Top 10 True Old Wives’ Tales

We spent last Tuesday explaining why the top 10 health myths were…well…myths. Today we present you the top 10 health-based old wives’ tales that actually are true.

1. The Tale: An apple a day keeps the doctor away

And you thought Mark’s Daily Apple was just a kitschy name! Turns out, we were actually onto something! While some experts say the only way an apple will keep a doctor away is if you throw it at them, several recent studies have suggested that the high levels of phenolics contained in apples work as a potent antioxidant that can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer. In addition, a recent study from researchers at Ithaca, NY-based Cornell University suggests that apples may also stave off Alzheimer’s disease.

2. The Tale: Seizures are brought on by a full moon

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Patras Medical School in Greece of 859 patients treated for seizures, there was “significant clustering of seizures” around the time of a full moon. How come? Well…that has yet to be determined!

3. The Tale: Gain a child lose a tooth

As nice as children are, the bad news is they are actually bad for your chompers! In a New York University College of Dentistry analysis of 2,635 women aged 18 to 64 who had borne at least one child, the researchers found that pregnancy raises the risk of developing the gum disease gingivitis, with women who had repeated outbreaks of gingivitis increasing their risk of developing periodontal disease. Although researchers have yet to determine the cause behind the link, they hypothesize that mothers may be snacking on the junk food they give their children!

4. The Tale: Draino can help determine the gender of your unborn child

Even passing along this piece of folklore makes us nervous – please know that we DO NOT ENDORSE this experiment (although midwives swear it is highly accurate), but if you must, do this in a well-ventilated area or preferably outside. For the…uhh…experiment, you’ll need a glass jar, a cup of fresh urine (they recommend cultivating it from your morning pee) and a cup of Draino. Pee in the jar, take it outside (for the ventilation), add a cup of Draino and wait 15 seconds. If the concoction stays blue, you’re having a girl. If it turns tea color, it’s a boy! Dashing out to pick up some Draino? Don’t bother – the company in recent years has changed the liquid from blue to yellow, so the experiment won’t work anymore! (By the way – Who was the first odd person to discover this?)

5. The Tale: Don’t drink the water that comes out of the hot tap

According to an article in the New York Times, “[H]ot water dissolves contaminants more quickly than cold water, and many pipes in homes contain lead that can leach into water.” So what’s the deal with too much lead? It can lead to brain and nervous system damage, especially among children. But what if you boil? According to Environmental Protection Agency officials, “boiling water does not remove lead but can actually increase its concentration.”

6. The Tale: Eat your crust – it’s good for you

Although the benefits of eating your bread crust varies depending on your mother – with some saying consuming crusts will give you curly hair, put hair on your chest or just make you big and strong – there is some truth to this old wives’ tale. Although we don’t advocate chowing down on bread, a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that the crust of the bread actually contains eight times the antioxidants of any other part of the bread, so if you must, go for a crusty loaf and opt for the ends!

7. The Tale: A bar of soap in the bed prevents nighttime leg cramps

If you’ve ever woken in the night – even once – with a charley horse, chances are you’ll do just about anything to prevent a repeat episode! Turns out keeping a fresh bar of soap under your bottom sheet near where your legs are actually works to reduce the frequency of charley horses and is also much buzzed about in online patient forums as a “cure” for restless leg syndrome. However, users agree that the bar must be kept relatively fresh and recommend that you replace it at least every six months. As for brands, users swear that just about “anything but Ivory” will do the trick!

8. The Tale: Don’t let a person with a head injury sleep

For years, it was recommended that people who have sustained a decent head injury – specifically one that led to a loss of consciousness – should be kept awake, when in reality, sometimes a nap or a good night’s rest will make them feel better. What the experts do continue to agree on is that the person should be checked on frequently to make sure they remain arousable and their condition is not worsening.

9. The Tale: Heartburn during pregnancy means a hairy baby

Of all the old wives’ tales out there, most pertain to pregnancy. Whether it be about how you carry the baby (high for a girl, low for a boy) or that wearing a Hawaiian lei can choke the baby (it can’t, nor can raising your hands above your head!) one that is freakishly true is that mothers who experience heartburn during pregnancy tend to have hairier babies. In an analysis of 64 pregnant women (granted, not a very large study) conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers, women that experienced the most heartburn while pregnant gave birth to babies with average or above average newborn hair coverage. Exactly how it works is not clear, but researchers speculate that it is less a case of one causing the other and more that they share a common cause.

10. The Tale: Chicken soup is good for the soul (and the odd cold too!)

The trouble with old wives’ tales and urban health myths? There’s a ton of conflicting research – so even though we last week suggested that this was a myth, there is actually a grain of truth to the old saying! According to a study published in the journal Chest, chicken soup can help mitigate the inflammatory response associated with colds and other upper-respiratory infections. Under further examination, the researchers determined that the vegetables and chicken included in the soup each individually had inhibitory activity, although they note that the potency of the effects determined very much on how the soup was made, with commercial soups differing the most in their inhibitory activity. (Thanks to Ari for the heads up!)

We know some of these old wives’ tales sound way too wacky to be true. We’d love to hear you weigh in with your personal experience and anecdotal evidence, or by simply refuting any of the top 10 as utter nonsense. Hit us up with a comment!

fernando, Fort Photo, Kaptain Kobold, mag3737, *Kitto, ulterior epicure, picalogue, Mrs. Maze, sergis blog, * Sandra * Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Top 10 Wackiest Health Myths

When Do Foods Really Go Bad?

Dumb Little Man: How to Spot Myths or Old Wives’ Tales from a Distance

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49 thoughts on “Top 10 True Old Wives’ Tales”

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  1. Interesting. I had terrible heartburn with my second child, and he was definitely my hairiest (although all three had lots of hair, and I had lots of heartburn with all 3).

    Pregnancy has also wreaked havoc on my dental health. Although I haven’t lost any teeth, I’m about to spend a ton of time and money on dental care. I don’t think it’s junk food, though – chasing after little ones and finding yourself falling asleep while putting them to bed (or whenever they wake up and you have to help them back to sleep) leaves me forgetting my own dental care. I’m in the middle of flossing and I hear kids yelling, so I stop, and forget to finish. Or I pass out with the kids before I wanted to go to bed, so I don’t get to brush my teeth before bed. 🙁

    Interesting about the full moon. I *swear* my mood changes and I go a little nuts around the full moon. My husband will agree. 😛

  2. About losing teeth during pregnancy, it’s explained pretty well in “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”. Preindustrial groups living on a nutritious diet had excellent dental health, despite making no effort at dental hygiene in most cases. Women in these groups didn’t lose teeth when they had children.

    It has to do with the fact that pregnancy depletes nutrients from the mother. These preindustrial groups had special nutritious foods they would give to pregnant women and women of childbearing age before pregnancy. They were especially rich in fat-soluble vitamins A and D, minerals and probably other things we haven’t identified. These are the same nutrients that promote dental health by affecting mineral metabolism. Modern Moms shunt their limited nutrients to the child, and become deficient themselves.

    Some of these foods were grass-fed, full-fat dairy products (also associated with fertility in recent studies), eggs including fish roe, organ meats like liver and seafood (especially fatty fish). As you can see, there are different ways to get the same nutrients. These groups also got lots of vitamin D from sunlight, or from animal sources if they lived further from the equator in the winter.

    1. It’s also believed that if a woman has a dream about losing teeth it means that she may subconsciously want to start a family (have a baby/ biological clock ticking) or that she may already be pregnant.

  3. Hairiness & heartburn! Definitely true for me in all 4 pregnancies. But about a month later all my babes lost their prolific hair & were baldies until about age 2, so I guess the effect doesn’t last;)

    Sasquatch – I’m very interested in your comment – do you have a study to cite? I don’t really know (never having researched it) but it seems to me that pre-industrial people a) did have worse teeth & oral health based on how many seemed to be missing teeth and anecdotal evidence in period literature and paintings and b) since pre-industrial people lived significantly shorter lives perhaps they just didn’t have as much time to lose their teeth?

    Anyhow, my husband has restless leg syndrome – I’m SO trying the bar of soap thing. Can’t hurt! Thanks Mark & Co.!

  4. Hi Charlotte,

    Yes you are correct, some preindustrial groups had bad teeth. The problem is with the word “preindustrial”, which is not very specific. What I meant was people living more closely to how we evolved, mostly hunter-gatherers. Weston Price referred to them as “primitives” in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (1930s), but that’s a dirty word now. He had a very deep respect for them even though he used that word.

    The groups Weston Price studied were all over the world. They were racially and ethnically diverse, and they had different diets and lifestyles. But what they had in common was excellent dental health throughout life (and no they didn’t all die in their 20s), despite little or no dental hygiene. They were virtually immune to cavities, had perfectly straight teeth (due to wide dental arches) and their wisdom teeth came in without any trouble (again the wide arches). This is consistent with the archaeological record for pre-agricultural humans.

    These same people, when they were “civilized” and put on a European diet of white flour, sugar and canned goods, developed rampant cavities, and the next generation had crooked teeth and cavities as well (just like we do in America). A lot of this data was published in respected peer-reviewed journals at the time, but has been all but forgotten since.

    If you want to learn more, I recommend reading “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” by Weston Price.

    1. I had an interesting conversation with a dentist in small town Texas. He told me that directly after school they sent him on a mission type trip to Africa to see severe cases and ect. After 15 years practicing in small town Texas he confirmed that the dental health here is far worse than in ‘Third World’ ‘Uncivilized’ Africa.

  5. Hi Sasquatch, I remember having the teeth discussion with you over on the forum. I’m curious about your opinion on something. If an adult has crooked teeth do you believe they should just live with it? Or maybe get those clear braces or something like that?

    I don’t think braces with all that metal in your mouth are a good idea, and I’ve read that they are not as effective for adults as they are with children. Why I don’t know, I just read that before.

    What’s your opinion?

  6. Hi Jerry,

    I don’t know the answer to that. I suppose it depends on your preference; it’s just an aesthetic thing really. I’ve heard that braces are more effective in children than adults. Unfortunately, you can’t straighten your teeth through diet since crooked teeth are developmental.

  7. Thanks Sasquatch – I’ll look up that book (going to the library today actually!). It sounds really interesting. You are right, I was confused what you meant by “preindustrial.”

  8. Apples are so good, but my favorite reason to love them is because of their weight-loss capabilities! They’re low calorie, high fiber, and purportedly raise metabolism and stave off appetite. Apples rock.

  9. Sasquatch-
    There is another explanation for the pregnancy/tooth loss correlation that applies regardless of the woman’s nutritional status. When a woman becomes pregnant, her immune system is suppressed so that her body doesn’t reject the growing child. This is well know among women with autoimmune disease who experience significant remission during pregnancy.
    Immunosuppression increases the chance of bacterial overgrowth, leading to gingivitis and loss of teeth.

  10. Regarding hairy babies: progesterone, and perhaps other hormones in pregnancy, relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to rise resulting in heartburn. As these hormones are also contributing to the growth of the baby, the correlation is not at all freakish: I would predict that the hairier babies probably also had a higher birth weight.


  11. I’d like to add another wives tale that works. Vicks salve rubbed daily on a fungus infected nail will eliminate the fungus entirely. New growth will be seen within a months time. I have treated homecare patients with their consent and they were delighted with the results,especially a man with fingernails heavily crusted with fungus. It takes several months to really see healthy results as the new nail grows in.

  12. Hi Mark-

    Daily reader here.

    “And you thought Mark’s Daily Apple was just a kitschy name!”

    I find it ironic when comparing at the name of your website, and how you say that eating fruits should be done sparingly 🙂

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    Keep the good info coming.


  13. Yes, It’s True! – I saw that just last week on “Ask This Old House.” One home did show contaminants in the bottom of that home’s hot water heater.

  14. About the pregnancy and tooth decay… Well, it was certainly the case with me.

    My theory, and one no one else seems to mention, is that it is because the baby “drains” the nutrients from the mother during pregnancy. If they breast feed, even more so. After child birth, you need more nutrients too, because the odd schedules babies keep make you feel rundown all the time. But since most new moms are concerned more with losing the pregnancy weight, they are not concerened with their nutrition. Naturally, the body will feed on itself. We should be eating better, not less at this time. I think this is the main cause women loose their teethe during their bearing years.

    1. Yes, I believe the same thing you do. Babies do take all of their nutrients from you. Hence, why they make women take prenatal vitamins. You are not only supposed to take those vitamins but also eat food high in calcium, fiber, zinc, vitamins A, B, C, etc and so on. Rather than needing it more after birth, you actually need it more when pregnant, because when they are in womb they actually take the nutrients before you ever get them. But yes, after having twins my teeth have went down hill, thank god I haven’t lost any but they have gotten more sensitive and just ‘different’ ya know? And I didn’t worry about drinking much milk or eating food high in Calcium, I wish I would have now, of course!!

  15. I hate to double post like this, but I forgot to mention one other thing:

    I don’t know why people are so down on old wives tales. They are really more “tried and true tales.” Just because they don’t work for everyone doesn’t mean they will not work for you. Tylenol works for some folks and others it doesn’t phase! Does that mean we should laugh it off too? No. Why some of the things we say doesn’t apply to one-in-a-million-johnny, or two or even three, probably has some differential basis. For instance, I can tell you I took aspirin all of my life for pain and fever and it always helped. But if I take it now, you will be taking me to the emergency room for a panic attack. The difference? I don’t know. Neither do the doctors. But it is the truth. And I am not about to tell people to not take an aspirin., just because I am having a bad reaction with it now. I know it works great for pain. A more scientific person would say “well, it was never working if that is what it is doing to you now,” like they do with the old wives tales. But you see how silly that soundds?

  16. On the chicken soup thing,

    Most off-the shelf chicken noodle soups are actually quite terrible for you, loaded with fat and sodium and very little nutrition at all.

  17. I had a midwife with my first daughter over 17 years ago and she told me about the “draino test”. I did it and it said I would have a girl. Then with my second daughter, I did it again and as before it predicted correctly!

  18. A bar of soap near the legs does get rid of restless leg syndrom; at least, it does in my case. I keep the soap on top of the sheet, so my leg touches it. I tried modern meds to no avail.

    1. I totally agree with the soap theory! For months, maybe even years, I had leg cramps so very ban. I would awake with my toes even turning wrong side out almost and my calf’s pulling and knarling. Working in a pharmacy a really old lady told me to try soap under my sheets. The people I worked with said she was known to be a witch. To my amazement, I planted 6 bars in my sheets. And till this day I will never be in my bed without at least one bar of soap. And, that was 15 years ago.

  19. I was just wondering if anyone has more information on why the bar of soap helps with RLS. I suffer from it frequently and take prescription medication to manage the pain. I would love to be able to do away with the drugs, so if anyone has more pointers, I would love it if you could share them with me.

    1. i don’t know about the soup, yet, but i promise that i am going to try it. i suffer from this often also. my mom also has had it for years. she told me to drink some milk just before going to bed and guess what, it does work for me also. don’t understand why but it does.

      1. It’s the extra calcium consumption at bed time when the metabolism is slower that helps with the leg cramps at night. My sister SWEARS by the soap under the sheet, but I’m thinking it must be something in the fragrance?

  20. About the heartburn thing, my friend had heartburn while pregnant, and her baby wasn’t hairy at all. is the wise tail a flip or not????

    1. i had heart burn the whole time and my daughter came out with enough hair that we could have had it cut for a wig (nearly)

  21. I will share something about chicken soup. The old school chicken soup in question is home brewed from all parts of the chicken, salt and garlic with different herbs and ingredients depending on region (which may have health properties of their own). The key is salt helps retain water being lost from dehydration. Garlic is a potent natural antibiotic. And chicken contains Lysine which is an antiviral. GOOGLE “lysine” lie, chicken soup is real medicine.

    1. It means you are probably somewhere in North America. “The range of the American Crow extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in Canada, on the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, south through the United States, and into northern Mexico.” – Wikipedia

  22. Being a scientist, I was very skeptical about using a bar of soap for RLS (restless leg symptoms). But I reached a point of desperation. Finally I tried it with a bar of IVORY still in the wrapper. That night I found immediate relief. Can’t explain, but it works. The next night the soap migrated up and wedged half under my pillow. My stiff neck of two years was gone in the morning. It returned several hours later. I sleep with it all of the time now and have full neck mobility. I thought I hade lost that as I got older. Ivory works..can’t explain.

    1. Revised:

      Kills or impedes a fungus colony restless legs is a fungus and it is nocturnal. They move and vibrate doing the different specialized activities colonies, including our human one. We are sensitive to it because they hijack our neurological nerves and blood vessels to use for the survival of the colony of fungi. They also fight off your helper T cells and other micro organisms. Fungus has a primordial connection to insects. Chances are they are the prehistoric crickets in our bodies ready to decompose us at any given moment like worms and dung beetles. The soap must have an anti fungal agent in it. Sleeping with an onion and garlic would work. But only recommend if you are single and want remain so. But here is a note of caution to you rest legs is a syndrome. You are just hampering their efforts. That you have this means that some fungas has already hijacked your nervous system and I would suggest going to a holistic doctor for an ancient but scientific mold/parasite removing diet. Diet is the only cure for long term mold relieve and to prevent further damage. Restless legs is a sign they have taken on an edge. Also have your thyroid checked with ultrasound. Mold colonies are very complex in a funny simple way ???? Ps. Put a few bars in your closet and linen closet. Keeps mold smells away from natural fabrics

  23. With my son; my 1st child I never had any heartburn & he came out with a head full of hair. With my daughter; my 2nd child I had really bad heartburn & she had barely any hair & she still doesn’t have much hair at all! & she’s almost 11 months old

  24. I’ve grown up in the country in a small town centered on farming. Most of these we grew up with. If it was a tale or superstition noone really disputed it and as a kid we were aware of what was good luck or bad. There we’re a few I was looking for but can’t Find. The ring around the moon, the blood red moon and leaves turning before a storm. Ne one able to help me out?

  25. Don’t know about RLS but the bar of soap in the bedsheets has eliminated the nighttime cramps I used to get after hard workouts.

  26. This was very funny the weirdest one was number 4. The Tale: Draino can help determine the gender of your unborn child. That was sorta weird because they explained it then said Don’t bother – the company in recent years has changed the liquid from blue to yellow, so the experiment won’t work anymore! I mean whats up with that if it doesnt work anymore than its not true if it was true though i would tell my soon to be sister in law that & they didnt explain how long the baby has to be developed like is it able to work right away, or do you have to wait a couple months. Could someone explain it to me.

  27. the tooth one number three lost a tooth with each baby i had than another one after menopause

  28. Draino is lye, and the problem in #4 of the new formula should be solvable by just buying another form of lye.

  29. I remember my Grandmother not baking bread on a nasty day but only on a clear day, anyone else ever hear this?

    1. It has something to do with the humidity……if the humidity levels ain’t just right then the bread will not rise.

  30. Actually, I think I know why there are more seizures around the full moon. My brother is five and has epilepsy. He has to be tested every two years to see if he’s grown out of it yet. How do they do this? Making sure he has half the sleep he normally gets and then scanning his brain for seizure activity. Lack of sleep increases your risk of having a seizure.

    So what does this have to do with the moon? A recent study (published in the journal “Current Biology”) has shown that around the time of the full moon people sleep less soundly. It takes them a little longer to go to sleep. Melatonin production is decreased. They spend less time in REM sleep when they do finally doze off.

    Personally, I think this is why.

  31. My grandfather, always would not let me eat the end of ice cream cons. I forgot why after many years? I am now in my 70’s.