Good News for Crampy Women

This article provides validation of what women have known for centuries– heating pads are good for you when you’re under the weather feeling like crap.

The old wives’ tale that heat relieves abdominal pain, such as colic or menstrual pain, has been scientifically proven by a UCL (University College London) scientist, who will present the findings today at the Physiological Society’s annual conference…[He] found the molecular basis for the long-standing theory that heat, such as that from a hot-water bottle applied to the skin, provides relief from internal pains, such as stomach aches, for up to an hour.

It’s actually an interesting study, which examined how certain pain receptor proteins are inactivated by heat receptor proteins. The scientist went beyond the “heat makes things better” of what we already knew, to the WHY of how heat helps.

However, I think it’s long past time the phrase “old wives tale” was put to rest. (and the fact that I recently got married, and I am actually an old wife now, has nothing to do with this, damn it!!)
Alternatively, I demand that any questionable advice about cars, home stereos, or RPGs be termed an “old fart’s tale”. Gender stereotyping for all. (What’s good for the Goose is good for the Geezer?)

I didn’t have much success finding the origin of the phrase “old wives’ tale”–I found half a dozen different sources. There are novels and movies with that name, but none seem definitive. I ask the Skepchick readers for research assistance!


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. My dentist recently told to "ice" my face to prevent swelling after a particularly rough surgery, but a search online found no good references to how to do this. The theory of how icing works, and the instructions on how best to put it into practice, are at least as badly explored as healing-with-heat.

  2. probably, but we need Evidence! Also, where are all the comments about my not being old????

  3. Ummm… ahem… you're not old… well, geologically speaking anyhow.

    You know you've been reading too much news on Iraq when you read RPGs and think bug_girl is talking about advice related to Rocket Propelled Grenades.

  4. I think I found one early reference!

    Plato's Republic, Book I

    "Either then allow me to speak at such length as I desire, or, if you prefer to ask questions, go on questioning and I, as we do for old wives telling their tales, will say 'Very good' and will nod assent and dissent.”

    Also, interestingly, one of Paul's letters in 1 Timothy was translated as warning against believing in old wives tales. Hey! The bible wants us to be skeptics!

    BTW, Stark, I am now plotting your destruction. Geologic age…..*grumbles*

  5. "…where are all the comments about my not being old?"

    Well, as good skeptics, we are not supposed to ignore the evidence. ;-P

    (Rassilon runs and hides under the bed.)

  6. OOOH! OOOH!

    You guys are SO going to get it.

    Just for that, no photos of boobs on Saturday.

    *steam exits ears*

  7. Whoa, we were going to get boobs? This is a trick, isn't it? I'm not buying it.

    Besides, I love skepchicks for their minds, not for their other noticable physical attributes.

  8. I have seen no evidence that you are old. So I'm skeptical. (Me, I'm graying a bit.)

  9. Skepchick minds are a wonderful thing… but I still like the other bits too ;)

    Well, if you didn't like geologically I can go the cosmological route too….

    (Stark prepares bomb shelter for extended stay)

  10. And, back on topic – kind of… the Bible wants us to be skeptical of wisdom not found in it's pages. It demands that we be completely credulous as to it's own words though. Sad really, the bible taken as a nice bit of reading has some decent lessons to teach on how we should treat each other (it also has those notable parts that should probably not be used as life lessons *stoning anyone*) but it is couched in so much "do it or else" rhetoric by the churches and spouted as the direct word of god that most of that gets lost. If you've never read it cover to cover I recommend it- it can be a bit dry in parts but it's really quite fascinating as a piece of literary history.

    As for old wives tales – I've been looking through some of my old texts for something I saw years ago. I took an egyptology course as a lark (purely for the fun of it!) and I recall a heiroglyphic that was translated as something to the effect of 'old mothers stories' which was taken to be their version of the old wives tales – it was in a larger context of feritility of livestock IIRC… which I probably don't. It was a long time ago and I wasn't paying close attention. I'll keep looking though.

  11. The problem, though, is that you don't know if you are looking at the chicken or the egg.

    Did the greeks/egyptos really write "old wives tales," or was it translated into English that way because it fit a common expression?

  12. Excellent point. The context showed, as I recall, that it was a functionally equivalent statement. It at least showed that the idea we relate with "old wives tale" is a very old idea.

  13. How should I know if you're old? I have no idea what you look like, let alone any other data! That's the blessing and curse of dealing with things over the 'Net….

    The Greek translations, at least, are likely to be somewhere in the ballpark, given a general similarity/heritage of culture. Of course, you'd want to find a classics student to check the original.

  14. About heat as a remedy:

    Ice brings down swellling and inflamation, but sometimes it seems like just more pain. I had been told that standing under a hot shower with the water aimed at the place above my eye would soothe a migraine. In California, however, using up a lot of water like that is just not an option.

    I discovered that wringing out a hand towel and nuking it a few minutes in a microwave makes a portable instant heat water thing that does the job. Actually, it doesn't make the headache go away; it just feels better until the prescription meds kick in.

    I'm an old ex-wife, and maybe that makes it an old ex-wife's tale. Or just homespun advice from a skepchick of long experience. Skep hen?

  15. Re: questionable advice from male humans regarding technical things. I've heard this and simliar phenomena referred to as 'Male Answer Syndrome,' which I don't generally like to use because I object to the blatant and unfair gender stereotyping. Or, more to the point, because I do it too, and I'm female. Only I generally call it 'making shit up,' which is, after all, more accurate and honest.

    See also: crackpot theories

    Also, Wendy: I have a very small 'Hello Kitty' shaped ice pack (the gel pack on the back is about the size of an old 50-cent piece, and it's covered with satin, while the rest is sort of fuzzy plush). It's just perfect for using to very gently massage my temples and the back of my neck while waiting for the migraine meds to work. And it stays cold just about that long.

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