The Truth Behind Common Old Wives’ Tales Regarding Your Health

Ah yes, old wives’ tales. Little nuggets passed down from generation to generation that often make us scratch our heads and think: “How did anyone every believe in this stuff?!” But when it comes to your health, it’s important to know which of these are myths — and which actually have some truth to them. Here’s a look at 15 old wives’ tales about your health. (The truth on page 11 will shock you.)

1. “Eating chocolate gives you acne”

A bowl with chocolate coated raisins
Chocolate | Esdelval/Getty Images

You can breathe a sigh of relief, chocoholics — How Stuff Works tells us there’s no direct link between being acne-prone and eating chocolate. They do point out, however, that acne can result from factors such as foods. So if you’re prone to breakouts but don’t want to give up the sweet stuff, they suggest sticking to dark chocolate.

Next: Surprisingly, this bad habit isn’t the culprit …

2. “Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis”

Parkinson's patient hand
A senior woman’s hand | Ocskaymark/Getty Images

This would make sense, right? That popping sound hands make when the knuckles are cracked can’t possibly be good for you. However, as How Stuff Works tells us, there’s no direct correlation between the obnoxious habit and the disease. “Cracking accompanied by pain, however, can signify other inflammatory conditions, including tendinitis and bursitis,” they say.

Next: This one’s actually part true …

3. “Feed a cold, starve a fever”

Young woman in plaid and eyeglasses drinking hot tea from mug during work in office
Woman with a cold | shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

“The old adage of ‘feed a cold, starve a fever’ started centuries ago when it was believed that colds were brought about by a drop in body temperature,” Dr. Albert Ahn, MD, tells Health, adding: “The ‘starve a fever’ recommendation likely arose from the belief that eating food activated the gastrointestinal system and raised the body temperature.” As it turns out, you need to consume calories in both scenarios if you want to get better.

Next: You’ve probably heard this one before …

4. “Chewing gum takes seven years to digest”

woman putting pink chewing gum into her mouth.
Chewing gum | Nyul/iStock/Getty Images

“After having seen hundreds of stomachs, I can say that if you swallow gum, it will not stay in your stomach for seven years as the popular myth describes,” Dr. Sarina Pasricha, MD, MSCR, tells Bustle. For the most part, gum just passes right through your system because your gut enzymes can’t break it down.

Next: Interesting …

5. “You lose the most body heat through your head”

Girl suffering headache drinking a medicine
Headache | AntonioGuillem/Getty Images

So, there is a little bit of truth to this one, How Stuff Works explains. “In a body at rest, 7 to 10 percent of heat loss occurs through the head. Engaging in work or exercise increases the body’s core temperature and the flow of blood to the brain,” they say. “As the activity continues, however, the blood vessels near the skin in the rest of the body dilate, allowing more blood to flow throughout the body and reducing the flow to the brain.”

Next: We’ve all heard this creepy myth one time too many …

6. “You swallow spiders in your sleep”

Portrait of a man sleeping soundly in his bedroom.
Sleeping man | Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

Good news — this gross old wives’ tale is a work of fiction. While a bug may find its way into your snoring gob on a very rare occasion, this isn’t a normal thing that happens. “Bugs are biologically wired to stay alive, not to walk into peoples’ mouths and be accidentally eaten,” health expert Jaya Jaya Myra tells Bustle.

Next: Speaking of gross old wives’ tales …

7. “Your mouth is dirtier than a toilet seat”

man pouring mouth wash from bottle to bottle cap
Mouthwash | iStock/AndreyPopov

Sorry folks, but there’s some truth to this one. While it’s difficult to measure the exact amount of bacteria in the mouth, it’s still estimated to be pretty dirty. Plus, dentist Dr. Ron Baise tells Bustle everyone experiences some form of gum disease throughout their life, which contributes to bad breath and tooth loss. Yuck!

Next: Now for a myth a little less nauseating …

8. “Eating carrots helps improve your eyesight”

Fresh carrots arranged on a wooden background.
Fresh carrots | iStock.com/Nataliia_Pyzhova

This old wives’ tale might still be alive and kicking since it was first conceived during World War II. But to be clear, it’s only partially true. “Carrots are high in vitamin A, a nutrient essential for good vision,” WebMD says. “Eating carrots will provide you with the small amount of vitamin A needed for good vision, but vitamin A isn’t limited to rabbit food; it can also be found in milk, cheese, egg yolk, and liver.”

Next: Time to set the record straight on this one …

9. “Caffeine stunts your growth”

Coffee pot
Coffee pot | Valery Yurasov/iStock/Getty Images

No — there’s no direct connection between drinking caffeine and stunted growth. How Stuff Works suggests this myth came about because human growth hormone is secreted during sleep, and since caffeine keeps you awake, there’s a possible correlation. But they reiterate there’s no scientific backing for these claims.

Next: More fact than fiction?

10. “Sitting in a hot tub lowers sperm count”

hot tub
Hot tub with a view | irina88w/Getty Images

Studies have found that sitting in a hot tub can, in fact, reduce your sperm count. However, all hope isn’t lost. “Hot tubs will not affect a man’s fertility if the exposure is limited to a few minutes daily or less,” HealthyWomen summarizes via ShareCare.com. “It’s a good idea for a man to avoid prolonged exposure to hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms when a couple is trying to become pregnant. However, occasional visits to the sauna and hot tub will have no effect.”

Next: The truth behind this old wives’ tale shocked us …

11. “Kids get hyper from eating too much sugar”

Artificial coloured candy and jelly
A variety of candy | kiko_jimenez/Getty Images

While we’ve been hearing this for years, How Stuff Works says it’s a myth. While simple sugars in candy are rapidly metabolized and can give a burst of energy, they are then quickly carried to other parts of your body for use, no “worked off” in a frenzy. “Sugary snacks and sodas are rightly blamed for their role in obesity and tooth decay. But hyper behavior is one rap you can’t pin on them — unless, of course, they’re caffeinated products like cola or chocolate.”

Next: We’ve all heard this myth before …

12. “If you don’t exercise, your muscles will turn into fat”

young man building muscle at the gym
Young man building muscle at the gym | iStock.com/Antonio_Diaz

Long story short: If you don’t exercise, your muscles will shrink, not magically transform into fat. “The confusion arises because if you don’t use your muscles then you lose them because muscle tissue is broken down (as part of the normal cycle of tissue turnover) but then not replaced,” Dr. Susan Jebb tells The Mirror.

Next: And then there’s this tall tale …

13. “Shaving makes hair grow back faster”

woman shaving legs
woman shaving legs | gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

“The ‘thicker’ hair is an illusion because removing the tapered tip of the hair leaves it with a blunt end that makes it more visible,” Dr. Rob Hicks tells The Mirror. Shaving also doesn’t make hair grow back faster, he says.

Next: The truth here may surprise you …

14. “Leaving cuts uncovered makes them heal faster”

Three colorful bandages
Three bandages | CCaetano/iStock/Getty Images

Actually, it’s quite the contrary. The Mirror explains that leaving a wound uncovered will cause it to scab and not build new cells as rapidly, where as keeping it covered can help cell production. Plus, “covering a wound also reduces the risk of it becoming infected,” Dr. Hicks says.

Next: This last one is just silly …

15. “Cats kill babies in their sleep by stealing their breath”

Himalayan Cat
Cat | Celesty/Getty Images

“It’s possible that cats have inadvertently contributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, in which an infant dies while sleeping for no known reason,” How Stuff Works suggests when discussing the origins of this myth. However, there’s no scientific evidence that supports this old wives’ tale.

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