25 Health “Facts” That Just Aren’t True
If you’ve been following the presidential race, you know that what people define as “facts” can vary from things that have been proven, to t...
If you’ve been following the presidential race, you know that what people define as “facts” can vary from things that have been proven, to things that certain groups of people believe with no basis whatsoever. It’s possible that the only subject that is more prone to false facts than politics is health. This happens for a number of reasons; the truth is, there’s still a lot about our bodies that science is still figuring out. In other cases, they are old-school beliefs that arose long before anyone had any idea what was actually going on. Also, unfortunately, some of the false facts you’ve been told to believe (in some cases for decades!) are financially motivated. The marketing machine is in full effect when it comes to your body and self-image. Regardless of the reason, here are 25 Health “Facts” That Just Aren’t True.
Crunches are the core of building six-pack abs.
For years it was sit-ups; then they amended it to crunches to better avoid back injury and focus the exercise. Unfortunately, crunches are still generally bad for your back, and no matter how many you do, they won’t magically give you that six-pack. There’s a number of reasons for this, but the primary issue is that bringing those muscles out requires fat burning exercises and diet to thin your layer of belly fat.
In addition, crunches only target a small percentage of your abdominal muscles, leading to something closer to a four-pack with those alone. Finally, for some of us, genetics plays a huge issue. You may be able out-perform somebody with chiseled abs all day long and not show nearly as much as they do simply because of how your genetics manage your body fat.
The takeaway is that rather than focusing on aesthetics, build strength with the right exercises (such as planks!) with a good cardio program, and be consistent. If you must do crunches, do them on a yoga ball to minimize impact on your lower back, and research better and more effective exercises to build your core.
Less than 45 minutes of sweat isn’t worth the effort.
You’ve heard that old saying, “Go hard, or go home!” but while the spirit is admirable, science says otherwise. There is no set time that needs to pass before you enjoy the benefits of movement. Any movement for any amount of time is healthier than not moving (in any normal case anyway). Research out of the University of Arizona concluded that average people had consistently lower blood-pressure readings when they split their (already shorter) daily walk into three segments of just 10 minutes, rather than a single 30 minute stroll. So don’t use time as an excuse to skip your workout. If you don’t have time to go all the way, do what you can…or at least take a walk.
Lifting weights will make a woman bulk-up and appear less feminine.
The conclusion a lot of people jump to as soon as they see a click-bait image of an extremely muscular figure competition participant (like this one), is that the final result of a girl who decides to lift weights is masculine and “she-hulk” like. Not only is that naturally not true, but the women who want to be that muscular have to work very, very hard to get there.
Women have to try harder to bulk up, in-part because they naturally have less testosterone and human growth hormone in their systems than their male counterparts. Not only do they have to dramatically increase their calorie intake, but they are in the gym a minimum of four-six times a week. In short, it’s an intentional, very focused effort.
In contrast, a girl can add strength, shape, and tone to her body by lifting one to three times a week. This variable allows women to train for the results they want, and most certainly won’t add bulk unless they choose to take it to the next level. If a girl is consistent with her preferred level of workout, she can lift to shape her body with specific exercises into whatever form makes her feel her best.
Focusing exercise on a specific part of your body will burn that fat faster.
While it seems logical, fat burning just doesn’t work like that. The pattern of fat gain or loss has more to do with each person’s unique body than where exercise is focused. Fat is burned on a more even basis and is primarily accomplished by the dreaded cardio or aerobic exercises.
More gym time is always better than less.
Having helped train some of my friends in the past, I was always a huge advocate of balancing your work days and rest days. (In all honesty, these days the majority of my days are rest days…but I digress) To this day, I see people in my social networks that are overtraining, have horrible form, and stick to the same routine every week. All of these things are a great way to reduce your returns and possibly hurt yourself.
Valerie Waters and Ashley Borden, both high profile celebrity trainers, agree and say that scheduling rest days is crucial. Recovery days allow your body to rebound and improve, which is where gains come from. In addition, regularly mixing up your workout keeps you from stressing the same parts of your body every week, which will help to avoid injury.
Yoga is a great way to lose weight.
I’m not knocking yoga; I’m interested in it, and I sweat more when I stretch than any other time. However, while yoga is many things: relaxing, empowering, even strengthening, it is definitely not highly aerobic. Even “power yoga,” the more intense version of the classic, maxes out at around 300 calories per 90-minute session. Compare that to spinning or running, and you’re at 1/4 -1/2 the calorie burn with one even more troublesome problem: None of the yoga classes tested were intense enough to increase metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns at rest.)
The answer, of course, is balance. Yoga has many benefits both physical and psychological; just be sure to balance it out with some good old-fashioned cardio of your choice a couple times a week.
Pregnancy gives you “baby brain” and makes you dumb.
It’s absolutely true that pregnant women and new mothers often report cognitive issues (up to 80% surveyed reported a noticeable difference in memory and cognitive function), and a report published in 1997 showed that parts of women’s brains actually shrink during late pregnancy. Case closed, right? Not quite.
At the same time as the brain-shrinking phenomenon, the pituitary gland increases in size, releasing larger amounts of a number of hormones (also not terribly surprising). But here’s the cool part: researchers believe it’s actually working to sharpen the mind for motherhood, priming your brain for empathy, reasoning, and judgment. Scientists also believe this may play a role in the postpartum depression some mothers feel.
Though more research is needed, scientists agree that pregnancy and motherhood have no direct negative cognitive impact. Instead, impairment is a result of the major life changes pregnancy and new children can represent: sleep deprivation, major schedule shifts, stress, depressed mood, and simply a greater awareness of everyday cognitive slips due to the widely accepted myth of “baby brain.”
The hymen is a physical indicator of how “pure” or virginal a woman is.
The original misunderstood mark of purity responsible for some very bad judgments against women throughout history, it turns out the traditional idea of the hymen had a disturbing amount of ignorance and misogyny attached to it (funny how often those go together…) In the old days, unmarried girls without their hymen intact were branded as everything from whores to witches and punishments were severe to say the least.
Although these days most of us no longer burn people at the stake, some people still believe that a woman who has never experienced intercourse will have a thin wall of flesh near the entrance to their vagina that must be broken through and cause bleeding. Fortunately for everyone involved, that’s just not true. The hymen is a thin membrane that partially blocks the vaginal opening. However, sometimes women simply aren’t born with them. In other cases, they can be ruptured by anything from stretching, to horseback riding, to inserting a tampon. There are also reports of sexual encounters that did not rupture the hymen, meaning it in no-way can be used to indicate sexual status or experience (honestly, it shouldn’t matter anyway).
Running is bad for your knees.
Many people hate running, so they’ll jump all over any credible reasons to not do so. Since knee damage is a seemingly obvious scapegoat, that one comes up a lot. Unfortunately, science says if you don’t already have an injury, running probably won’t give you one – as long as you maintain some balance in your activity.
A Stanford University study found that older runners’ knees were no less healthy then the knees of those who didn’t run. However, there is a unique danger to women due to their physiology. For most women, the strength ratio between their quadriceps and hamstrings is imbalanced, which can increase the risk of ACL injuries. To offset this, experts recommend working in a total body strength workout twice a week in addition to your runs.
You lose 80-90% of your body heat through your head.
I live in Florida, and if this were true, there would be a universal ban on hats. But nonetheless moms have been bundling up their kids with that all-important winter cap in places that actually have winter. And while it’s good to keep your brain warm, science says you don’t lose any more heat from your head than you would anywhere else.
It’s all about surface area. Your head represents roughly 10% of your body’s surface area. To lose so much of your body heat through your head, it would have to lose about 40 times as much head per square inch as the rest of your body. Unless you’re Ghost Rider, that’s just not how your body works.
The real reason you lose more body heat through your head is because when the rest of your body is covered, that’s typically the part that has the least coverage. However, the same would be true for your legs if you decided to wear shorts. It’s a matter of the whatever the path of least resistance is for the heat escaping, and it still doesn’t come anywhere near even 50%.
A scale gives a good indication of how much fat you burned.
I’ve personally seen and heard about this repeatedly; people still take the number on the scale as an indication of their physical success. Unfortunately, a huge number of factors affect that number. For instance, if you just started a weight-training routine, it’s highly likely that number will go up. Sure, you may burn fat, but (especially early on) you’re building completely new muscle which is denser and heavier than fat. Some people find that once they reach their ideal fitness level, though they look completely different, they actually weigh more than they did before they started their routine. Combine that with other factors such as constantly fluctuating water weight, bloating, or the size of your last meal, and scales make for an estimated guideline at best.
Keep reading to see what food and beverage myths we’ve been lead to believe!
Your microwave can give you cancer.
Microwaves are our magical, convenient, radioactive friends that enable bachelors everywhere to enjoy the food of the gods – hot pockets. But many worry that the radioactivity will also eventually lead to cancer.
Worry not! While microwaves do generate a magnetic field, it doesn’t give off nearly enough energy to affect your genetic material. Also, the radiation utilized is “Non-ionizing” radiation, meaning it doesn’t have the energy to change cells chemically. Even the food it cooks is not altered any more than any other cooking method, so while the ingredients in those hot pockets may wreak havoc on your system, the microwave has little to do with it.
A juice cleanse will “detoxify” you.
The hype says that juicing – especially juice fasts – will cleanse your body of “toxins,” streamline your metabolism, boost energy, restore alkaline balance, and basically cure whatever is wrong with you. Unfortunately, it’s basically all a bunch of marketing bull.
Cleansing is the latest incarnation of the “look at me” healthy lifestyle. It’s more about psychological status than effect, and any benefit that is experienced above maintaining a normal, healthy diet has been scientifically proven to be placebo effect. Weight loss may occur, but that’s because you’re fasting, and since you’re missing out on a large amount of protein, there’s a good chance some of that is muscle weight.
Your body already has a really great system for detoxifying and juicing what you eat (digestive tract, liver, kidneys, etc.) Removing important solids (like the fiber juicing removes from fruits and vegetables) isn’t helping that system, and it very well may be hurting you.
Everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water per day.
Although eight glasses isn’t enough to kill you via water intoxication (yes, that happens), researches agree that eight is a strange number. In healthy people (those with a relatively balanced diet), there has been no indication of a connection between any specific water intake and various attributed conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, sodium levels, or skin quality.
With that said, choosing water over other beverages (especially high-sugar drinks like soda) has major benefits, the least of which is a respectable cut in the amount of calories consumed. Long story short: drink when you’re thirsty, and choose water.
Eating dairy will make your congestion worse.
Admittedly, I fell for this one too. During times in which you have a cold or sinus infection, the common knowledge is to stay away from dairy (even ice cream!) because it increases the amount of phlegm and/or mucus your body produces. But this appears to be just another version of our minds over matter.
A double-blind study published back in 1990 showed that those who believed dairy would increase mucus reported more symptoms after consumption. However, actual volume of mucus and phlegm did not change among those who received dairy vs placebo, and the subjects were exacerbating their symptoms by reacting more to their existing symptoms. “We conclude that no statistically significant overall association can be detected between milk and dairy product intake and symptoms of mucus production in healthy adults, either asymptomatic or symptomatic, with rhinovirus infection.”
The bright side? Ice cream is totally okay, and may soothe a sore throat and give you needed calories you might not otherwise be able to consume.
Coffee stunts children’s growth.
Having been born in Seattle, this one is also personal to me. Coffee has been a relatively controversial substance since as far back as the 1500’s when it was banned for various (unfounded) health reasons. Later, in the late 1800’s, C.W. Post, a major food manufacturer, capitalized on this negative stigma, further vilifying coffee and especially targeting children in ads that claimed it would, “hamper development and proper growth.” Meanwhile, they (naturally) offered a grain-based breakfast beverage alternative called “Postum”. This tactic was extremely effective and made the Post company (yes, that Post company) millions.
Fortunately for myself (and our editor), science has since stepped in and debunked the pseudoscience responsible for the evil coffee branding. Science has instead highlighted a number of legitimate health benefits. That said…we’re still not sure it’s a good idea to load small children up with caffeine.
Sugar causes diabetes.
It’s thoroughly engrained in pop culture that overconsumption of sugar in its various forms leads to diabetes. But the truth ranges from “complicated” to just not true. Type 1 diabetes is directly caused by genetics, and science is still not sure what triggers onset.
Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes is more suspect as it is caused by genetics and various lifestyle factors. People naturally attribute sugar as the direct cause due to the nature of the disease, but the reality is that the sugary drinks the ADA (American Diabetes Association) recommends avoiding are more dangerous because of the combination of blood glucose levels rising and consuming several hundred calories in a single serving. So again, instead of the sugar itself, it’s essential to look at the calories involved. Obesity and the eating habits that contribute to it are much more likely to contribute to type 2 diabetes than simply watching your sugar intake.
High-fructose corn syrup is worse for you than natural sugars.
One of the great supervillains of the health food industry, high-fructose corn syrup is second only to aspartame in terms of being allegedly horrible for you. Most organic/health food enthusiasts suggest raw natural honey as a healthier alternative. Unfortunately, science says that the biological effects of similar amounts of each are exactly the same. No difference in processing, energy, or byproducts. The real danger of foods containing high-fructose corn syrup is that they usually have more sugar per serving, which means more calories. That’s the real difference you should be looking for.
Eating Chocolate causes (acne) breakouts.
Being “blessed” as a full-grown adult with teenager skin, this is especially relevant to me. Fortunately, the Journal of the American Medical Association disproved this way back in the 70’s. Though the urban legend has been passed down, it has actually zero basis in fact, and dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants that have a number of benefits! So go on, order that chocolate dessert!
Echinacea shortens colds and eases symptoms.
There are several species of Echinacea, and compositions in various supplements can contain the flowers, roots, or leaves of the plant without specifying which.
Regardless, although a number of early studies “showed promise,” more recent research and actual clinical trials have turned up absolutely no evidence that Echinacea has any effect on symptoms or duration of any disease, including the common cold.
Green Tea is safe, healthy, promotes weight-loss, and is loaded with antioxidants.
This one can be deceptive. While Green Tea, from leaves, in it’s natural state has some health benefits and indeed contains respectable levels of antioxidants, there’s a lot of fine print. In any form, it contains caffeine, which to those sensitive can be problematic. (This is also it’s primary claim toward weight-loss, as caffeine speeds up metabolism.)
What’s scarier is when you start dealing with powders and extracts. These concentrated, processed, or synthesized versions are more potent and also have the potential to react poorly with certain people (especially those with pre-existing conditions, or those who take the supplement in high doses for long periods of time). Consumer Reports magazine put Green Tea Powder Extract on its list of “15 Ingredients To Always Avoid” due to the possibility of dizziness, ringing in the ears, elevated blood pressure, liver damage, and possibly even death (among other things).
Coconut Water is “nature’s sports drink” and hydrates better than normal water.
One of the latest drink fads, the clear liquid collected from young, green coconuts has been marketed as the perfect hydration. But much like many popular sports drinks on the market, studies have repeatedly shown that there is zero difference between plain water and coconut water in terms of how well test subjects were hydrated after vigorous exercise.
Any claims that the natural potassium levels in coconut water enhance water absorption also come up dry. Neither it, nor a typical potassium-rich sports drink scored any higher on fluid retention than water.
As an invention of the health food industry to sell products, the term “superfood” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” The issue is there are no regulations what-so-ever in the US, and the FDA will only take action if a specific claim is made that is proven false or misleading. Meanwhile, many of the foods dubbed “superfoods” don’t have any more nutritional value than traditional counterparts.
The overuse of the word was so bad that in 2007, the European Union banned its use on packaging unless convincing research regarding a specific claim from a pre-approved scientific list existed. The US has yet to catch up.
Looking for more health facts to debunk? Check out 25 Health Myths That Need To Be Debunked Once And For All.