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Essential health information from local experts

Holiday Myths ~ Fact or Fiction?

Written by SMH Pharmacy Resident Jeff Kamta


Thanksgiving will soon be ushering in the 2019 holiday season — and with it, the seasonal uptick in holiday-related emergency room visits for poisonings and injuries. Many of these can be easily prevented, if you know what to watch for.

We want you all to be happy, healthy and safe this season, so here’s a quick look at some common holiday myths and mistruths. Gets the facts, and celebrate safely.

It's Not the Turkey

Family gatherings during the holidays — especially Thanksgiving — often revolve around eating a large meal together, including over-indulging in turkey. While turkey is high in the sleepiness-inducing chemical called tryptophan, foods like chicken and milk also have large amounts of tryptophan. 

Most holiday meals also are high in carbohydrates, which cause the body to release chemicals like insulin. And it’s actually your bodily response to those carbs that causes you to be so sleepy after the meals — not the often-blamed turkey.

Decking the Halls 

Mistletoe and poinsettia plants can be festive home decorations at this time of year. But, you might have heard that these plants can be very toxic. While they can be poisonous, the truth is that the danger they pose has been highly exaggerated. 

If ingested, both mistletoe and poinsettia can cause mild stomach upset, but to cause any real medical danger, they would have to be eaten in very large amounts. Don't be afraid to have these colorful additions around your home for the holidays; just be sure to keep them out of reach of very young kids or pets who may be tempted to feast on them. 

What’s in Your Cabinet?

Real danger, however, may be lurking in your kitchen cabinet. Did you know that the common baking ingredient vanilla extract could be toxic to a small child? Great for baking holiday treats, vanilla extract is very high in alcohol content; if ingested in a large amount, it can poison small children. Unlike poinsettias and mistletoe, vanilla extract is tasty and easily consumed in large amounts because it’s a liquid — making it more of a potential hazard than the festive plants. 

Similarly, nutmeg can be potentially dangerous if eaten in large amounts. It is safe in the amounts commonly used for holiday baking, but if someone ingests several grams of nutmeg all at once, it can cause hallucinations and other serious side effects. 

Just to be safe, keep these ingredients out of the reach of small children who might be tempted to ingest them. 

Learn more from SMH experts about more common holiday poisons and safety hazards like button batteries: Click here.


Pharmacist Jeff Kamta, a first-year pharmacy resident at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, is working toward a career as a clinical pharmacy specialist in emergency medicine. He attained his Pharm.D. at the University of Florida-Orlando and completed undergraduate studies at Nova Southeastern University. 

Posted: Nov 19, 2019,
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