Top 10 Wackiest Health Myths

Ever break a mirror and instinctively know that you’re destined for seven years of bad luck? Turns out these same urban myths run rampant in the wild world of health and fitness too! Read on to learn about some of the more bizarre health myths out there and why, exactly, they aren’t for real!

1. Gummy Bear:

The Myth: It takes seven years to digest swallowed gum.

The Truth: Although gum sticks to just about everything, your stomach is actually one of the few exceptions! While experts concede that your body can’t actually digest the gum, it is still able to pass through your digestive system at a relatively normal rate (about 24 hours for the average person). But, perhaps most interestingly, it is …uhhh… expelled just as it entered, in one sticky clump!

2. Dimly Lit:

The Myth: Reading in poor lighting damages your eyesight.

The Truth: If you’ve been switching out your bedroom bulbs for industrial-strength floodlights in an effort to preserve your eyesight, you’ll be relieved to learn that this myth – regardless of what your mother says – is false! The evidence? Back in the day, our ancestors did all their reading by the light of a flickering candle flame and their eyesight didn’t appear to suffer!

3. Cold War:

The Myth: Feed a cold, starve a fever.

The Truth: Regardless of your illness, the bottom line is that your body needs energy in order to overcome the illness. Your best bet if you’re feeling under the weather? Stay home, drink plenty of fluids and eat your normal, nutritionally-sound diet!

4. Chocoholic:

The Myth: Chocolate causes skin breakouts.

The Truth: Chocoholics everywhere can heave a collective sigh of relief, because not only is chocolate not bad for your skin, it may actually help out your complexion! You see, acne is caused by a combination of bacteria in pores, stress, skin accumulation and just plain ol’ hormones. And while it’s true that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is best for general health, adding a little chocolate – darker, purer varieties in particular – certainly isn’t going to do your skin any harm!

5. Chicken Soup for the Soul:

The Myth: Homemade chicken soup is the best cure for the common cold.

The Truth: Ok, turns out there is actually a little truth to this one “health myth.” While chicken soup isn’t an actual treatment, it can indirectly fight the ailment. Specifically, the water in hot soup helps replace lost fluids (yep, as gross as it is, that river of snot streaming from your nose definitely counts as a body fluid!) and the salt helps the body retain water and prevent future dehydration.

6. Crack up:

The Myth: Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.

The Truth: Although certainly a less than desirable nervous habit, cracking your knuckles is not all that damaging. To understand how you’re not doing yourself a disservice, you need to first understand the anatomy of the joint. In order to prevent articulating (touching) bones from literally grinding down into dust, each joint contains a sac (bursa) of lubricating fluid known as synovial fluid. When a person bends, cracks or pulls on these joints, tiny air bubbles form in the fluid and when they burst, you hear a pop or snap sound! Although cracking your knuckles won’t cause arthritis – which is related to factors including age, weight, genetics, lifestyle – it can overextend ligaments, leading to a small decrease in grip strength.

7. Braniac:

The Myth: The average person uses only 10 percent of their brain.

The Truth: Although some days you’d swear that your brain isn’t running full steam ahead, multiple brain imaging studies have shown that there are really no inactive parts of the brain. And, while it’s true that certain areas are responsible for certain mechanisms or respond more excitedly to certain stimuli, experiments with lobotomies (excision of portions of the brain to cure mental illness) have shown that reducing the size of the brain can have extremely damaging consequences.

8. Drink Up:

The Myth: You should drink at least eight glasses of water a day for optimal health.

The Truth: While we’re certainly not going to deny that water is important for health, there really is no hard and fast rule for how much you should be drinking. The myth is thought to have originated from a 1945 article from the National Research Council that suggested that eight-glasses of water per day was a suitable allowance for adults. However, what the general public failed to notice was that the last sentence of the report, which stated that for the majority of people, most of these fluids could be obtained from juices, milk, and even caffeinated beverages! Our advice? Water is still a great beverage (since juices and milk can contain hidden sugars) and is particularly useful for replenishing lost fluids during exercise – especially in warmer weather!

9. Late Night Binge:

The Myth: Eating after 8 p.m. prompts weight gain.

The Truth: No need to feel bad about those late night snacks! In reality, your body has no idea what the clock reads, so you’re ability to metabolize food will be no different whether you’re sitting down for dinner at 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. What is more important when dining late at night, however, is to eat healthy foods – including lean meats, healthy fats, and plenty of veggies – both to ease digestion and best fuel your body for restorative sleep!

10. Hey Fattie:

The Myth: Eating low-fat foods will help you lose weight.

The Truth: Remember in the early 90s when everything went fat free? Supermarkets stocked up on low-fat versions of all our high-fat favorites, including low-fat ice cream, fat-free cookies, low-fat salad dressing and low-fat chips (because who didn’t love the Olestra days?) Despite these endeavors, the percentage of overweight and obese Americans continued to climb. The cause? When manufacturers took out the fat, they had to add something to make the food taste good. What did they add? Sugar…and lots of it! Even though we know this, many people continue to fear the fat! Our advice? If you spend more time concentrating on eating the most nutrient-dense foods (that is, those that delivery the most vitamins and minerals per pound) you really can’t go wrong!

So you tell us – what are some of your favorite health myths and (honestly) how long did you believe them?

-Nat, radiant guy, gds, Wespionage, Rakka Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

More Tuesday Ten Posts

That’s Fit: 9 Drinking Myths Debunked

Mind Hacks: Depression, Antidepressants and the ‘Low Serotonin’ Myth

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25 thoughts on “Top 10 Wackiest Health Myths”

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  1. Wait a second, isn’t there a president that had bad eyesight because he read by candle light? Lincoln I think. I could be wrong.

  2. My least favorite health myth is that concentrated fructose is good for diabetics and people with poor blood sugar metabolisms.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Currently, agave syrup is the sweetener darling because of its low glucose content and low glycemic index. But it is as much as 92% fructose, which is far worse than the 55% fructose in HFCS!

    High intake of concentrated fructose in processed foods like agave syrup and even organic junk food snacks are taxing to the liver where it is processed by the body (turns the liver into fatty human foie gras!), raises triglycerides, and contributes to the formation of cell damaging AGEs (advanced glucation endproducts. Healthy sweetener indeed! It’s just better to cut down on the use of all sweeteners and get used to a low sugar way of eating. That’s more natural.

  3. In my experience, when I’m starting to get a cold and I do a 24-hr fast, it prevents it from developing. Most of the time I can nip it in the bud completely.

    The Indians on the NW coast used fasting as a treatment for a number of illnesses, colds being one of them. If they couldn’t fix it by fasting, they called the shaman. He would chant and bang his staff and burn things, and generally create a great atmosphere for placebo healing. He was always the last resort though, because he wasn’t cheap!

    So their techniques seemed to rely mostly on the ability of the body to heal itself, although they also used a number of medicinal substances.

  4. Never mind – I found it; browser acting up again. IE 7 has some mighty weird caching behavior sometimes.

    Some of my favorite myths:

    1. Cholesterol causes heart disease.
    2. Sodium causes high blood pressure.
    3. Fat contributes little to the diet but calories (the text at the top of the Food Pyramid).
    4. Children over 2 should be on a low-fat diet.
    5. A meat-based diet makes you fat.
    6. You must consume at least 130 g of glucose a day.
    7. And my all time favorite – calories in must equal calories out. Technically, this is true, but the people who spout this have no understanding of basic metabolic concepts like adaptive thermogenesis, ketosis, and other phenomena that show that a healthy body can actually waste calories if too many are present, as long as insulin levels are low.

  5. Chinese folk medicine discourages eating heavy foods while sick as the body needs to conserve its energy for fighting the illness, rather than digesting large meals. Thus, it is important to eat nutrient-rich foods but in small portions.

    RE: sodium causes high blood pressure – There are genetically salt-sensitive people whose blood pressure does rise in accordance with sodium intake. The heart attack/stroke CVD ratios are reversed between the US and Japan, and there is a north-south decreasing gradient in stroke mortality. It is thought that a traditional diet heavy in salted foods in the north may be responsible for high stroke rates. I also recall reading a research study comparing salt sensitivity in different ethnic groups. African-Americans tend to be more salt-sensitive, and the researchers speculated that these genes might have been beneficial in a hot, dry climate but maladaptive in a modern environment.

  6. You are pretty muddled, oversimplistic, or downright wrong with many of these explanations. E.g., salt doesn’t actually help the body retain water and combat dehydration! Salt will dehydrate the body, by itself.

    Excessive fat consumption is very unhealthy. Obviously no one factor is responsible for weight gain, and the vast majority of people could eat practically as much fat and sugar as they want if they just got some decent exercise.

    Finally, your body DOES have a clock. Why do you think you get jet lag? It IS generally a bad idea to eat close to when you go to bed because your metabolism slows down significantly when you are sleeping.

    Please get your facts straight. As of now, they are simply misleading.

  7. Yeah, I have to take issue with the ‘reading by candlelight’ claim – Milton went blind that way.

    1. I don’t know why Milton went blind (from what I read, it was most likely glaucoma) but I read by candlelight for 7 years, (living on my sailboat with no electric) and my eyesight remain the same during that time.

  8. Milton and Abraham Lincoln may have gone blind, but we have no way of knowing whether it was caused by reading in poor light or not; the myth about reading in poor light is probably as old as they are. Presumably many people in those days had to read in poor light ie candle light; why didnt they all go blind?

  9. i think we shouldn’t drink plain water after exercise. we should drink isotonic drinks instead.

  10. Has anyone heard of a myth about it being bad to eat an apple just before bedtime?

  11. Eating after 8 PM is only a bad idea if you’re going to bed at 10 or before. Since your metabolism slows down while you sleep, your body doesn’t have many uses for the calories you just ingested, and they can end up in some places you’d rather they didn’t – particularly if your post-8 snack was a dessert.

    1. A few of you are obviously new to this site or stumbled upon it on a random Google search… The comments that “wow” left above are equally incorrect as well. And by the way the “dessert” you speak of is going to make you equally “fat” whether you eat it at 8 PM or 12 midnight. “wow” (posted above) suggests that we our bodies have a clock and “jet lag” proves it. Jet lag is caused by time zone changes and your body being use to being asleep after being awake for X amount of time. Jet lag just means you’ve been awake long enough for it to have been bed time where ever home is. Not because your body actually knows you moved half way around the world and the clocks are set differently where ever you are.

      1. I’m with you on the jet-lag thing. And I know that the only reason not to eat before sleep is because your metabolism slows down. But I’m not convinced that your body doesn’t have an internal clock, or that it isn’t connected to the sun’s rhythm. I’ve just heard lot’s of things that point in that direction. Like a study where people agreed to go underground for months at a time with no connection to time or sunlight, and over time their sleep patterns synched up with the sun. And I’m sure you’ve heard that the “most restful” sleep is between 9 and 5 or something like that.