17 Myths About the Human Body That Just Won't Go Away


With a jam-packed appointment schedule all day, every day, let's just say doctors get asked a lot of different questions. Some of which are about myths that just won't seem to go away, no matter how hard they've tried to clear things up over the years. Is getting a base tan before you go on vacation a "protection" against sunburn? Will that piece of gum you just swallowed really take seven years to digest? If you eat more carrots, will your vision improve? These are just a few of the things that may have crossed your mind over the years. But as you probably know by now, you can't believe everything you hear. That's why it's time to clear up some common myths about your body, once and for all. And for more false facts related to your well-being, check out 17 Most Dangerous Health Myths That Just Won't Go Away.

You can catch up on sleep.

People spend a lot of time "catching up on sleep," whether that's sleeping in on the weekends or taking an afternoon nap during the week. Bad news, though. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist in New York City, says that time spent snoozing isn't actually helping you. "Many people think that you can catch up on sleep, but the body doesn't really work this way. If you have a bad night's sleep and have insufficient rest, sleeping until noon the next day won't restore your energy any more than sleeping a healthy eight hours will. Furthermore, an excessive amount of sleep may make your brain feel groggy."

She says your best bet for recovering from a lack of sleep is to prepare yourself for the next night. Do this by clearing your room of any stimulants and distractions (aka your phone!), take a relaxing shower beforehand, and do something that calms you right before bed, like reading. Then, shoot for an eight-hour sleep schedule. And to set the record straight regarding your shut-eye, check out 25 Myths About Sleep That Are Keeping You Up at Night.

If you swallow your gum, it will take seven years to digest.

Accidentally swallowing a piece of gum is always a shock. Luckily, you don't have to worry about it staying in your stomach for seven years after you do. Nancy McGreal, MD, a gastroenterologist in Durham, North Carolina, told Duke University it will actually only stay in your stomach for 30 to 120 minutes, just like any other food. The catch? You might see it again once it comes out. (Gross, but true.)

"The gum base is insoluble, just like the fiber base of raw vegetables, corn, popcorn kernels, and seeds," says McGreal. "Our bodies don't possess digestive enzymes to specifically break down gum base."

Cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis.

Sorry to prove your mom wrong, but—despite what she's told you since you were a kid—cracking your knuckles won't give you arthritis. According to Sunitha D. Posina, MD, a board-certified internist and locum hospitalist in New York, that's not founded in any significant research whatsoever.

"The curious thing about cracking our fingers is that almost everyone has an opinion on it. Some people think it's bad for you; others think it's good for your joints and provides comfort and release of tension. But in reality, the research is limited," she says. "In general, cracking your knuckles doesn't seem to be detrimental to your joints, nor beneficial. Studies show that people who crack their knuckles and people who don't have similar propensities for developing osteoarthritis. Various other studies mention the lack of difference between the knuckle crackers and the non-crackers."

You should feed a cold, starve a fever.

Despite hearing this phrase many times throughout your life, it's nothing but a myth. "This is an old traditional notion that's not recommended today by medical experts. Both fever and a cold require much rest, fluids, and nourishment to overcome," says Niket Sonpal, an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City. "If a person has a fever, many times, their appetite will be affected, but it's always recommended that the patient consumes healthy meals while they recover. Your body needs all the fuel it can get in order to fight the virus or bacteria that has infiltrated your system." And for things you were told in your early years that were actually accurate, check out Health 'Myths' You Heard as a Child That Turned Out to Be 100 Percent True.

Chocolate causes acne.

It looks like you can finally eat your nightly chocolate without worrying about it causing a new zit. "There are many misconceptions about chocolate out there. Some myths include it being an aphrodisiac; others pertain to its effect on the skin. Many people think chocolate will cause acne," says Posina. "The truth is that there's no significant research to validate this claim. Acne is caused by hormonal changes in the body, excessive oil production, and bacteria. But there's no proven evidence that chocolate is a cause for the pesky issue." And for more false facts you need some clarity on, check out 50 Well-Known 'Facts' Almost Everyone Gets Wrong.

To get enough protein, you need to eat meat.

Despite what many people think, those who refrain from eating meat aren't weak by any means, and there are plenty of vegan bodybuilders to prove it. Charles Elder, MD, MPH, an internist in Portland, Oregon, says you don't need animal products in order to get enough protein. Instead, you can get everything you need from plants.

"You can combine a legume and a whole grain, such as rice and beans, to provide a complete protein source for the main meal of the day," he says. "Eating too much meat actually increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and many types of cancer."

Dinner should be your biggest meal of the day.
Shutterstock/ESB professional

Think about the sizes of your meals. Dinner is probably your biggest, right? That's the norm for many Americans, but when it comes to proper digestion, lunch should actually be your main focus.

"Lunch should be the main meal of the day. When the sun is highest in the sky at noon is when our digestive fire is strongest and best able to digest the biggest meal of the day," Elder says. "Heavy foods eaten late at night cannot be properly digested, and can result in toxic byproducts that cause disease down the line."

It's healthy to drink a lot of cold water.

While ice-cold water tastes great, Elder says it's not the best option for your body. "While it's good to drink a lot of water throughout the day, I recommend limiting ice cold beverages of any kind," he says. "Room temperature beverages are fine and hot beverages are actually beneficial. Because our digestion is like a fire, anything cold extinguishes it, while anything warm stimulates it."

You should drink eight glasses of water a day.

Most people aim for drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day. It's the number everyone has always been told. But according to Megan Schimpf, MD, a urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery specialist in Ann Arbor, Michigan, there's surprisingly no research to back it up.

"There is no medical evidence that drinking that much water is beneficial to your health. In fact, that tip was popularized by a widely known weight loss program, but there is even no medical evidence that it helps with weight loss," she told the University of Michigan. "Drink only if you're thirsty, and never feel as if you have to force yourself to drink more." And for more helpful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Sitting too close to the TV can damage your eyesight.

If you can't see the TV, there's no harm in sitting closer. Contrary to popular belief, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says doing so doesn't hurt your eyes or damage your eyesight—that's just a myth. One thing it can cause, though, is eye strain. If you're often straining your eyes to see, you might want to make an appointment with an eye doctor to find out if glasses or contacts are in order.

Reading in dim light can hurt your eyes.

Did you ever worry that reading a book under the covers as a kid was going to result in worse vision? Despite how popular the myth is, Harvard Health says reading in dim light doesn't actually hurt your eyes. At most, it's just going to tire your eyes out more quickly. To prevent that from happening, simply purchase a reading light or use a small lamp when you're reading.

Having wet hair in the winter can make you catch a cold.

Going outside with wet hair in the wintertime might be uncomfortable, but it's not going to make you sick. "Colds are caused by viruses, so you can't catch a cold from going outside with wet hair. And wet hair won't make you more attractive to germs," Carmen Dargel, MD, a family medicine physician in Onalaska, Wisconsin, told the Mayo Clinic. "People often associate going outside with wet hair with getting sick because exposure to germs is more likely when you go outside. In reality, the common cold is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as when people who are sick sneeze, cough or blow their nose."

If you shave, your hair will grow back thicker.

Many people are scared to shave their facial or body hair in fear that it will grow back thicker and darker. Luckily, you can remove the hair worry-free. "Shaving hair doesn't change its thickness, color, or rate of growth," Lawrence E. Gibson, MD, a dermatologist in Rochester, Minnesota, told the Mayo Clinic. If it seems that way after shaving, there's a reason for that.

"Shaving facial or body hair gives the hair a blunt tip. The tip might feel coarse or 'stubbly' for a time as it grows out," Gibson says. "During this phase, the hair might be more noticeable and perhaps appear darker or thicker—but it's not."

Alcohol can keep you warm in cold temps.

Thinking alcohol can keep you warm in cold temps isn't just wrong, it's also dangerous. Joseph Janesz, PhD, a chemical dependency specialist in Cleveland, Ohio, told the Cleveland Clinic that your body normally stores warm blood in its core to make sure your organs continue working properly. But when you drink alcohol, it artificially dilates the blood vessels in your body, which causes warm blood to travel from the core to the surface of your skin.

"Alcohol intake may make your skin feel warm. Yet it deceptively lowers the core temperature of your body," Janesz says. "The result: Your body can no longer keep vital organs warm as your overall temperature drops."

You have to wait 30 minutes to swim after eating.

Despite what you were told at the pool, Charles W. Smith, MD, a family medicine doctor in Little Rock, Arkansas, told the University of Arkansas for Medical Science there's no actual evidence that swimming after eating will make you cramp up so severely that you could drown. While you can hop in the water and swim perfectly fine after eating, he says the only time you may want to wait is when you're planning on a strenuous swim session for exercise purposes, as it's difficult to perform all those laps on a full stomach.

A base tan will protect you against sunburn.

Nothing good can come from getting a base tan. First of all, Gibson told the Mayo Clinic it won't protect you against getting a sunburn. And second of all, you could be setting yourself up for a more serious—and potentially deadly—issue down the line.

"The larger issue is that any change in skin color from tanning is a sign of damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation," he said. "Repeated exposure to UV radiation—whether from the sun or a tanning bed—increases your risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer."

Eating a ton of carrots improves your eyesight.

Pretty much everyone grows up thinking they need to eat a ton of carrots to help improve their eyesight. In reality, you're really not going to experience a change in your vision unless you're deficient in vitamin A, the prime vitamin in carrots.

When you're deprived in vitamin A for a long time, Jill Koury, MD, an ophthalmologist in Raleigh, North Carolina, told Duke Health that "the outer segments of the eye's photoreceptors begin to deteriorate, and the normal chemical processes involved in vision no longer occur." But when you up your vitamin A intake, your vision can be restored. Vitamin A deficient or not, everyone can benefit from adding carrots to their plate. "Vitamin A in normal, recommended quantities is essential for the maintenance of good vision," she says.