Many of the health-related myths out there are passed on as fact. If you hear something often enough it’s easy to accept it as the truth. Here are some of the most common medical myths – debunked.
Vaccines cause autism
This myth was started in 1998, when the parents of eight children with autism said they believed their children acquired the condition after they received a vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.
Following this, there has been extensive research into the idea and no link has been found. A 2002 study in The New England Journal of Medicine followed 530,000 children and found no correlation between vaccinations and developing autism.
There are risk factors for autism including, advanced age in either parent, premature birth, low birth weight, being a twin and pregnancies spaced less than one year apart.
Eggs cause high cholesterol
Eggs have almost no effect on your blood cholesterol and eating eggs every day doesn’t raise the risk of heart disease in healthy people. What’s more, eggs have certain nutrients, such as omega-3s, that may lower the risk of heart disease.
We only use 10 per cent of our brains
Motivational speakers and life coaches have been spouting this myth since the early 1900s. It’s often used as a way to get people to buy into something that claims to ‘release their untapped potential’.
Now, there are a plethora of articles and videos debunking this myth both in popular media and from neuroscientists. MRI scans on subjects in studies show that the majority of the brain is engaged while performing tasks.
You need to stay awake after a concussion
Anyone who may have a concussion should seek medical attention, but the condition is rarely severe or life threatening.
Dr Alice Alexander, a primary care doctor, says if the person who is injured is awake and holding a conversation, you can let him or her fall asleep as long as they are not developing any other symptoms such as dilated pupils or issues with walking.
“Usually after a concussion, a person may be dazed or may vomit,” explains Dr Alexander, “For children, we advise parents to wake up the child a couple of times during the night to make sure they are able to be aroused.”
Unless a doctor says the person needs further treatment, the injured person should sleep and rest.
If you swallow gum, it will stay in your stomach for seven years
The ingredients in gum are mostly indigestible but they will pass harmlessly through the gut and be excreted in a normal amount of time. However, swallowing large amounts of gum can cause a blockage in the intestines.
Plenty of what we eat day to day, such as fibre, is indigestible. What our digestive system can’t absorb is just moved right along.
Natural sugar is better for you than refined sugar
Your body processes all simple sugars, such as honey, agave, maple syrup and table sugar in the same way. The sugar molecules in a tablespoon of honey are not superior to the sugar molecules found in a tablespoon of white sugar.
There is one differentiation worth making, though: sugar in fruit comes along with fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, which makes it more nutritious than sugar-laden snacks or baked goods.
You should wait 30 minutes after eating to go swimming
The origin of this myth seems to date back to 1908 when it was included in a Boy Scout handbook.
The thinking behind it was that, after you eat, some of the blood may be diverted away from your arms and legs to your gut to work on digesting. Less blood pumping in your limbs means you may get fatigued quicker and drown.
Where they got this information is unknown, but by 1961 exercise physiologists railed against this theory, explaining that digesting while swimming would not be life threatening.
You lose most of your body heat through your head
A study published in 2006 found the amount of heat lost through a person’s head is only about 7 to 10 per cent of total body heat.
The study found that the heat loss from the head was proportional to the amount of skin that’s uncovered.
“The real reason we lose heat through our head is because most of the time when we’re outside in the cold, we’re clothed,” says Dr Richard Ingebretsen., “If you don’t have a hat on, you lose heat through your head, just as you would lose heat through your legs if you were wearing shorts.”
Muscle turns to fat when you don’t exercise
Fat cells and muscle cells are different structures and are not interchangeable. Muscle cells hypertrophy (grow larger and multiply) when you exercise. If you stop exercising, the muscles will atrophy (get smaller) but they won’t convert to a different cell type and turn into fat.
If you’re burning fewer calories than you’re eating, fat cells will expand, making the body look softer.
Coffee stunts your growth
How tall you are is not affected by how much coffee you do or don’t drink.
Your height depends mostly on your genes, though good nutrition is also important to reach your maximum height potential.
Few foods or drinks have been as well studied as coffee and there is no scientifically valid evidence to suggest that coffee can stunt a person’s growth.
Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis
The satisfying crack you get comes from the harmless release of gases from the fluid that lubricates your joints. If you do feel pain when popping your knuckles, it’s advised you see a doctor as you may have arthritis or another condition, such as tendonitis.
There have been few studies on this topic; perhaps one of the most well known is the self-inflicted research rewarded with an Ig Nobel Prize in 2009. For more than 60 years, Californian doctor Donald Unger cracked the knuckles of his left hand at least twice a day, leaving his right knuckles uncracked.
His conclusion? “I’m looking at my fingers, and there is not the slightest sign of arthritis in either hand.”
What other medical myths have you heard that you would like debunked? Why not share the one you’ve heard most often in the comments section below?
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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.