When it comes to long-held misconceptions about our health, old habits are even harder to shake than a sinus infection. No matter how much we learn, we’d all rather follow grandma’s advice, or do simply what feels right, rather than verify if any of our long-held assumptions are correct. To quote Zackary Berger, M.D., “A brain is a wonderful organ to justify conclusions the heart has already reached.”
To help clear things up, we researched seven widely-held beliefs about wellness to see if we could strengthen our knowledge and improve our health habits.
Myth: Cold Weather Can Make You Sick
It makes sense, right? After all, we all know that flu season lasts from October to March, which happens to coincide with winter. But it may surprise you to learn that exposure to cold temperatures has nothing to do with your likelihood to catch the flu. So why is it then, that people tend to feel “under the weather” so often when the weather is particularly bad?
The correlation between cold weather and flu season seems to imply causation. In reality, it is not the cold temperatures that cause sniffles and sore throats, but rather longer time spent indoors during these winter months breathing the same air and touching the same surfaces as everyone else. According to researchers, cells that fight infection in the body actually increase if you go out in the cold.
The flu can most easily spread when temperatures are high and humidity is low. Because of this, a warm, dry house is unfortunately an ideal location for debilitating germs. It is a perfect mix of factors that results in everybody getting sick around the same time.
Myth: You Can Get the Flu from the Flu Vaccine
When we get sick, we often want someone or something to blame. Be it a co-worker who sneezed on your desk, or crowded bus ride, or even the flu vaccine itself.
To call this phenomenon a ‘myth’ is a little misleading; it is more like a misunderstanding. When you receive the flu vaccine, the vaccine effectively “tricks” your body into making antibodies to fight against the flu. This response is what can cause you to feel slightly achy and feverish for a day or two afterwards.
Occasionally, an unlucky few may still get the flu after receiving a vaccination, adding to the perception that the vaccine itself has caused the illness. This is just a case of unfortunate timing: because it takes a week or two for the full effect of the vaccine to kick in, it is possible that some were exposed to the flu before they received the vaccine.
Myth: Feed a Cold – Starve a Fever
This old saying has been part of medical folklore for centuries. From as early as the 1500s, you can find examples of writers and even doctors suggesting that fasting would cure a fever. At the time, eating less was perceived to stop your body from heating up, but we now know that starving yourself is one of the worst things you can do when your body is fighting an infection.
On the other hand, the term ‘feed a cold,’ is actually pretty good advice. When you eat a nutritional, well-balanced diet, nearly every process of your body will function better. So if you’re fighting an illness, keeping a good diet is even more important. Foods that are rich in antioxidants – beta carotene and vitamins C and E – are good ways to help build a strong immune system and keep yourself healthy.
Myth: Sweating Helps Detox Your Body
Yes- while there is no doubt that exercising is good for your health, the human body is naturally very good at getting rid of things we don’t need. The notion that sweating profusely can accelerate this process and help ‘cleanse’ the body is a misguided one. Though you do lose electrolytes when you sweat, perspiration contains only trace amounts of any type of toxins, resulting in a negligible outcome.
The same thing goes for ‘cleanse diets:’ no good scientific data supports that drinking only juice for a week, or restricting yourself to one particular type of food has any health benefits. In fact, keeping an overall healthy lifestyle – eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise – is much more important for detoxifying your body because it allows your body to do what it is intended to do, rather than taking any drastic measures.
Myth: When You Shave, the Hair Grows Back Thicker & Faster
Despite numerous studies proving that this is not true, many people still believe it today. You hear it a lot in middle school, when you are just starting to go through puberty. The trouble with this myth is that is seems true: pre-shaving, your hair is light and thin, and afterwards it is noticeably darker. Why is this the case?
Technically speaking, hair is a non-living component of your body. Hair itself has no blood, no nerves, and no muscles. What causes you to ‘feel’ your hair being touched or what causes it to grow are the follicles beneath the surface of your skin. Surprisingly, nothing you do to the hair can change its diameter or the number of follicles present. The hair that grows back post-shaving appears to be darker and thicker because it hasn’t been exposed to the sun or chemicals for very long. Particularly during the summer if you spend a lot of time outside, you may notice the lightening effects of the sun on your hair.
We hope that with a few of these tips, it helps clear up some common misconceptions about health and wellness. If you still have lingering health questions, we encourage you to speak with a doctor or healthcare professional to address your concerns in a healthy way.