Attack of the cold feet
October 11, 2011 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I feel a bit stupid asking this, but this has been bugging me for a while: is there some illness that can affect women if they get cold feet? This sounds like an old wives tale, however my wife and mother-in-law get very animated about this, particularly with regard to our 8 year old daughter. Unfortunately I have never managed to get much more detail other than a vague mention of kidneys. My google-fu fails me with regard to even the mention of this as a myth, however I am willing to accept that there is some sort of feminine genitourinary complaint that men are not widely aware of. I would just be happier if I knew exactly what it was.

By way of background, I am of anglo-saxon origin and think nothing of wandering around the house in bare feet at all times of the year. My daughter takes after me physiologically and seems similarly happy to walk around barefoot. On the other hand, my wife's side of the family are of latin origin and do feel the cold more acutely, so I can understand why they would complain about cold feet. What bugs me is the additional insistance - almost bordering panic - that my daughter must always keep her feet and legs covered to prevent this mysterious disease taking hold. Based on my layman's medical knowledge, this appears ridiculous however any discussion about this is immediately derailed because this is a "woman's problem" and so I don't know what I am talking about.

So, can anybody enlighten me?

(incidentally, "cold" is defined as anything less than about 18°C)
posted by teselecta to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Other than hook worms, insect bites, or risking getting an infection in a cut from stepping on something, germs and diseases don't generally just jump through your foot skin. Wearing clothes/shoes only provides marginal protection from the above and further provide a nice, warm, moist breeding ground for germs, fungi, etc. and a place for creepy-crawlies to hide.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:36 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on my Italian aunts and mother and cousins's fretting, the disease they are worrying about is the common cold. Bare feet on the ground? Apparently the way one catches every small, seasonal, respiratory illness. Oh, and it's a womanly disease because we're clearly more delicate and frail.

This might not be what's worrying your wife and in laws, but it's certainly the "thing" in my family.
posted by lydhre at 7:41 AM on October 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

Oh, and the way one catches a UTI is by sitting on a cold surface and UTIs are appropriately dubbed "mal del sas," or rock malaise, so I wouldn't necessarily discount something like that being the underlying worry.

Again, northern Italian, not Latin, but there is sometimes a great amount of overlap in old wives' tales.
posted by lydhre at 7:45 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for nonsense. If I sat on a cold marble bench as a kid every woman in my family would freak out and start pulling me up so I could SOMEDAY HAVE BABIES. The cold. It is not so powerful.
posted by prefpara at 7:46 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe Raynaud's disease (essentially poor circulation)? More common in women, but can affect men as well. I don't think it's anything to panic about, though. My best friend is very mildly affected by it and it just meant that her hands (and feet, I'm guessing) are cold all the time.
posted by pised at 7:47 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am from Russia and my family had the same thing as lydhre: god forbid your feet should be wet a rainstorm, you will catch a horrible flu and die. It's bullshit.
posted by griphus at 7:51 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I get harassed by my mother in law (yugoslav) about this all the time. She was very ambiguous about it, but was very clear that it's "women" who are in danger. She wouldn't explain why.

Given the simultaneous grandchildren expectation I kind of assumed she thought my ovaries would get cold by walking barefoot, but my husband told me it's just the common cold that gets you through your feet.

I haven't found any research on it and I don't think it's true, but I don't want my mother in law to think I'm suicidal, so I just wear thick socks. Plus she's a very nice lady who feeds me fresh bread and other deliciousness, so I really should stay in her good book.
posted by Tarumba at 7:57 AM on October 11, 2011

Cold and Damp--I thought my wife was making it up when she said she had it while living in Cornwall without central heating. Not sex specific
posted by rmhsinc at 7:57 AM on October 11, 2011

Saw it in the Balkans - bare feet will make you sick, going out after washing your hair will make you sick, sitting in a draft will make you sick, sitting on cold stone will give you UTIs or render you infertile, sitting directly on the corner of the table means you'll never get married, putting your purse on the ground means all your money will run out.

The people who believed these things tended to believe them rather strongly, and I adapted to some (putting my purse on the ground wasn't the smartest idea anyway, given the incidence of petty theft), and responded to others with "thank you for your concern" and then going about my business. Point being, I doubt this is worth openly disagreeing with your wife and mother-in-law about, but if you want to let your daughter run around the house barefoot when they're not around, you're not compromising her future health.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:03 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I feel a bit stupid asking this, but this has been bugging me for a while: is there some illness that can affect women if they get cold feet?
I have Raynaud's phenomenon, which means that it hurts really badly when my fingers, toes, or ears get cold. It's usually mild, but mine is serious enough that I take medication and get lectured by my rheumatologist about wearing gloves to prevent gangrene and amputation and stuff. But you know if you have Raynaud's, because it hurts. If your daughter feels ok walking around with bare feet, then she probably doesn't have Raynaud's.
posted by craichead at 8:10 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

My dad was always crazy-insistent on us covering our feet and legs (we were a no-shoes house, so that meant pants and socks) so we wouldn't get "cold". Even if we didn't feel cold. And the house (we lived in Savannah, GA for chrissakes) was always well above 70 degrees. I think it was just His Weird Thing. Maybe his feet get unusually cold and he therefore assumes that everyone else's feet will get cold? And then they'll be...cranky? I don't know. As he's gotten older, he's become even more crazy about the temperature, and insists that it's dangerously cold (and starts foisting sweatshirts upon people--even guests) as soon he gets a chill.

I'd chalk this up to your wife's family having the same weirdo quirk that my dad has, and try to just roll with it. (And, explain to your daughter that nothing bad is going to happen if she's barefoot in the house, because sometimes things like that can scare kids.)
posted by phunniemee at 8:12 AM on October 11, 2011

As far as the "women's" thing, from my observation women tend to be more sensitive to the cold than men. Or possibly have poorer circulation and thus get colder than men tend to. This could be where the cultural concern over women being cold originated from.

Actually, here's an interesting article that talks about why women are more sensitive to the cold than men.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:26 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad (American born son of Portuguese immigrants) is forever warning me of the threat of chilblains when he sees me barefoot and piles if I sit on cold concrete.
posted by jamaro at 8:28 AM on October 11, 2011

I'm a dude and my Russian family would and still does always flip out if I walk around barefoot when the air temperature is under 30 C, or if I set foot outside with wet hair or expose myself to a draft, or consume a cold beverage. Possible results include cold, flu, pneumonia, and death.

This was really not fun when I was a kid because every little cold got me endless lecturing about how if only I'd worn socks/not put ice in my soda/waited for my hair to dry, I wouldn't be sick right now.

Mild chills - some dangerous shit.
posted by tempythethird at 8:57 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Serbian mother strongly believes girls sitting on cold surfaces or walking barefoot risk infertility. House slippers are very big in the culture.
posted by Dragonness at 9:12 AM on October 11, 2011

Everything EvaDestruction said is true of the Balkans.

Still, I'm in Romania, and have had conversations with Italian and Spanish people re. blood in your urine (if you are a woman) or having a "false" period inbetween your normal ones after you sit on a cold, damp surface for prolongued periods of time - we all seemed to have experienced this, whilst our Anglo-Saxon friends were confused and claimed that this cannot be right, since they have never experienced anything like this.

I've no idea if there is an objective difference between Latins and A-S, maybe some sort of genetic pool difference, or differences in child-rearing (our kids tend to be swaddled in wool even in the hight of summer. I was shocked when I went to the UK for the first time and saw toddlers and kids running around in socks and shorts - in April!). All I know is that a lot of women I know have had issues in their "women's bits" which can absolutely be traced to being cold in your nether regions.

My own anecdotes: interior temperatures in the UK tend to be much lower than I was used to from home, and I did end up having a lot of problems, which no GP could ever diagnose - no cystitis, even though the symptoms were similar. I was always told by a slightly surprised GP to go away and come back if the symptoms persist. I never had to do anything for it to clear though ... stoicism for a couple of days, then it's gone. So for a couple of years after arriving in the UK, I kept a "cold/diet/life-habits diary". From this kind of observation, the correlation held. When I moved on my own, I was able to create the kind of atmosphere in the house that was more convenient to me (constant warm temperature, and, most importantly, no cold furniture - and never had a problem again). But this last week it happened again - I went with friends into the mountains for a last hike before the sunny weather disappears for the year, and we sat around at the top for a couple of hours. The sun was warm on our faces, but the ground still wet from the frost that had only melted. And sure enough, I had two days of cystitis-like symptoms and a day and a half of heavy inter-period bleeding.

Another thing that we are told over and over about walking around barefoot (by the way, all of the above applies to sitting for long periods only, even though the warning we hear are about walking barefoot as well. Still, I've never actually had that experience myself, nor did I hear anyone else have it) is that you will get arthritis/rheumatism when you are old. I'll report back on that in a few decades... I walk barefoot as much as possible, so I am a prime candidate.
posted by miorita at 9:12 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

From what I understand, being too cold tends to stress your system, and make you vulnerable for that reason. So it's true in a generalized way. I don't think there's any kind of straight cause and effect pathway between getting cold/wet [body part] and then getting a disease of the [body part], or between being cold and catching a cold.
posted by tel3path at 9:22 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm smiling at all these references to eastern europe as my wife's side of the family are Romanian (so I have flagged miorita for topicality, although there is common thread to pretty much all the answers).

As several people have said, it is not really worth the family angst to try to fight this, however that won't stop my incredulity as I sit in shorts and t-shirt and watch my mother-in-law chase my daughter around the house with a pair of woolly socks.

Anyway, at least I am reassured that I am not doing damage to my daughter by ignoring her bare feet. I will bear in mind the warning about sitting on cold, damp surfaces though...

Thanks all.
posted by teselecta at 9:28 AM on October 11, 2011

Well, going through this thread earlier on and writing my answer made me a bit anxious, so I phoned two friends of mine who are doctors. Their take: the direct relation between cold and UTIs or female infertility are old wives tales; however, protracted exposure to cold can facilitate the flaring up of infections in the area. Apparently, some of the bacteria that lead to infection can be present in a non-active state, and can get activated by a variety of activities. Sitting in cold is not one of those activities, but can contribute to your body becoming more susceptible to activation. Or something like this - they were a bit vague on the details and more concerned with why I was asking. They mentioned both cystitis as a possible consequence and salpingitis, which I had never heard of before in English, but which is one of the first words you learn in Romanian after mum, dad and milk (anexita).

I also did a google search on the Romanian for "salpingitis" and "cold" ("anexita" and "frig"), and got more than 37,000 results (see here). The first few pages suggest that the info is about how cold leads to "female" diseases. If you google the same search terms in English, there is no mention of this correlation within the first few pages. So yes, there is a strong narrative in Romania about the connection between the two. Interestingly, one of the leading causes of cystitis, salpingitis etc. in English language resources - sexual intercourse - is presented in Romanian language resources as a grand "secret", which needs to be especially highlighted for being so novel - and, truth be told, I have never heard of this causal chain in this country until now.

And yes, apparently either of these diseases can lead to infertility if not treated correctly. And here there is a high chance of them remaining untreated - people tend to be very reticent about going to the gynecologist; most women only ever go when pregnant or when giving birth.
posted by miorita at 12:26 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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