Myths, old wives tales, urban legends. Whatever you want to call them, we should always be wary of conventional wisdom and platitudes, especially when it comes to science and health. Although we would often like to think that most complicated things can be summed up in one or two sentences, it can’t. Our world, our bodies, and what we do with them are a whole lot more complicated than these simple phrases. These are some of the most common science and health myths that we have been lead to believe, but I assure you: they are false. Be prepared to reevaluate your life after this.
These are some of the most common science and health myths that we have been lead to believe, but I assure you: they are false. Be prepared to reevaluate your life after this.
1. “Don’t go outside without a coat! You’ll get sick!”
Well, not exactly. If you don’t wear a coat in the winter, there’s definitive evidence to show that you’ll be cold but not that you’ll catch a cold. Although almost everyone knows that it’s viruses and bacteria that cause sickness, we’ve been told to put on our coats our whole lives to ensure that we don’t catch a nasty cold. Some have linked central heating to the prevalence of cold and flu viruses because of the dry air that causes dried out nasal passages. Others associate it to indoor humidity and poor ventilation. Some even say that the fact that most of our time during the cold months are spent indoors and in close quarters with other people is what creates more favorable breeding grounds for germs. I think it’s safe to say that no one really knows why we get sick more in the winter, but that it’s definitely not because we didn’t wear that coat.
2. “Once you reach 35, you’re basically not fertile anymore.”
Let’s get this straight, fertility is not one size fits all. Your eggs don’t disappear when you turn 35, contrary to popular belief. The “baby panic” that has caused so many women to believe that their biological clock is clicking away swiftly as they lead into their mid-30s is based on very outdated information. “35” was actually derived from French birth records of the 1700s, which is not exactly the best data source. While women in their late 30s do have slightly lower fertility than someone in their late 20s, that difference is marginal at best.
3. “If you take ‘Plan B’ more than three times, you can’t have kids.”
You can take Plan B, also known as the “Morning After Pill” as many times as you want. It won’t make you infertile. It won’t hurt you. It actually won’t do anything, besides prevent pregnancy (and give you short-term side effects, such as irregular periods, diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue). The effectiveness of Plan B does decrease with multiple usages, however. Even if you take Plan B multiple times within a cycle, it won’t affect you much, except for increasing menstrual irregularity.
4. “Your hair and fingernails keep growing long after you die.”
I actually didn’t know that, because it’s not true. All cells are cells, but not all cells are equal — at least not in their growth or their death. Different cells grow at different rates, as well as die at different rates when you die. However, your hair and fingernails do not grow long after death. Instead of your hair and fingernails growing, it’s actually your skin that retracts. The retraction, caused by dehydration after death, is what causes the illusion of growth.
5. “You’ll get arthritis if you keep cracking your knuckles”
As an avid knuckle cracker, I’m convinced this myth was created by people who hate the sound because there’s no relation between this and arthritis. Also contrary to common belief, cracking knuckles does not release air from your joints, but rather synovial fluid which lubricates them. However, there is some truth to the fact that you shouldn’t constantly crack your knuckles. There’s some evidence that shows that the habit leads to swollen hands and less grip strength.
6. The “five-second rule”
When you were younger, you probably learned the infamous five-second rule: if the food touches the ground for less than five seconds, it’s OK to eat. Usually, this is defended by the notion that it takes five seconds for bacteria to get in contact with the piece of food. Most of us don’t actually believe this is true, but it does make us feel a little better about picking food off the ground and eating it. The truth is that food contracts few germs when dropped on dry floors because more harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. coli can’t survive without moisture. Either way, your food is going to be slightly contaminated no matter how long it’s on the floor, and you’ll never know the germs that are really on it.
7. “You get sleepy on Thanksgiving because turkey has tryptophan in it.”
This myth is basically a product of pseudo-science. It is true that tryptophan is the amino acid that makes you tired, and turkey does have tryptophan in it. However, this turkey myth is false; turkey doesn’t make you any more sleepy than any other foods. You’re passing out in the middle of the game on Thanksgiving because of the huge intake of carbs and alcohol, not the turkey.
8. “You shouldn’t eat dairy when you’re sick.”
This myth, based on the belief that dairy increases mucus production, has no medical basis. If you avoid dairy when you’re congested and start to feel those passages clearing up, it’s more likely that this is a placebo effect. If you have a sore throat, consuming foods such as ice cream or milk can actually help it!
9. “Blood is blue inside your body.”
Your blood is red—always red. When we were younger, we learned somewhere that the blood inside our bodies was blue because it isn’t oxygenated. Blood, we learned, is only red when it comes in contact with oxygen, which is why it always looks red to us. Our blood isn’t all one shade of red, however. Inside the body, it’s a darker red when it has less access to oxygen. What is blue is our veins that turn a blueish-green color when blood runs through them.
10. “Carrots make your eyesight better”
If you’re like me and need glasses, you’ve probably had someone tell you to eat more carrots. If you’re also like me and hate carrots, you will be happy to know that carrots do not make your eyesight better. We have been tricked into eating these vegetables without any substantial evidence to back this up. Carrots contain vitamin A, which is important for healthy vision, heart, lungs, and kidneys, but this doesn’t mean that carrots will make your eyesight, or any of these organs, better. This myth actually has its roots in World War II, as it was a rumor formulated as British propaganda. Britain has developed a secret revolutionary radar system that led the country’s air force to shoot down enemy bombers faster than before. With the fear of being discovered, Britain claimed that it was due to its soldiers’ high intake of carrots.
11. “I have a photographic memory.”
How many times have I wished for a photographic memory while cramming for a test? The answer is far too many, so it’s a good thing to know that photographic memories actually don’t exist. While we can wish for a photographic memory, the best we will get is a better one, because that’s all photographic memories are. Photographic memories, which are also called eidetic memories, refer to the ability to recall memories as crisp and clear as an image. The falsehood comes with the conception that someone with a photographic memory could recall a page of a book that they read and then read the page for a quote. In reality, no one can read their memories like an image, because memory is too disjointed to create images that you can reassemble on command like that.
12. “You are either a left brained or right brained person.”
I’m sure you’ve taken quizzes to figure out your brain sidedness (I know I have). What many of those Google search results won’t tell you, though, is that this right brain/left brain dichotomy is a myth. While right-brained people have been said to be more artistic and creative, left-brainers are said to be more logical and analytical. While you may be able to identify with one of those personalities, people don’t use one side of their brain more than another for creativity or logic. This myth originated out of the research of Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry, who cut the link between the two hemispheres, the corpus callosum, as a way to cure epilepsy. Although Sperry probably never intended for his renowned research to turn into this mostly false myth, it did.
13. “Gum takes 7 years to digest.”
No, it doesn’t. It probably doesn’t even take a week to digest, but for some reason, we’ve been told that gum takes this told time span on 7 years to digest. The reality is that the only things getting stuck in your stomach are things that are too big for your intestines to process, which, of course, is not a piece of gum. This doesn’t mean that you should swallow every piece of gum that you chew because it can lead to constipation!
14. “You have to wait an hour after you eat if you want to swim!”
With the belief that eating and swimming immediately after will cause you to cramp up and drown, many have warned us to wait at least 30 minutes. This is far from the truth. Eating causes blood to flow to your digestive track in order to aid the process, but it can, by no means, inhibit your ability to move your arms and legs. Eating can also make you sleepy, but again, you won’t drown; you just won’t swim as well.
15. “Starve a fever, feed a cold.”
There’s little to almost no actual basis for this claim. Whether you have a cold or a fever, you need a high intake of nutrients to fight it off. In fact, your metabolism actually works faster when you have the flu, which means that you should eat more, not less.
16. “Whatever you do, don’t wake up a sleepwalker.”
If your sleepwalking friend is about to run into something, maybe you should wake them up. You might be afraid to do so because of this urban legend, but nothing will actually happen. Sleepwalking occurs during an incredibly deep sleep, so if you do wake up a sleepwalker, be prepared for the agitation, confusion, and grogginess you would experience when waking up someone who’s not a morning person. Aggression and disorientation are the worst case scenario, don’t believe that it’s harmful to wake them up.
And there you have it: all the lies you have been told about the medical, health, and science world since the day you were born. The next time someone gives you a fast phrase that you can’t believe is true, do you research because it very well might not be,