7 Myths Your Mom Told You About Your Health That Are Actually Totally Wrong
Everybody has that one parent or adult who's chock-full of ideas for preserving your health, some more reliable than others. Stay away from raw chicken? Great advice. Drink five gallons of water every day or risk perishing of dehydration? Much less useful. While some mom myths about health, nutrition, and disease have since been proven to be accurate by modern science, others, despite legions of moms and dads passing them down to generations of children, aren't facts at all. Even if they seem logical, there's no medical or scientific evidence that these bits of advice have any advantage, and in some cases they can make health issues worse.
"Mom myths" like this are so called because, like "old wives' tales," women tended to be responsible for medicine and health at home in the generations before healthcare became easy and cheap to access. They're ubiquitous: even if you're never quite sure where you first heard them, they're inherited folk wisdom and so have the status of long-proven truth, even if the reality is very different. The lesson from these mom myths is that just because a lot of people believe in a medical idea, that doesn't mean it's reliable or backed by science.
1. "You'll Get Sick If You Go Out With Wet Hair"
The rationale behind this seems foolproof: wet hair makes you colder, colder body temperature makes you more vulnerable to infections. Unfortunately, there is no link between going out in cold weather with wet hair and having a higher risk of colds or flu. "In order to catch a cold, you need to be exposed to an infectious agent, and although wet hair may make you chilly, it does not attract or make you more susceptible to infectious agents responsible for the common cold," CNN wrote in a 2019 report on folk beliefs around colds. Being cold doesn't appear to make you more vulnerable to viral infections, so if you do break out the hairdryer before you leave, do it so your ears don't feel like they're going to freeze off.
2. "You Need 8 Glasses Of Water A Day To Be Healthy"
This is a long-standing myth that many of us heard as kids from our parents and in health class, but it turns out that it's not actually backed by science. Its origins are mysterious. "One 2002 paper in the American Journal of Physiology combed the literature and couldn't find any scientific evidence that backed up this theory," noted Health. The eight-glasses-a-day water belief appears to be a myth — in part because we actually get around 20 percent or more of our daily necessary fluid intake from food. Drinking more water is a good idea if you're feeling dehydrated or do a lot of active work, but a sign that you're drinking excess water is clear urine, with no yellow pigment in it at all.
3. "Being In Cold Weather Will Make Your Cold Worse"
The science is far from settled on how exposure to cold temperatures affects our vulnerability to colds and viruses. "Research has shown that two common causes of colds — rhinoviruses and coronaviruses — may thrive at colder temperatures, and that the flu may spread most effectively under cold, dry conditions," says LiveScience. It's also possible that cold weather impairs the ability of mucus and nasal hairs to get rid of nasties in your nose. However, some scientists argue that it's not actually the cold weather itself that causes the spike in colds and flu during winter: it's humidity, and the fact that everybody tends to huddle into poorly ventilated, warm spaces and share germs when it's cold outside.
4. "You Can Catch STIs From Toilet Seats"
This is impossible, and you should know it next time you go into a public toilet. "While contact with infected skin could lead to an STI transmission, contact with a toilet seat will not. This is because the pathogens that cause STIs cannot live outside the human body for long," says Health24.
5. "You Lose A Lot Of Body Heat Through Your Head"
This is a great excuse to wear amazing hats, but it's not actually true. The idea, says LiveScience, "probably came from experiments in the 1950s, when military researchers exposed subjects to frigid temperatures." However, they note, a 2006 study found that "the head accounts for about 7 percent of the body’s surface area, and the heat loss is fairly proportional to the amount of skin that’s showing." Only around 7 to 10 percent of body heat goes out through the head, which is a good enough reason for a woolly hat, but means you don't have to panic if you happen to leave it at home in cold weather.
6. "Cracking Your Knuckles Will Give You Arthritis"
Cracking your joints sounds impressive and can feel oddly relieving. If you've been warned to stay away from the practice for the sake of future arthritis, you've been told a myth. Harvard Health reports that "several studies that compared rates of hand arthritis among habitual knuckle-crackers and people who didn't crack their knuckles" found absolutely no link between knuckle-cracking and arthritic illnesses.
If you've ever wondered what the noise of a crack actually is, it's not the bone itself. “The noise of cracking or popping in our joints is actually nitrogen bubbles bursting in our synovial fluid,” orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Klapper told Cedars-Sinai. The sensation shouldn't lead to any pain, but if you go to a lot of effort to crack a knuckle by contorting your hand, you may tear a tendon accidentally.
Well-meaning though they may be, these mom myths aren't actually based in any truth. Now somebody breaks out the old "you lose half your body heat through your head" chestnut at a party, you have All The Facts to tell them what's what.