Is there any truth to them?
There are many old wives’ tales about numerous things. This is especially the case when it comes to health topics. For instance, you’ve probably heard, “Eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away.” How did sayings like this get started? How long have they been around? Is there any truth to them?
Everyone has heard an old wives’ tale or two in their lifetime. The term “old wives’ tales” definitely isn’t new—it has been well-known for hundreds of years. In fact, it was mentioned in the King James Bible, published in 1611, in the translated letter of Apostle Paul to his follower Timothy: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). It doesn’t refer only to married women, though because it came from the Old English word wif, which means “woman.”
The name probably originates from the fact that older women would often pass down their advice to the younger generation in the form of sayings that were easy to remember since paper and pen were available to record them. Commonly, they were used to share knowledge of folk cures for ailments and focused on women’s traditional concerns, likes pregnancy, puberty, social relations, health, herbalism, and nutrition. Besides, they were used to discourage certain behaviors, usually of children, which is why some have been turned into fairy tales by Basile, Perrault, and the Grimms. While some might have a bit of truth to them, they are exceptions to the rule and most likely coincidences. Most old wives’ tales are a type of superstition because they contain exaggerated or false claims. Some are harmless stories, but others can make things worse.
So, if most old wives’ tales are false, why have they stuck around for so long? Some people believe that they’re harmless and serve a valuable purpose. Others think they’re still around because they offer comforting advice about everyday experiences that concern us, but don’t have control over. When it comes to a health problem, especially if it’s gross or upsetting, everyone wants to have an answer. So, let’s take a look at some common old wives’ tales related to health and see if there’s any truth to them.
Cold weather will make you sick – False
Experts point out that it’s not the weather that makes you sick, but the behavior that weather causes. When it’s cold outside, people tend to stay indoors, crowded together. Also, humidity drops indoors due to heaters being on, which creates an environment that encourages viruses, like influenza, to survive a longer time.
You should starve a cold and feed a fever – False
This is wrong on both accounts. It was probably based on the idea that food acts like kindling to your temperature. So, if you have a cold, you need to increase your temperature, but if you have a fever, you need to decrease it. Regardless of what type of illness you have, your body is fighting infection, which means that it needs plenty of nutrients and rest. Another vital element is to drink enough fluids, so you don’t become dehydrated. Rather than avoiding food, consider bland, healthy meals because this will help you to keep your strength up so your immune system can fight the infection.
Chicken soup has healing properties – Sort of True
There are a lot of nutrients in chicken soup with protein in the chicken and vitamins in the vegetables. The broth will help to keep you hydrated. Plus, when you’re leaning over a hot bowl of soup, the steam will probably help break up nasal secretions. It’s essential to keep in mind that chicken soup may ease the symptoms, but it will not cure the actual illness. Also, if you don’t eat meat, vegetable soup will work just as well.
You can sweat out a cold – False
Since a cold naturally takes one or two weeks to run its course, sweating has no impact on it. The best way to get rid of a cold is to take care of yourself. It’s important to note that sweating isn’t harmful when you’re sick. Instead, it indicates that your body is doing its job in fighting the infection. The essential thing is to replenish your body with fluids, change your clothes, and avoid sweating in the cold. Another misconception that falls under this category is exercising out a cold. In its place, skip your workout because exercise can add stress on your body when it’s trying to fight an illness.
A spoonful of honey is good for a sore throat – True
Science proves that honey contains natural anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial substances. So, if you have a sore throat, ease the discomfort by mixing a little honey with warm water and lemon. Another option is to swallow honey straight from a spoon. Note: Never give honey to a child under the age of one due to the risk of infant botulism.
The flu shot will give you the flu – False
The flu vaccine is made either with flu viruses that have been inactivated, which means they’re not infectious, or with no flu viruses at all. The truth is that getting an annual flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu.
Going outside with wet hair in cold weather will get you sick – False
While this is uncomfortable, it doesn’t result in infections. However, it can damage your hair, causing it to break without difficulty.
Avoid dairy when you’re sick – False
There aren’t any specific foods that you should avoid when you’re sick. Eat whatever you have an appetite for, so you’re taking in enough nutrients to help your body fight the infection.
Gargling saltwater will cure a sore throat – False
When you have a respiratory illness that blocks up your nasal passages, you’ll end up breathing through your mouth, which can dry it out and make it sore. To help with this, you can try gargling with salt water. It won’t cure your sore throat, but it can provide some relief.
Cold compresses or cold baths help with fever – False
It’s vital to note that having a fever is your body’s way of trying to fight an infection, so it’s okay to wait until the fever breaks to bring your temperature back down. Another option is to use acetaminophen and ibuprofen to bring it down.
Vitamin C helps get rid of colds – False
Vitamin C can boost immunity before your sick, but once you’re ill, it doesn’t help. So, if you take Vitamin C frequently, you might reduce your chances of getting sick.
Eating fried onions will soothe a sore throat – False
There’s no scientific evidence to back this claim. Instead of onions, try gargling with salt water, swallowing honey, or eating chicken soup. You can also try echinacea, ginger tea, zinc lozenges, ginseng, or spicy foods.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away – Sort of True
Apples are rich in vitamin C and high in fiber, especially soluble fiber, like pectin, which can lower blood cholesterol and protect against heart disease. They’ve also got unique phytochemicals that are linked to slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates, which aids in improving blood glucose control. All of these things are a good way to stay healthy and avoid going to the doctor. These phytochemicals vary depending on the variety and color of the apple. To get the most benefit, you need to eat the skin.
Turkey makes you tired – False
Turkey does contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that produces melatonin, a brain chemical known for making people tired. However, turkey doesn’t have significantly higher amounts of tryptophan than other meats. So, why are you tired after your Thanksgiving meal? It’s probably due to the vast quantities of carbohydrates and alcohol that most people consume during the feast. So, while the turkey may contribute, it isn’t the main cause of your sleepiness.
Eating carrots can improve your eyesight – False
The origin of this tale is from British military propaganda during World War II in an attempt to trick the Nazis into thinking they had superior eyesight from the carrots that they were eating and allowed them to see in the dark, even during blackouts. Carrots do contain beta carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A and that is essential for overall eye health. However, vitamin A doesn’t improve visual acuity and eyesight.
Eating too many carrots will make you turn orange – True
If you eat a lot of carrots, or other foods rich in beta-carotene, you can turn your skin a slight yellowish shade, especially the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. This is known as carotenemia and it isn’t dangerous. It will go away if you stop taking in so much beta-carotene.
Eating a watermelon seed will cause the fruit will grow inside of you – False
Watermelon seeds don’t stay inside your body. In fact, some studies have found when prepared correctly, sprouted and shelled, watermelon seeds are nutritious and loaded with protein.
Hair of the dog gets rid of a hangover – False
This tale means if you have a hangover in the morning, you should have another drink because it’ll get rid of it. Instead of being correct, doing this will make you feel worse later on because it just postpones your hangover. It could even intensify your symptoms. The actual remedies are time, rest, and lots of water. Adding some electrolytes to the water can also help.
Alcohol helps you sleep – False
While alcohol does help you to fall asleep faster, it disrupts your overall sleep, particularly REM sleep. REM sleep is the mentally restorative phase and the more you drink, the worse its impact.
Drinking water helps you lose weight – True
Numerous studies support this connection between water and weight management. One, in particular, found that when adults ingested two cups of water right before eating a meal, they ate between 75 and 90 fewer calories. Other research shows that water offers a slight boost in metabolism.
Gum will stay in your intestines for seven years if you swallow it – False
While your body can’t break down gum, it doesn’t stay in your body. Instead, your stomach empties its waste into the small intestine, which passes it along to the colon. This means that the gum will typically reappear in your stool about a 48 – 60 hours after you swallow it.
Spicy foods can cause ulcers – False
Between 80 – 90% of ulcers are caused by the H. pylori bacteria and require antibiotics to treat them. So, spicy food doesn’t cause ulcers, but it can irritate existing ones. There’s some evidence that hot peppers may help to heal ulcers by inhibiting acid production in the stomach due to the chemical they contain, capsaicin. Some other benefits of eating peppers are boosting your metabolism, thinning your blood, reducing your risk of certain cancers, supporting your immunity, and reducing bodily inflammation. The only warning is to avoid eating spicy foods right before bed because it could result in heartburn.
Coffee stunts your growth – False
Some people believe the caffeine present in coffee will affect children’s growth patterns, but this isn’t true. Limited coffee consumption is linked to numerous health benefits, like the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, abnormal heart rhythms, strokes, and certain cancers.
Foods with mayonnaise spoil faster – False
Commercial mayonnaise is somewhat acidic, so it can help prevent food from spoiling. However, the vital thing, regardless if it has mayonnaise, is to make sure food is kept cold.
Chocolate gives you acne – Sort of True
Most of us know by now that what you eat impacts your body, including your skin. So, if you eat a diet high in sugar and processed foods but low in fruits and vegetables, you’ll end up with inflammation. If you have inflammation throughout your body, it can trigger acne flare-ups. On the other hand, chocolate has some health benefits, especially if it’s dark chocolate made of cocoa is 70% or higher.
Always follow the five-second rule – False
The five-second rule is that if a piece of food is on the ground for less than five seconds, then it’s still safe to eat. Unfortunately, there’s no scientific evidence to support this claim or any length of time food can be dropped and safely recovered. Instead, research shows food will promptly pick up bacteria from any surface it lands on.
Wait an hour after eating to go swimming – False
This idea probably came from an old Boy-Scouts handbook from the early 1900s. The concept states that digestion would divert some of your blood away from your muscles to your stomach and swimming might prevent that blood from reaching your stomach, causing cramps that could cause you to drown. Another variation is that your stomach diverts blood from your limbs, making it difficult for your muscles to work correctly, thus putting you at risk of drowning. While it’s true that digestion does require extra blood, it doesn’t mean your limbs don’t have enough to work properly. The worst thing that could happen from swimming after eating is a small, harmless cramp, which would go away after resting for a little while.
Hot tubs can damage your sperm count – True
One study of men who spent about 30 minutes per week soaking in hot tubs or hot baths showed that all the men had signs of infertility, such as impaired sperm production and motility. The good news was that once the men stopped soaking in hot water, about 50% experienced an average increase in total motile sperm counts of 491% after three to six months.
Pregnant women lose calcium from their teeth to their babies – False
While its true babies do get calcium from their mothers, it doesn’t come from the mother’s teeth. However, some women’s gums may swell and this can make them feel soft and spongy. Several studies show many pregnant women are low on calcium. Pregnant women need about 1,200mg and can be found in plenty of foods, such as dairy, leafy greens, nuts/seeds, spinach, turnips, broccoli, salmon, and sardines.
Carrying a baby a certain way indicates gender – False
The way a baby is carried only indicates the position they’re lying in the uterus. To find out the gender of your baby before they’re born, you need to have an ultrasound.
Cats have a natural urge to smother babies – False
This isn’t true but probably came from the idea that babies often have a milky breath from feeding and cats might smell it and be tempted by it.
Brandy soothes a baby’s gums – False
Scientific research shows that even very small amounts of alcohol can be toxic to a baby. Instead of brandy (or other alcohol), try massaging a warm washcloth on your baby’s gums or allowing them to gnaw on a cooled teething ring.
Pulling out a gray hair will cause two more to take its place – False
Since hair follicles only grow one hair each, this isn’t true. When you have a gray hair, it means the follicle stopped producing melanin, the pigment that helps your strands stay a specific color. So, the only way you get more gray hair is when other follicles also stop producing melanin.
Shaving your hair makes it grow back thicker and coarser – False
When you shave hair, it removes the tip of the hair, which is tapered at the end. So, when these short hairs continue to grow past the surface of the skin, they aren’t tapered anymore, causing us to perceive them as being thicker.
Sitting too close to the television will make you go blind – False
While this isn’t real, you can end up with eye strain. This commonly occurs when your eyes are tired after you’ve used them for prolonged periods, such as when watching TV, working on a computer, or staring at your phone. It can also be caused by driving for long distances or being stressed. Symptoms of eyestrain are difficulty keeping your eyes open, burning or itching eyes, and a headache. It doesn’t cause permanent, long-term damage and usually improves with taking a break from the activity that caused it. Another option is to wear glasses that have specific lenses and coatings to filter out different levels of blue light (which is associated with eye strain). Some other options are to make sure you have enough light in the room and sitting at least five feet from the screen.
Crossing your eyes for too long will cause them to get stuck that way – False
Children often enjoy doing this because they find it fun. Typically, they can’t hold the position for long. It’s not dangerous and won’t leave any permanent issues. The best practice is just to ignore it, and they’ll stop doing it.
Humans only use 10% of their brains – False
The truth is that the entire human brain is continuously working, even when you’re sleeping. PET and MRI scans have proven this.
Sneezing or coughing too hard can cause a stroke – Sort of True
The majority of sneezes and coughs pose no problems, but in some cases, they can cause a stroke. This is more likely to occur if you have high blood pressure or have been diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm (a weakened blood vessel in the brain that could rupture under pressure). This is because forceful coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose may suddenly increase the pressure inside of your brain. The likelihood of this happening is incredibly rare.
Your hair should be squeaky clean – False
Your hair has natural oils on it. If you shampoo your hair until it squeaks, you’ve stripped the hair shafts of these oils resulting in the hair becoming damaged and making it more likely to break. To prevent this, apply shampoo to the roots only and work it gently into the rest of the hair before rinsing thoroughly and using conditioner (only if your shampoo doesn’t contain conditioner). Do the process only once. Another expert tip is not to rinse with hot water.
Have a dog lick a wound to help it heal – False
There was some thought that if a dog licks a wound, it’ll heal faster. This isn’t true because dogs’ mouths contain billions of bacteria, which means you could end up with an infection. The best practice is to clean your hands, wash the area with soap and water, and keep it clean and dry.
Peeing on a jellyfish sting alleviates the pain – False
Jellyfish stings come from the millions of stinging cells on a jellyfish’s tentacle, inserting venom into the skin. To stop the process, you need to remove the tentacles with something other than your fingers (to prevent further stinging), such as a flat object to scrape them off or tweezers to pick them off. After you do this, rinse the area with seawater. This will help to remove any remaining tentacle parts. Don’t use freshwater since that can cause more venom to be released. The final step is to rinse the area with hot water or take a hot shower to ease the pain.
You swallow spiders while you sleep – False
While this is possible, it seldom happens because bugs are biologically wired to stay alive. So, they’re not going to deliberately go into peoples’ mouths and be eaten accidentally.
The human mouth is dirtier than a toilet seat – True
While it’s difficult to measure the amount of bacteria in an average mouth, it can be said that they’re pretty dirty. This is because our teeth are permanently covered in a thin film of bacteria called plaque. Plaque is sticky and can cover all areas of the mouth. Our mouths are warm, wet, and have a constant oxygen supply. All of this allows the bacteria in this plaque to multiply very quickly. When plaque mixes with saliva, it hardens and becomes near impossible to remove. This can lead to gum disease, which is the slow rotting away of your gums. It’s the leading cause of tooth loss and bad breath, which is why dental hygiene is so important. As long as you’re brushing and flossing regularly, and going to the dentist frequently, you’ll keep the bacteria under control.
Hopefully, this list will provide you with some guidance as far as what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to following old wives’ tales. Just remember that if you have any doubts, see a medical professional, don’t rely on a saying that has been passed down for hundreds of years.