Even though we live in a world where answers to your questions are only a few clicks away, there is still an incredible amount of misinformation out there. Many of these myths surround our health, possibly because people crave easy solutions to a healthy body. Will you really go blind from sitting too close to the TV? Does cracking your knuckles cause arthritis? We debunk these and other common health myths below.
Cold Weather Makes You Sick
Everyone, at some point in their lives, has heard some variation of, “Put on your coat or you’ll catch your death of cold!” Perhaps this myth began because cold and flu season occurs during the winter months, but does being cold make you more likely to catch a cold? In a word, no.
Researchers have known for decades that, when exposed to cold germs, people who are cold are no more likely to become sick than people who are warm. The same is not true of the cold and flu germs themselves, which seem to love cold temperatures. Flu, in particular, spreads most easily when it’s cold and dry.
Of course, if the cold doesn’t make you sick, the question then becomes, why do people get sick more often during the winter? One reason may be that people remain indoors more than they do in the warmer months. This forces them to interact with others more closely, allowing germs to spread. Supporting this theory is the fact that, in areas where summer is extremely hot, colds and flu occur frequently during the summer months, when residents tend to congregate inside to avoid the intense heat.
Sitting too Close to the TV Ruins Your Eyesight
Although early television sets emitted radiation that might have actually caused eye damage, today’s TVs and computer screens do not have this same issue. Sitting too close to the TV does cause eye strain, particularly if you do it for too long, and it may be painful, but it does not cause any lasting damage.
One note: if you or your child regularly sits too close to the TV or computer screen, you may want to schedule an eye exam to determine whether you suffer from nearsightedness. Even though sitting too close to the screen doesn’t lead to needing glasses, it may be a sign that you need them.
Drink Eight Glasses of Water a Day
This myth is a tough one to bust, because we encourage proper hydration and water is the healthy choice. However, the truth is that you do not need eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day in order to remain healthy and hydrated. In fact, much of the hydration your body requires comes from a healthy diet, particularly fruits and vegetables. You can also meet your body’s fluid requirements. In general, your body knows what it needs. If you feel thirsty, drink a glass of water, but don’t feel as though you have to force yourself to drink eight glasses a day.
Cracking Your Knuckles Causes Arthritis
We wonder if this myth began because the sound of knuckles cracking is so annoying to some people. Needless to say, it isn’t true.
Arthritis develops within joints due to a breakdown of cartilage. Your knuckles are joints, but that distinctive popping sound is not the result of cartilage breakdown. It is the sound of air bubbles forming, and then popping, within the fluid (called synovial fluid) that lubricates the membrane surrounding your joints.
However, even though cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis, that doesn’t mean you should feel free to crack away. If you crack your knuckles regularly, it may wear down that protective membrane, compromising the joint, weakening your grip, and possibly causing your hand to swell.
The Five Second Rule
We have no idea where this one came from, but the five-second rule is one that most people have heard. For those who haven’t, it refers to the idea that you can eat food you’ve dropped as long as it spends less than five seconds on the floor. In reality, of course, it takes less than one second for bacteria to contaminate your food. Much depends on the cleanliness of the surface and whether the dropped item is dry or moist.
Reading in the Dark Damages Your Eyes
Just as with “put on your coat,” nearly everyone has been told to turn on the light when they’re reading if they don’t want to ruin their eyes. This is similar to the myth about sitting too close to the TV, as reading in insufficient light won’t cause lasting damage, but it will lead to eye strain, which often causes headaches and fatigue. So, you can read in low lighting, but why would you want to? Turn on a light and save yourself a headache.
Natural Sugar Is Healthier than Processed Sugar
A few years ago, agave and honey were advertised everywhere as alternatives to sugar, with many “experts” claiming they made great sugar substitutes for everything from baking to sweeteners in your morning coffee. The truth is, once sugars hit your body, the effect is the same, even if those sugars come from fruit.
The true issue with candies and other items that contain processed sugar (such as corn syrup) is the amount of sugar they contain, not the fact that they contain sugar. These empty calories offer no nutritional benefit. What’s more, sugar is highly addictive. We highly recommend moderating your sugar intake.
You Lose Most of Your Body Heat Through Your Head
This is a myth that’s both true and not true, since you lose heat through any part of your body that is uncovered. For most Americans, our heads typically remain uncovered even when the rest of us is covered. Therefore, of course we’re losing most of our body heat through our heads. If you took off your shirt, you’d lose much more body heat through your torso, since it’s larger than your head.
You’re Only Contagious if You have a Fever
If only it were this easy to determine whether you’re contagious and should stay home. Unfortunately, you can have a fever and not be contagious, and not have a fever and be contagious. Many things may cause your temperature to spike, including hormone imbalances, allergies, and dehydration. If you do have a fever, drink plenty of fluids and, if it rises to 104, go to the doctor.
We could keep busting health myths all day. Drinking alcohol destroys brain cells. Frogs and toads give you warts. Chocolate gives you acne. Coffee stunts your growth. Stress causes ulcers. Dairy products increase phlegm. Share your favorite myth in the comments and we’ll tell you whether it’s true or not!