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Debunking 7 health myths

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Learn which adages—about nutrition, home remedies, and more—need an update.

You’ve Always Heard That…

1. You Shouldn’t Cut Off the Bread’s Crust. It’s Full of Vitamins.

The truth is: In a 2002 German study, researchers found that the baking process produces a novel type of cancer-fighting antioxidant in bread that is eight times more abundant in the crust than in the crumb. That said, it’s more important to serve whole-wheat bread, with or without the crust, because it’s all around higher in nutrients, such as fiber, says New York City nutritionist Keri Glassman, author of The O2 Diet). Make sure the ingredients list “100 percent whole-wheat flour.” Breads simply labeled “wheat” are usually made with a mixture of enriched white flour and whole-wheat flour and have less fiber.
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2. If You Go Out With Wet Hair, You’ll Catch a Cold.

The truth is: You will feel cold but will be just fine health-wise, says Jim Sears, a board-certified pediatrician in San Clemente, Calif., and a co-host of the daytime-TV show The Doctors. He cites a study done at the Common Cold Research Unit, in Salisbury, England, in which a group of volunteers was inoculated with a cold virus up their noses. Half the group stayed in a warm room while the rest took a bath and stood dripping wet in a hallway for half an hour, then got dressed but wore wet socks for a few more hours. The wet group didn’t catch any more colds than the dry. Sears’s conclusion: “Feeling cold doesn’t affect your immune system.”

3. You Should Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever.

The truth is: In both cases, eat and drink, then drink some more. “Staying hydrated is the most impor-tant thing to do, because you lose a lot of fluids when you’re ill,” says Sears, who adds that there’s no need for special beverages containing electrolytes (like Gatorade) unless you’re severely dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea.


4. Gum Stays in Your Stomach for 7 Years.

The truth is: Your Little Leaguer’s wad of Big League Chew won’t (literally) stick around until high school graduation. “As with most nonfood objects that kids swallow, fluids carry gum through the intestinal tract, and within days it passes,” says David Pollack, a senior physician in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Care Network. And even though gum isn’t easily broken down in the digestive system, it probably won’t cause a stomachache, either.

5. You Lose 75 Percent of Your Body Heat Through Your Head.

The truth is: “This adage was probably based on an infant’s head size, which is a much greater percentage of the total body than an adult head,” says Pollack. That’s why it’s important to make sure an infant’s head remains covered in cold weather. (This also explains those ubiquitous newborn caps at the hospital.) But for an adult, the figure is more like 10 percent. And keep in mind that heat escapes from any exposed area (feet, arms, hands), so putting on a hat is no more important than slipping on gloves.

6. To Get Rid of Hiccups, Have Someone Startle You.

The truth is: Most home remedies, like holding your breath or drinking from a glass of water backward, haven’t been medically proven to be effective, says Pollack. However, you can try this trick dating back to 1971, when it was published in The New England Journal of Medicine: Swallow one teaspoon of white granulated sugar. According to the study, this tactic resulted in the cessation of hiccups in 19 out of 20 afflicted patients. Sweet.

7. Warm Milk Will Help You Fall Asleep.

The truth is: Milk contains small amounts of tryptophan (the same amino acid in turkey), “but you would have to drink gallons to get any soporific effect,” says Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist in Scottsdale, Arizona, who specializes in sleep disorders. “What is effective is a routine to help kids wind down,” he says. And if a glass of warm milk is part of the process, it can have a placebo effect, regardless of science.

Click here for more myths from Real Simple.