10 Medical Myths You Probably Still Believe

10 Medical Myths You Probably Still Believe

A myth a day keeps the doctor away

1. Feed a cold, starve a fever

Cold woman

This is a really, really old saying, with the earliest mention of it dating back to the 16th century. Here we are, almost 450 years later and we still believe it. And we’ve been wrong all this time. The reasoning behind the saying is that when you have a cold, you should eat something warm (chicken soup is the default choice) to heat up your body. Conversely, when you have a high fever and you are feeling hot already, avoid food to cool down your body.

Well, the first part of the saying is correct. When you have a cold, that hot bowl of soup can sure make you feel better. However, the second part isn’t really on the mark. Actually, the saying should simply be “feed a cold and a fever”. It’s not as catchy, but it’s more accurate. Starving yourself is never the correct solution. At the same time, don’t believe that gorging yourself on food is some kind of miracle cure, either. There is no evidence to suggest that overeating has any kind of positive effects. Basically, you should take your cues from your body – if you’re hungry, eat something. Don’t do it just because you want to heat up. A warm blanket works just as well.

2. Hernias are caused by lifting heavy stuff

Photo: Indalecio Ojanguren via Wiki Commons

Photo: Indalecio Ojanguren via Wiki Commons

Actually, this one is true. Hernias can be caused or, if they are already present, exacerbated by heavy lifting. However, it’s not the whole truth. There are several different types of hernias, although the most common one, by far, is the inguinal hernia which takes place in the abdomen. A hernia occurs whenever an organ pushes through its muscle or tissue lining and it hurts like hell. Unfortunately, there are many other problems that can cause a hernia. These include fluid in the abdomen, sudden weight gain, pregnancy, constipation and persistent coughing. You can even get a hernia by sneezing too hard. If you have muscle weakness, you are more at risk of a hernia and there are several factors that contribute towards this issue: age, injuries, chronic coughing and congenital defects.

3. Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis

Photo: Jaysin Trevino via Wiki Commons

Photo: Jaysin Trevino via Wiki Commons

If you are one of us knuckle-crackers, you have undoubtedly heard this said to you at one point or another. Well…good news, everyone! (you won a cookie if you read that in Prof. Farnsworth’s voice) There is no scientific evidence to back up this idea. Here’s a rundown of the various studies conducted and none of them showed any connection between cracking knuckles and osteoarthritis. One of them actually did show that it could cause signs of swelling and losing grip strength later on but, still, it’s not arthritis.

I really feel I need to highlight one of the tests conducted in this field just for the pure dedication. Dr. Donald Unger was warned by his mother when he was young that cracking knuckles causes arthritis so he decided to test it out by using himself as a guinea pig. For 60 years (!), he cracked the knuckles on one hand and not the other. When it was all said and done, there was no difference between them so he proved his mother wrong. He also won the Ig Nobel Award in 2009.

4. Don’t swim after eating

Photo: Tibor Vegh via Wiki Commons

Photo: Tibor Vegh via Wiki Commons

The actual myth is that you should wait an hour after eating before you go swimming, but sometimes the timeframe is changed so we might as well be all-encompassing. Well, there is a bit of truth to this one (like it often is the case with myths). If you’re going in the pool for performance swimming or even just vigorous exercise, you should wait a while because otherwise you might cramp up. Also, it’s really hard to exercise after just eating.

However, that is not the basis of the myth. Most of the times it’s just tired parents who want a little break from their “Energizer Bunny” kids before having to watch them again. And I’m sorry to take that away from you, but recreational swimming after eating is fine. The idea that your body doesn’t have enough oxygen to supply to your muscles because it’s busy with digestion is not true. There’s plenty to go around.

5. Don’t let people with concussions fall asleep


Unless you are a medical professional or you take regular hits to the head, all you know about concussions probably comes from movies and TV shows. And whatever else they might say, there is always one golden rule about concussed people: don’t let them fall asleep. You’ll see characters go to great lengths in order to ensure that these people stay awake because, if they do fall asleep, it’s practically a sure thing that they’ll slip into a coma.

First things first – you should definitely take someone with any kind of head injury to the hospital to seek treatment ASAP. However, when you get there, you might be surprised to find the doctor telling you to let the patient get their rest. Most medical professionals will do this, actually, if the concussion isn’t too serious. If it is, the patient would most likely be checked in for observation. At most, some doctors recommend that you wake the concussed person every couple of hours to make sure that their condition hasn’t worsened.

6. Frogs give you warts

Photo: Stephen Michael Barnett via Flickr

Photo: Stephen Michael Barnett via Flickr

There are no amphibians that will give you warts if you pick them up because warts are actually caused by viruses. The origin of this myth probably comes from the fact that many species of frogs and toads have wart-like bumps on their back, but these aren’t really warts. With that in mind, some amphibians still have secretions that can be harmful to you. Even if that’s not the case, you still don’t want to pick up a frog because it will likely pee on your hand. Just let the frog be!

7. Supplements are always good for you


Dietary supplements do have their uses. If you know that your diet is particularly lacking a certain nutrient, supplements can be a good way of ensuring that you are not depriving your body of that particular nutrient. However, there is a limit to what supplements can do, but many people tend to overlook it and just go way overboard. After all, you can’t overdose on “good health”, can you? Well, actually, you can. Almost every single nutrient has an upper limit (which you can check out here) that you don’t want to exceed. If you do, those supplements do more harm than good.

8. Sitting too close to the TV damages your vision

Kid watching TV

With today’s modern TVs with plasma or LCD technology, this is no longer an issue. And really, it would appear that there were some particular television sets made in the 60s by General Electric that were, indeed, harmful. While they were quickly pulled from stores, the idea persisted and still does today. Eye strain and fatigue can definitely occur if you watch TV too close, but they eventually occur anyway if you watch too much TV, no matter the distance. However, they go away with a good night’s rest; there’s no permanent damage.

There will be parents who will attest that their kids are nearsighted because they watched a lot of TV up-close. However, while there is a link there (possibly), it’s not the one they think. These kinds are far more likely to get close to the TV because they are nearsighted so, in reality, their action revealed an already-existing condition. In other words, watching TV up-close was a consequence of nearsightedness, not a cause.

9. Alcohol kills brain cells


This one has been around for a long time, most likely credited to pro-abstinence writers. However, even if you might feel stupider the day after a serious drinking session, you didn’t actually lose any brain cells. That is not to say that alcohol doesn’t affect the brain. It has an immediate and a long-term effect after prolonged periods of alcohol abuse. On an immediate level, alcohol gets you drunk, impairs your judgment and tricks you into thinking you’re good at karaoke. In the long run, heavy alcohol consumption can cause serious neurological damage, the most severe being Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. The good news is that latest research suggests that going cold turkey does allow your brain to repair itself, even after years of chronic alcohol abuse.

10. Shaved hair grows thicker

Man shaving

The thickness, color, length, growth rate of hair is determined inside your body. Shaving it has no effect and will not make it thicker or darker. It might appear this way because the new tips will be blunt and the area will feel coarse (and sometimes it might look thicker), but this sensation will go away once the hair starts growing out. Actually, if for some bizarre reason you notice a definite and sudden increase in body or facial hair, this could actually be a symptom or a side effect of something else so you should probably get it checked out.


Want more myths? Here you go:

History Myths Part 1. History Myths Part 2Science Myths. Sports Myths. Food Myths. Police Myths. Animal Myths Part 1. Animal Myths Part 2.