If you are like many Americans, nothing satisfies more than an intriguing, exciting, unbelievable story. Stories are what shape us, define us and help us to grow & learn. As children, we gleefully sit on parents, grandparents or aunts & uncles’ laps to hear tales of funny moments, fond memories or exciting/dangerous adventures. Stories, fables, myths and legends are what we crave to fuel our curiosity.
A good story can be grounded in the truth, or it can be as whimsical as a fairy tale. Whether you prefer a good “true story” or a “fable”, a lot of knowledge and experience can be gleaned from listening to stories and their storytellers.
After a while – or multiple generations of tellings – certain stories can take on more cultural significance and transcend into myths. Myths, legends, fables and other tall tales might seem fanciful at first glance, but they’re often rooted in truthful wisdom. These kinds of widely accepted myths exist in many forms, but common health myths are some of the most popular fables & foibles.
Can toads give you warts? Can putting honey on burns help with healing? Can having a hot drink with a cold bath can shock your body out of a cold? There are so many silly things that people believe to be true, such as if you crack your fingers too often you’ll develop arthritis, or that being in colder weather with wet hair or feet is what causes colds & flus. Some health myths are in fact true, but most health misconceptions stem from folktales passed around as gossip.
While myths about health are mostly harmless and often laughable, some of them can actually lead people down a dangerous path of ignorance. Common health misconceptions around vaping, health myths about fasting or dehydration, and other extreme examples of culturally accepted folklore can be risky if left unchecked.
Many health professionals spend a lot of their time contradicting dangerous health misconceptions. Likewise, many people fall victim to certain myths about health and potentially lead themselves down the wrong path of recovery. While science might say one thing, society often acts like a prism and splits this beam of knowledge into a multifaceted spectrum of opinions & beliefs.
It is our aim to help you to understand the differences between common health misconceptions and myths about health that can be detrimental to your wellbeing. In this article about health myths debunked, we will guide you through some of the most (in)famous health myths and determine which ones are fun, which ones are fanciful, and which ones you need to avoid.
COMMON HEALTH MISCONCEPTIONS
Before we start turning through the pages of health myths vs health facts, let’s first define exactly what a “myth” is.
Myth, def’n: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon; a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; an unfounded or false notion.
According to these definitions, almost anything anecdotal can be considered a myth. Hearsay, rumors, gossip, folklore and the like constitute the majority of public opinions about any given topic, but common health myths go one step further: people take action(s) because of them. Stories about friends, family, pets, work, and everything in between are often simply ‘interesting topics to talk about’. However, in the case of health myths there’s always the risk that someone might take them seriously and base their behavior around them.
Case in point, the age-old health misconception about ‘avoiding all fatty foods’. This popular dietary myth surfaced in the mid-1980’s and has since led many people astray in their nutrition. The “logic” of this particular health misconception goes that “if you want to lose weight, you should stop eating all fats, both good and bad”. Not all fats are created equally – trans-fats and saturated fats are obviously unfavorable for weight loss, but sources of healthy fats like avocados, fish, nuts, seeds, carbohydrates and others provide essential nutrients.
This singular example illustrates that while many health myths are debunked over time, they take root in society because people WANT to believe that they provide an easy/accessible answer to a health problem. Myths, and the people who uphold them, aren’t necessarily deluding themselves at all – most stories originate from a kernel of truth that sometimes pops out-of-proportion.
So, with this understanding of myths having some valuable information but typically being misinterpreted, we can take a closer look at debunking some modern health myths. As always, Verlota likes to filter knowledge of our health & wellbeing through their patented 5 Health Elements. Therefore, we’ll look at a bunch of health myths and facts from each category: BALANCE, ENERGY, IMMUNITY, CALM, and SLEEP.
HEALTH MYTHS DEBUNKED
HEALTH MYTH: The “8 Glasses of Water Per Day” Myth
The quintessential health myth that almost everyone thinks of when talking about common health misconceptions is the antiquated “8 glasses of water a day”. The reason doctors first posited this theory that “8 x 8 oz glasses of water per day” was ideal was because it’s a safe average number.
However, since this became the hydration doctrine for the past century or so, scientists have concluded that each person’s hydration needs are very unique and cannot be covered with blanket statements like the “8 glasses a day”. For some, 8 glasses of water is perfect; for others, a lot less or a lot more is required to stay sufficiently hydrated.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: If something sounds like it’s trying to cover too much ground with catch-all statements like “everybody has to drink 8 glasses a day”, then you should take a step back and evaluate what a myth like this means to you. If you’re an active, fit and healthy individual who drinks water throughout the day, you probably don’t have to worry. On the flip side, myths like the 8 x 8 oz glasses of water aren’t meant to scare you into chugging gallons of water, they’re simply a reminder that consistent hydration is a key to living a healthy lifestyle.
HEALTH MYTH: Sleeping 8 Hours A Night Is The Only Way to Recharge
What’s with all the 8’s in health myths?! Another prominent myth about your health surrounds your duration of sleep. The old standard was a full eight hours of sleep per night to maximize your REM sleep. However, more studies have determined that sleep can be variable to each person’s lifestyle, fitness, nutrition and more. Instead of focusing on timing your sleep each night, you should focus on optimizing your sleep quality and consistency. On top of this, eating healthy and not drinking too much caffeine, alcohol or other substances detrimental to your rest will contribute to a deep sleep.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Putting pressure on your busy schedule to make time for a full 8 hours of sleep is tough enough. Instead, focus on promoting sleep-supporting habits like exercise, nutrition, relaxation and maybe even a sleepy-time tea or CBD before bed. Follow our SLEEP Guide and you’ll be watching the clock a lot less because you’ll be busy dreaming.
HEALTH MYTH: Detox, Detox, Detox… Then Detox Some More
Cleansing frequently, or focusing too much on detoxing is a very common health misconception. This myth about the health benefits “purging your system” or unwanted chemicals, heavy metals and toxins certainly has the right idea, but it’s the application (or over-application) that leads people astray.
When you detox too frequently or consume foods/beverages that aim to cleanse your system too close together, you can risk flushing your body of everything (not just toxins). Similar to the idea that drinking too much water can actually upset the equilibrium of nutrients in your body, detoxing can rob you of essential nutrients.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Your body is constantly detoxing itself through natural processes like sweating, urination, digesting, bowel movements and others. It can certainly be beneficial to do a detox here and there – especially if you’ve been particularly “party hardy” the last while, and could use a good purge of your system. That being said, juice cleanses, detox kits and purging behaviors need to be kept to a minimum or else you’ll risk emptying out the entire contents of your body – both good and bad.
HEALTH MYTH: Supplements > Foods & Drinks
This health myth is one of the most prevalent today. Peoples’ reliance on pills, capsules, shakes and condensed nutrition bars has led to an epidemic of “no food” when we should be focusing on “whole foods”. Supplements definitely have a role to play in our fitness & nutrition regimes, but just like the old adage says: too much of a good thing is never good. Protein bars/shakes, vitamins, natural remedies and other supplements were designed to support (i.e. s-u-p-p-l-e-m-e-n-t) a healthy diet and active lifestyle (not replace them). So, if you use supplements wisely and incorporate them in controlled & consistent manners you’ll get the most out of them without limiting the nutrition you get from real, wholesome foods.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Need some vitamin C? Eat some apples, strawberries, red peppers or elderberries! Looking for some lean protein snacks? Chickpeas, nuts, seeds and hemp offer a lot of protein and energy, plus some healthy fats and a bevvy of nutrients. Muscles or joints sore from exercising? Try to medicate-less and drink some turmeric tea or rub some CBD oil on. These natural, wholesome examples are just a few of the many ways you can stay healthy & active without relying too much on supplements or medications.
HEALTH MYTH: To Antibiotic Or To Probiotic… What Is the Question?!
The myth about health ramifications of antibiotics and probiotics seems to follow the battlelines of “conventional vs natural” medicine. Some proponents of modern medicine warn against relying on probiotics, whereas many people are concerned with the health risks of long-term antibiotics consumption. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, it’s not as simple to say one is better than the other – they both aim to do completely different things for your wellbeing.
Probiotics are important agents for stimulating and supporting essential biocultures in your gut. Antibiotics are designed to combat harmful bacteria within your system. Each one is the antithesis of the other, so instead of comparing them on the basis of “what’s better/safer for you”, you need to understand the advantages and disadvantages probiotics and antibiotics offer on their own.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: A simple way to avoid subscribing to either one of these remedies/supplements is to trust in both. Antibiotics can save lives when dangerous infections occur, while probiotics should be taken after a round of antibiotics to get your levels of good bacteria back up. Try to avoid taking probiotics while you’re on an antibiotic schedule – this will simply waste your probiotics as the antibiotics do not distinguish between the good and the bad. Understanding these two dichotomous remedies better will lead you to balancing their use, to greater effects.
HEALTH MYTH: Too Much Salt, Not Enough Sugar
The debate over “what’s worse for you: salt or sugar?” is as ridiculous a myth about health as asking “what’s the best: day or night?”. The answer is simple: neither. Both salt and sugar have their benefits, but both are equally detrimental to your health when consumed in exorbitant amounts.
This is certainly the case in today’s world of fast foods and addictive treats/snacks. If you’ve ever tried to limit your salt or sugar intake, you’ve probably obtained your PhD in “food label reading”. Sugar is in everything, and everything seems to be very high in sodium as well. Both sugar and salt are used as preservatives, flavor enhancers, processing agents and more quasi-scientific methods that make our foods/beverages seem more sci-fi than wholesome. The point is, you need to be acutely aware of how much sugar AND salt you’re consuming, or you’ll be at major risk of heart disease, diabetes, blood sugar/pressure conditions and a whole host of serious health problems.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Remember that old saying “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is?”. Well, this rings doubly true for salty or sugary foods/drinks. We all know soda or fast-food isn’t good for us, but because they’re so affordable and so delicious we reserve our judgements of them. Don’t pick a side in the war of salt vs sugar for dominance of our tastebuds – choose to be a part of the revolution! Eat organic fruits and vegetables, don’t overcook meals, try to invest in healthier options for snacks, hydration and even your supplements. There are many options for being sugar-free or salt-less meals and supplements – all it takes is some awareness & commitment on your part.
HEALTH MYTH: Knuckle-Cracking = Arthritis
This health myth is easy to cover. Do you crack your knuckles? Well, you shouldn’t (it can affect the elasticity of your muscles & joints). However, it’s got nothing to do with arthritis. Arthritis can develop in your knuckles and other joints, but even if you’re a chronic knuckle-popper this isn’t the cause.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Cracking your knuckles or popping joints in your shoulders, back or knees releases gases held within your joint-lubricant: synovial fluid. That distinctive, satisfying “snap, crackle and pop” does not contribute to arthritis – you are either susceptible to it, or you’re not. That being said, you can cause soreness or stiffness in your joints if you crack them too often. The simple remedy for reversing this? Stop popping and give it a rest (your joints, that is).
HEALTH MYTH: Going Plant-Based Is Dangerous for Certain Blood Types
We’ll leave this one up to the scientists. Recently, “studies found no links between diets and blood types. The researchers instead suggest that plant-based diets are beneficial for people of all blood types” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013).
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Plant-based diets can benefit everybody, equally. That being said, they aren’t necessarily for everyone; budget, lifestyle, convenience, tastebuds, all of these factors play into whether or not you will find success with a plant-based diet. Still, if someone suggests that going vegan or vegetarian “doesn’t sit well with their blood-type”, they’d actually be ignoring the science on this one.
THE MYTH: Cold Weather Gives You Colds
One of the more classic myths about health is that cold weather, having wet hair or letting your feet get cold can actually cause you to fall ill. Now, hyperthermia is certainly a serious condition that be outright deadly – we’re not suggesting that it isn’t real. Nonetheless, the health misconception about cold weather and that it can “infect” you with a virus is preposterous.
Lower temperatures can certainly impact how easily you become sick – such as forcing you to be indoors more, less vitamin D exposure from being outdoors, in addition to viruses spreading more profusely in drying air. However, the cold itself is not to blame for falling ill.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: The real problem about colder weather is the ways in which we behave during these chilly seasons. Staying indoors, eating comfort foods, exercising less, spending more time socializing inside, and generally lazing about more than we would when the sun is out. As long as you’re staying active, eating healthy, getting enough vitamin D and doing what you can to be positive during lower temperatures, ”cold & flu season” need not apply to your life anymore.
HEALTH MYTH: Caffeine Does Not Stunt Your Growth… Just Stains Your Teeth
As much as this avid coffee drinker would like to blame his 5’9’’ height on all the lattes over the years, coffee and other caffeinated drinks do not have any impact on your size. Genetics determine your height, musculoskeletal structure and general body build. We can certainly manipulate how big/small we appear, but height is something that’s set in stone (or in this case, set in our DNA).
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Coffee won’t make you shorter, but it can reduce the amount of time people are willing to be in close proximity to you. Case in point: coffee breath and coffee teeth. Drinking too much caffeine can be detrimental to your gastrointestinal health, in addition to leading to addiction or reliance on its energetic-inducing properties. However, one of the main things that coffee drinking can stunt is your oral health. Don’t be that yellow-fanged coffee drinker/smoker… drink coffee in moderation and make sure to brush your teeth after every cup of joe.
HEALTH MYTH: Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal of The Day
Although eating healthy, consistently and avoiding over-portioning is very important, it really doesn’t matter what specific times you eat. Breakfast can be a very important meal for someone whose job is very physically demanding, but it is equally important to have a healthy lunch for those office-warriors who are using their brains all day. What you eat is more important than when you eat it.
HEALTH MYTH DEBUNKED: Intermittent fasting has shown some benefits to people looking to optimize their body weight, but it’s not something everyone needs to subscribe to. As long as you’re being consistent with your meals/snacks, managing how much you’re eating, and focusing on getting the most nutrition out of your food, the timing is secondary.