Confirmed: These Popular Health Myths Are Actually True

Misconceptions, rumors, old wives’ tales–health myths come in many shapes and forms. Some people grow up with their mom telling them to put on a jacket or not sit too close to the TV. But have you ever questioned whether these myths are accurate?

Some popular health myths are true, or at least slightly factual. Your vision can suffer from reading in low light, chicken soup can help with a cold, and turkey indeed can make you tired. Learn whether or not some popular health myths are correct.

“An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctor Away”

A girl eats an apple at a festival.
Yegor AleyevTASS via Getty Images
Yegor AleyevTASS via Getty Images

Eating an apple every day can actually “keep the doctor away” in a certain sense. According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, apple-eaters did not have fewer doctor’s appointments. However, they did take fewer prescription medications than non-apple-eaters.

Apples offer many nutrients that keep the body healthy. Scientists from Cornell University found that the antioxidants in apples are equal to 1,500 mg of vitamin C, which fortifies the immune system. They even found that some extracts in apples can shrink cancer cells by 43%. While eating apples won’t prevent the flu, it will keep you healthy.

You Can Catch Up On Sleep During The Weekends

A man sleeps in his bed.
Lambert/Getty Images
Lambert/Getty Images

Many people try to “catch up” on the sleep they lost during the week by sleeping in on weekends. Scientists have debated over whether this is true. But in 2018, a study in the Journal of Sleep Research determined that you can cancel a few of the health risks.

When people sleep for less than seven hours per night, they have a 65% chance of early mortality. But when people sleep in on weekends, that mortality risk decreases. You still have some health risks by sleeping less during the week, however, so always aim for eight hours.

Going Outside Without A Jacket Can Make You Sick

A couple walks in the snow while wearing large, warm coats.
MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE/AFP via Getty Images
MARTIN OUELLET-DIOTTE/AFP via Getty Images

Going outside without a jacket won’t necessarily make you sick. However, it can increase the chances of an infection. Not only do viruses thrive in colder weather, but also, the immune system suffers. In 2015, Yale researchers concluded that excess cold compromises the immune system.

Bundling up will warm up the body, which keeps the immune system thriving. However, it’s also essential to maintain hygiene habits. Coats don’t cancel out cold weather. Plus, noses tend to dry out in cold weather, letting viruses in. You can’t get a jacket for your nose.

Chicken Soup Can Ease Cold Symptoms

A doctor points to an x-ray of lungs.
Courtesy of the American Cancer Society via Getty Images
Courtesy of the American Cancer Society via Getty Images

Has someone ever offered you chicken soup when you had a cold? Several studies have proven that it helps. Researchers from the University of Nebraska discovered that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties. By eating hot soup, you could lower the inflammation in your nose and throat.

Other studies suggest that chicken soup offers short-term relief. In the scientific journal Chest, research found that soup cleared mucus in the nose. However, you’ll only feel relief for around 30 minutes, not much different than drinking water. Chicken soup will not cure your cold, but it should provide some relief.

Eating Too Many Carrots Can Turn Your Skin Orange

A chef bits a long carrot.
Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images
Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images

“Eating too many carrots will turn you orange” sounds like a myth from a school playground. But believe it or not, this can happen. Carrots’ color comes from beta-carotene. According to the University of Santa Barbara, California, beta-carotene can overcrowd the bloodstream. When this happens, the pigment will leak into the skin.

However, you would have to eat a lot of carrots. Dermatologist Melissa Piliang says that you would have to eat at least ten carrots every day for several weeks. Even then, your skin will only get a slight orange tinge.

Sitting Too Close To The TV Will Strain Your Eyes

Two boys sit close to the TV.
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When televisions first entered peoples’ homes, the media panicked about potential eye damage. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), TVs do not permanently harm the eyes. They only cause eyestrain, which is why some people get headaches after watching TV. However, children can handle eyestrain better than adults, says the AOO.

This myth has more truth if we replace “TV” with “smartphone.” Scientists from the University of Toledo concluded that cell phones could damage peoples’ eyes. Over time, blue light can harm the retina, especially in children. Perhaps it’s better to limit phone time than TV time.

For Many People, Allergies Disappear In Winter

A woman blows her nose while walking by a bush full of yellow flowers.
Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images
Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to an old wives’ tale, many people stop experiencing allergies after the “first frost.” This can be true, but only if your allergies are caused by autumn. In many areas, ragweed releases its spores during fall. About 75% of people with spring allergies are allergic to ragweed, according to WebMD.

When winter comes, ragweed dies and stops spreading pollen. Even a single ragweed plant can produce a billion grains of pollen. If this plant grows in your area, then this myth may well be true.

Eating Before Bed Causes Nightmares

A woman sits up awake in bed while holding a teddy bear.
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

According to one health myth, eating before bed increases your chance of having nightmares. There is some truth to this. The National Sleep Foundation says that when you eat before bed, your metabolism becomes active. Your brain remains active, too, which increases the likelihood that you will dream.

But will you have nightmares, specifically? That’s an entirely different question. Small studies have not found a consistent relationship between late-night eating and nightmares, says Harvard Health Publishing. When your body feels bothered during sleep, it could translate into nightmares. But that’s not guaranteed.

Reading In Dim Light Hurts Your Eyes

A vintage diagram shows the muscles around the eye.
Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images
Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

While reading in the dark will not permanently damage your eyes, it can cause pain. Like any muscle, eyes become strained when overworked, says optician Jim Ostermann. Our eyes work harder to read in dim light, which tires them out.

“Tired eyes can lead to headaches, itchy eyes, blurred vision, and light sensitivity,” Ostermann told Sharp Health News. This is why reading in the dark can cause dizziness and headaches in some people. Although reading in dim light will not irreparably harm your eyes, it can cause unpleasant symptoms.

Why Turkey Makes You Sleepy

A woman holds a plate of Thanksgiving turkey.
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Thanksgiving meals are notorious for making people sleepy. Many people blame tryptophan, an amino acid in turkey. Tryptophan can make you drowsy because it produces serotonin. But there is more to the story–such as the side dishes.

Neuropharmacologist Richard Wurtman says that carbohydrates are just as likely to put people to sleep. “Eating carbohydrates increases brain serotonin, in spite of the fact that there is no tryptophan in carbohydrates,” he told Scientific American. If you ate turkey and skipped the stuffing, mashed potatoes, and dessert, then you’d likely feel less sleepy.

Exercise Increases Intelligence

A man jogs as the sun rises.
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Exercise can boost intelligence in both adults and children. In fact, it can even prevent certain cognitive illnesses. According to a 2019 study, even mild exercise (such as gardening) can delay the onset of dementia as people age.

Scientists still aren’t sure why exercise helps the brain. Some believe that working out increases blood flow to the brain, while others think that it grows more neurons. Whatever the reason, daily exercise can do wonders for brain health. And it doesn’t have to be intense or long, either.

Cranberry Juice Can Prevent UTIs, Not Cure Them

Cranberry juice bottles sit on a shelf in a grocery store.
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

The old wives’ tale of drinking cranberry juice for UTIs is slightly accurate. According to a 2010 study, cranberry juice inhibits bacteria like E. coli from growing. But in this case, cranberry juice helps to prevent UTIs, not stop them once they’d started.

Another study suggested that cranberries are more effective than juice. In the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers concluded that cranberry capsules reduce the risk of getting a UTI. Again, cranberries can lower your chances of getting the infection, not cure a UTI once you have it.

Doing Puzzles Can Keep Your Brain Sharp

A puzzle piece is slightly removed from the rest of the puzzle.
Tom Kelley/Getty Images
Tom Kelley/Getty Images

Continually using your brain can combat dementia. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine tracked older adults for 12 years. Those who continued to take classes and engage in higher learning had far lower rates of dementia.

Whether it’s puzzles or nightly reading, using your brain can eventually save it. Dr. Esther Oh, an associate director at John Hopkin’s Alzheimer Center, says that education improves the brain’s cognitive reserve. In other words, it enhances the brain’s ability to repair itself. No matter your age, never stop learning.

Don’t Ice A Burn

A woman places an ice pack on her knee.
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Have you ever heard the phrase “don’t ice a burn”? Listen to it. Icing your burn, or even sticking it in cold water, could make it worse. According to the University of California, San Diego, ice does not heal a burn. It can add frostbite on top of a burn, making it worse.

Instead, you should clean the burn wound with warm water and soap. Apply an antibacterial ointment and leave it unwrapped. Expose it open to the air, and your burn should heal more quickly.

…And Don’t Heat Up Frostbite

A man holds his hands up to the fireplace to warm them.
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Just as you shouldn’t ice a burn, you shouldn’t warm frostbite. Frostbites already feel warm (or sometimes feel numb) because of skin irritation. If you place frostbite next to a heater, you risk adding burns or making the inflammation worse.

The Connecticut State Department of Health recommends going warm, not hot. Instead of shoving frostbite near a heater, immerse it in warm water. Or, you can warm the frostbitten area with your own body heat. Avoid hot water, heating pads, and the stove, as these could create blisters.

Holding In A Sneeze Can Harm You

A man sneezes into the crook of his elbow.
KOEN VAN WEEL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images
KOEN VAN WEEL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Some people say that holding in a sneeze is unhealthy, but few explain why. Although it’s rare, refusing to sneeze can have some health consequences. Sneezing builds pressure in your eyes, ears, and nose. When that pressure is not released, it can damage your blood vessels.

That said, receiving damage from holding in a sneeze is very rare, says head and neck surgeon Dr. Erich P. Voigt. “An isolated case report is a rare event, maybe even less likely than one in a million,” he told Health. Still, it’s better just to sneeze than try to avoid it.

Too Much Chocolate Might Give You Acne

A close-up shows broken chocolate bars.
Maurice ROUGEMONT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Maurice ROUGEMONT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

After years of hearing that chocolate causes acne, scientists still don’t have an answer. “[There are] studies that say maybe it does and studies that say maybe it doesn’t,” dermatologist Patricia Farris told CNN. Perhaps the real culprit is sugar, not just chocolate.

Farris says that blood sugar spikes create more skin oil, which is bad news for acne patients. While chocolate has inconsistent results in research, high-glycemic diets are universally viewed as an acne trigger. Eating one chocolate bar won’t increase your acne, but eating sugary treats consistently will.

Coffee Can Both Hydrate And Dehydrate You

A woman drinks from a small mug of Turkish coffee.
Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images
Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Coffee-drinkers may have heard the myth that coffee dehydrates you. That is partially true. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it makes people urinate. For reasons that scientists don’t understand, diuretics cause the body to lose water and sodium. However, coffee also adds water and sodium.

Because coffee is still a liquid, it can hydrate you. Dr. Colleen Tewksbury, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, says that coffee hydrates more than it dehydrates. So yes, you can urinate more often after drinking coffee, but you are unlikely to become dehydrated.

Bread Crust Has More Nutrients, Technically

A loaf of bread is sliced.
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A fairly common health myth tells people to eat a bread’s crust because it offers more nutrients than the soft dough. In 2002, a German study backed up this myth. Researchers found that bread crust provides higher amounts of a cancer-fighting antioxidant called pronyl-lysine.

But there’s more to the story. Crust also contains more of a cancer-causing component called acrylamide. This does not mean that bread crust causes cancer, says registered dietitian Wesley Delbridge. Rather, it means that bread crust has more of certain nutrients; it is not necessarily healthier.

How Carrots Feed Your Eyesight

Whole carrots lie against a black background.
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

During World War II, the British Air Ministry wanted to hide their newly invented radar technology. So they put out propaganda saying that their pilots ate carrots to achieve “night vision.” Coincidentally, this myth is partially true. Carrots won’t give you night vision, but they will improve your eyesight.

Carrots contain a red-orange pigment called beta-carotene, which transforms into vitamin A in the body. According to Emily Chew of the National Eye Institute, vitamin A enhances vision. It helps the eyes see in low light, and the cornea can even disappear if you don’t get enough of it.

Pickle Juice Soothes Muscle Cramps

Pickle jars sit on a shelf.
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

A common health myth says that pickle juice relieves muscle cramps because they provide sodium and hydration. This is half true. Pickle juice can soothe cramps, but not for those reasons. In reality, the juice sets off a reaction in your nervous system.

According to research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, only 2.5 ounces of pickle juice can assuage cramps. Scientists believe that the juice turns off the firing of neurons that would otherwise cause pain. However it works, pickle juice can reduce muscle cramps.

Late-Night Eating Can Lead To Weight Gain

A refrigerator is cracked open at night.
Getty Images
Getty Images

An old wives’ tale says that eating late at night can make people gain weight. This is true. In 2019, a study in the Journal of Obesity concluded that eating late-night snacks increases a person’s BMI. Nighttime eating disrupts your blood sugar and circadian rhythm, which contribute to weight gain.

Even late dinners can have side effects. In June 2020, the Endocrine Society studied people who ate dinner around 10:00 pm. The participants had more weight and higher blood pressure than those who ate at 6:00 pm. The takeaway: don’t eat too close to bedtime.

Certain Types Of Cholesterol Are Unhealthy

A diagram shows HDL cholesterol in the circulatory system.
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

When people say cholesterol is bad for you, they are half right. Cholesterol helps the body create cell membranes and hormones. According to the American Heart Association, the healthy type of cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. You want more of that.

The unhealthy kind is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL can obstruct the inside of artery walls, putting people at risk of heart attack and stroke. Fortunately, HDL can help to remove LDL from the arteries. That’s a good reason to include more healthy cholesterol in your diet.

Stress Can Make You Vulnerable To Ulcers

A frustrated student pulls at his hair while reading.
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

According to a common health myth, stress can create ulcers. Studies have debunked the idea of a “stress-induced” ulcer, as most ulcers form because of anti-inflammatory medications or an H. pylori infection. However, stress can still increase your chances of getting an ulcer.

Gastroenterologist Robert Lerrigo says that chronic stress leaves the body prone to peptic ulcers. When the body stresses, it cannot heal itself as well. Hence, people are more likely to develop ulcers when they experience chronic stress. It is a contributor, not a cause.

Spicy Foods Speed Up Weight Loss

Red chili peppers are seen in bunches.
philippe giraud/Corbis via Getty Images
philippe giraud/Corbis via Getty Images

Eating spicy foods can help people lose weight. The culprit is capsaicin, a chemical compound found in chili peppers. In 2012, researchers analyzed over 90 studies about capsaicin. They concluded that spicy foods reduce appetite, and participants ate fewer calories than those with non-spicy foods.

Capsaicin does more than that, though. According to Bioscience Reports, capsaicin causes a bodily process called thermogenesis. In simpler terms, chili peppers convert fat into heat. That heat then becomes energy and leaves the body–the perfect recipe for weight loss.

Garlic Can Assuage A Toothache

Two bulbs of garlic sit against a grey background.
Clarence Gatson/Gado/Getty Images
Clarence Gatson/Gado/Getty Images

According to an herbal remedy, crushing garlic and placing it against your gum can relieve a toothache. This is correct. Dentist Steven Lin explains that garlic releases allicin, “a natural antibacterial agent” that combats pain.

To soothe tooth pain, you can chew on a raw garlic clove, create a paste with salt, or rinse with garlic water. Do not use garlic powder; it does not contain allicin. Although garlic can be a temporary fix, it is not a cure for tooth pain. It can only offer temporary relief.

Slouching Can Irreparably Harm Your Back

A woman hunches over while driving.
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If someone told you to sit up straight, they were looking out for your back health. Slouching can harm your back and even cause permanent damage. According to a study in The BMC, hunching reduces blood supply to your back. It also strains and hurts your back muscles.

Over time, slouching can misplace your spinal discs. A slip in the lower spinal discs is called herniation, and it could lead to long-term damage. Instead of hunching, sit up and provide some support for your lower back, such as a pillow.

Teenagers Need More Sleep

A teenage girl sleeps while hugging her pet dog.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The stereotype of a teenager who sleeps in until noon has some truth to it. According to the University of California, Los Angeles, teens require more sleep than adults. They are growing rapidly, and the body needs more time to rest and repair.

On average, teens need nine to ten hours of sleep to feel rested. However, busy lives with school and sports do not allow teenagers to get enough sleep. As a result, many “make up” their lost sleep on the weekend and end up staying in bed for 12 hours.

Honey Is Healthier Than Sugar

Honey drips from a clear stick into a jar.
MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images
MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

Many sugar-conscious people, especially those with diabetes, replace white sugar with honey. Honey has some nutritional benefits that make it healthier, says nutritionist Keith Kantor. For one thing, honey does not raise blood sugar as quickly. It also offers some vitamins such as selenium and zinc.

That said, it’s not a “superfood.” Since honey is mainly sugar, it is not that much healthier than white sugar. Dietitian Abbey Sharp advises people to eat honey in moderation. Fortunately, because honey is sweeter than white sugar, you can get away with using less.

Touching Someone With Warts Can Give You Warts

A wart is on someone's thumb.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although touching a toad will not give you warts, touching another infected person can. Warts are not incredibly contagious, but they can spread through touch. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, warts stem from the papillomavirus that can hop from person to person.

If you touch someone with warts, you can get rid of the virus by washing your hands. But if you have a wart, cover it. This will prevent the virus from spreading to other people. As long as others don’t touch the wart directly, they should be fine.