10 Health Myths Almost Everyone Still Believes

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When it comes to health claims, don’t believe everything you read. But take everything you’ve read on, say, the health benefits (or lack thereof) of eggs and put your faith in the majority opinion — if you dare. There are conflicting studies in many areas of health; one day you read coffee is good for you, a few months later you hear too much coffee leads to an early grave. With so much conflicting information out there, it’s no surprise that many health-related myths live on, many years after the medical experts debunked them. Here’s a sampling of assumptions about our health that, despite what you’ve heard, aren’t rooted in fact.

Dehydration can slow your metabolism.

Do you really need eight glasses of water a day? Turns out that’s a myth dating to the World War II era. © Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock.com

10. Myth: Don’t Trust Health Information Found on the Internet

The digital age allows us to acquire medical knowledge without going to the doctor, which has only made doctors’ jobs that much harder. Most everyone ends up at the doctor’s office anyway, only now we come armed with often-faulty information discovered online. If we’re determined to educate ourselves, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Websites that gush about medical “breakthroughs” without giving the reader a clue about the origin of their content are probably no more trustworthy than the sketchy products advertised on their pages. But there’s plenty of solid health info out there, especially on sites ending in .gov, .edu or .org. If it’s clear who runs the website and why, and its medical facts and figures are sourced, you’re far more likely to be properly informed. Even the best website, however, can’t take the place of a doctor.


9. Myth: Drink At Least Eight Glasses of Water a Day

The best times to drink water are when we’re thirsty; nobody needs a study to tell them that. All the same, ever since a federal agency proclaimed, way back in 1945, that we should drink eight glasses of water a day to maintain optimum health, that’s been the magic number. And it’s one that, unless we’re vigorously engaged in sports or otherwise perspiring heavily, most of us are unlikely to attain. It certainly sounds logical that by drinking lots of water we may keep our body free of impurities that shouldn’t build up there, but evidence to that effect doesn’t necessarily follow. For every study equating liberal water consumption with a longer life, there’s another that finds no such link. It’s important to remember that fluid intake comes from many sources, some better for us than others. If you’re drinking four glasses of water a day, pat yourself on the back.


8. Myth: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cellphone in a Hospital

We’ve all seen the signs, admonishing us from taking or making calls on our mobile phones in hospitals, doctor’s offices, even at the vet. They’ve been there for years. Years ago, there were legitimate concerns that interference from a transmitting cell phone could cause medical equipment to malfunction, possibly risking a patient’s life. For the record, no evidence exists that anyone has ever died as a result of cell phone usage inside hospital walls. Of course, just one death from something so avoidable is too many. But even with the earlier phones, a user would have had to place the device right up next to a medical device to cause interference. Today’s models transmit a signal using far less battery power, and modern medical equipment is more effectively shielded from electromagnetic waves.

If you’re in a hospital that has signs prohibiting cell phones, please obey the signs. But it’s time for the signs to come down.


7. Myth: You Need a Daily Multivitamin

There’s simply no denying that we need our vitamins and minerals. Getting too many of them, however, does about as much good for our bodies as not getting enough. Ingesting 1,000 times the recommended daily amount of vitamin C won’t make us 1,000 times healthier; our body simply eliminates what it doesn’t need. And despite the long-standing claims of scientists such as Linus Pauling (many call him a quack), there has never been any evidence that vitamin C boosts the immune system in any way. Multiple studies have for decades found multivitamin consumption linked to early death, but they’ve been inconclusive. All the studies could say with any certainty is that supplements haven’t contributed to longer lives. Still, although doctors like to say a healthy diet is sufficient for obtaining the vitamins and minerals we need, how many of us can say we eat right?


6. Myth: Cracking Your Knuckles Will Give You Arthritis

When your mother scolded you for cracking your knuckles, her concerns for your joint health were ill informed, but perhaps not entirely. Study after study has found no higher incidences of arthritis among knuckle crackers when compared to people who leave their finger joints alone (the best cracking occurs with the interphalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joints). In fact, one man, Dr. Donald Unger, spent 50 years cracking the knuckles of one of his hands, at least 36,500 times, while not cracking the joints on the other; he found that both of his hands were basically the same. Many doctors have suggested, however, that habitual knuckle cracking can cause soft tissues in the hands to swell and may weaken a person’s grip. The jury is still out on whether the habit, more prevalent in men than women, should be refrained from in public.


5. Myth: Public Toilet Seats are Infested with Germs

Paper toilet-seat covers may give us peace of mind when using a public toilet, but they’re not good for much else. Most of us don’t transmit bacteria or viruses via our buttocks, and even if we did those bugs can’t remain viable on a toilet seat for very long. The possibilities that germs living in feces could somehow find their way into our digestive or urinary tracts, or be inhaled as an aerosol after the toilet is flushed, do exist, but such occurrences are unlikely. However, the toilet handle, stall door and especially the restroom sink (if it’s not motion-activated) are different matters entirely. The paper seat covers may be in the restroom just as a courtesy, but those little signs about the importance of washing our hands are for real. To the extent that public restrooms are germ factories, it’s because of the common objects handled by countless people.


4. Myth: Eating Meals Before Bed Will Make You Gain Weight

Having dinner, or high-calorie snacks, late at night may carry certain risks, but they’re probably not the ones we’ve long associated with the routine. Although the best time for a large meal is during the middle of the day, eating late has not been definitively linked to weight gain, unless it’s an uncontrolled portion of junk food consumed in front of the TV … and there’s never a good time for that. This should come as no surprise, but gaining weight is caused by simply eating too much and exercising too little. Anyone maintaining a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t worry about a late dinner every now and then. But don’t let eating right before bed become a nightly habit, given new research suggesting the practice can cause acid reflux, which left unchecked may increase a person’s changes of developing esophageal cancer.


3. Myth: Low-Fat Foods are Better For Your Health

Medical researchers have made enormous strides in combating, even curing, dread diseases, and yet they can’t reach a consensus on what we should and shouldn’t be eating. The issue has been studied extensively, which could be part of the problem. For every study suggesting a diet including fats is fine, there’s another claiming they’ll be the death of us. Health guidelines adopted by the U.S. government in 1977, however, that demonized even small amounts of saturated fats should be reconsidered. Our bodies utilize animal fats, such as butter, to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, food manufacturers, jumping on the low-fat craze, pumped their products with excess sugars and highly refined carbohydrates to keep them edible. As they did so, obesity rates in America began to steadily climb. They haven’t stopped since.


2. Myth: It’s OK to Eat Food Dropped on the Floor if You Pick it Up Right Away

If you do, you probably won’t get sick, and if you do get sick it probably won’t be that bad. But why take the chance? The so-called five-second rule, which states that food dropped on the floor is still safe to eat as long as it’s picked back up within five seconds, should be taken with a grain of salt. If there is any bacteria on the floor, it can latch onto a dropped item instantaneously, especially if the floor’s surface is smooth. And if the dropped food is moist, the bacteria is far more likely to remain attached to it. At the very least, food that’s hit the floor should be washed, if possible.

And floors aren’t the only danger zones. Consider the items that make contact with our kitchen counters — grocery bags, packages, mail — and all the other places those items have been. Unless we’re rigorous about wiping counters clean, we should keep food off of them as well.


1. Myth: Eggs Are Bad For You

If nutritionists said broccoli should be avoided, most of us wouldn’t have a problem with that. But eggs are tasty, versatile and easy to fix, so when the American Heart Association started warning — as early as 1961, with the U.S. government joining the chorus years later — that foods high in cholesterol were linked to heart disease, egg lovers were sad. Egg farmers were even sadder. But as it turns out, excess saturated fats are the issue, which gets eggs off the hook. The AHA changed its tune on the popular breakfast item back in 2000, but the public has since been slow to grasp just how awesome eggs actually are. There’s no better source of protein. Eggs are low in calories, as well as fat, and loaded with nutrients, such as carotenoids that may reduce the likelihood of macular degeneration in the elderly. In fact, some doctors now say eating an egg a day isn’t just OK, but a good idea.


Written by

Todd Hill has been a working journalist since 1987, with a focus on meteorology, climate studies and the Hollywood and independent film industries. After 20 years in the media maelstrom of New York City, Todd is now based on a farm in the rural highlands of central Ohio.