article is often a “medical source” would make the declaration that the myth is untrue, yet be unable to cite any substantial study to back up the assertion.

Some experts believe it is not the sugary treats, rather the situation that surrounds the treats that cranks up the craziness level of kids. Put a bunch of kids in a party scenario and guess what, they get hyper.

In keeping with the rating scale used on the popular show “Myth Busters,” I’m going to call this one plausible.

Although there are plenty of articles stating that it is a myth, I along with millions of parents have observed their kids acting up more if sugary treats are involved.

I recommend parents do their own research because every child is unique in how he or she reacts to sugar, as well as any other ingested substance.

Take the time to provide your child various treats while in controlled circumstances not affected by the behavior of other children and observe for changes in energy level, attentiveness, irritability and other behavioral factors.

Let me know what you discover, and I will pass the findings on to readers.

I hope you and your family enjoy a safe, festive and joyful Christmas.
Read more from:
Christmas, Decorating, Food, Holiday, Living Well, Mark Kestner, Nature, Parenting
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Members Opinions:
December 24, 2012 at 7:31am
Some years ago I did some research on Poinsttias as a result of a member objecting to (their) use in decorating the sanctuary at Christmas. The "objector" claimed that the plants triggered her allergies. Not true! The Poinsettia does not produce pollen, however as a member of the same family of plants as the "Rubber Tree" it can cause a reaction (if touched) by those who are allergic to latex. These are long odds but possible. At Easter, however, we have limited the number of "Easter Lilies" because they can trigger an allergic reaction.
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