From eggs raising cholesterol to cold weather giving you a cold, Health magazine busts the biggest health myths out there.
Myth #1: Drink eight glasses of water a day
In 1945, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board told people to consume eight glasses of fluid daily. Before long, most of us believed we needed eight glasses of water, in addition to what we eat and drink, every day.
The truth: Water's great, but you also whet your whistle with juice, tea, milk, fruits and vegetables — quite enough to keep you hydrated. Even coffee quenches thirst, despite its reputation as a diuretic; the caffeine makes you lose some liquid, but you're still getting plenty.
Contrary to common belief, urine color is not a great sign of dehydration, says Rachel Vreeman, MD, a fellow in Children's Health Services Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis: "If you're thirsty, you should drink." But don't overdo it. Drinking too much can lead to hyponatremia, in which sodium levels fall, causing an electrolyte imbalance that can make you very sick.
Myth #2: Stress will turn your hair gray
The carpool, the spilled milk, the deadlines. Who doesn't believe that stress can shock her locks?
The truth: "Too much stress does age us inside and out," says Nancy L. Snyderman, MD, chief medical editor for NBC News and author of "Medical Myths that Can Kill You." It ups the number of free radicals, scavenger molecules that attack healthy cells, and increases the spill of stress hormones in your body. So far, though, no scientific evidence proves a bad day turns your locks silver. "We gray according to genetics," she says. And, let's face it, when you do get those gray strands, hair products make covering them a cinch.
Myth #3: Reading in poor light ruins your eyes
It's the common-sense refrain of mothers everywhere — reading under the covers or by moonlight will ruin your eyesight.
The truth: "Reading in dim light can strain your eyes," Snyderman explains. "You tend to squint, and that can give you a headache. But you won't do any permanent damage, except maybe cause crow's-feet."
Your overtired eyes can get dry and achy, and may even make your vision seem less clear, but a good night's rest will help your peepers recover just fine.
Myth #4: Coffee's really bad for you
Surely something 108 million Americans crave so much each morning couldn't possibly be good for you? Wrong.
The truth: Too much may give you the jitters, but your daily habit has a lot of positives. "Coffee comes from plants, which have helpful phytochemicals that act as antioxidants," says Stacy Beeson, RD, a wellness dietitian at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho. One set of antioxidants appears to increase insulin sensitivity, which might explain a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes in people who sip java. A Harvard study of more than 125,000 coffee drinkers found that women cut their risk of type 2 diabetes by 30 percent. Other studies suggest that coffee cuts the risks of Parkinson's disease, colon cancer, cirrhosis and gallstones. Drinking joe gives your brain a boost, too. And, despite the jolt of energy it provides, coffee has no effect on heart disease.
Two to three cups a day is fine for most people, Beeson says. But if you take your coffee with a racing heart, anxiety, or wide-eyed nights, cut back or switch to decaf. If you're pregnant or low on calcium, talk to your doc about the best brew for you.
Myth #5: Feed a cold, starve a fever
The old wives' tale has been a staple since the 1500s when a dictionary master wrote, "Fasting is a great remedie of feuer."
The truth: "Colds and fevers are generally caused by viruses that tend to last 7 to 10 days, no matter what you do," Vreeman says. "And there is no good evidence that diet has any effect on a cold or fever. Even if you don't feel like eating, you still need fluids, so put a priority on those." If you're congested, the fluids will keep mucus thinner and help loosen chest and nasal congestion. A little chicken soup spoons in some nutrients, as well.
Myth #6: Fresh is always better than frozen
Ever since scientists honed in on the benefits of antioxidants, the mantra has been "eat more fresh fruits and veggies" — implying that frozen is second-rate.
The truth: "Frozen can be just as good as fresh because the fruits and vegetables are harvested at the peak of their nutritional content, taken to a plant, and frozen on the spot, locking in nutrients," Beeson says. "They aren't trucked far distances to sit on grocery shelves." And, unless it's picked and sold the same day, produce at farmers' markets — though still nutritious — may lose nutrients because of heat, air, and water.
Myth #7: Eggs raise your cholesterol
In the 1960s and 1970s, scientists linked blood cholesterol with heart disease — and eggs (high in cholesterol) were banished to the chicken house.
The truth: Newer studies have found that saturated and trans fats in a person's diet, not dietary cholesterol, are more likely to raise heart disease risk. (An egg has only 1.6 grams of saturated fat, compared with about 3 grams in a cup of 2 percent milk.) And, at 213 milligrams of cholesterol, one egg slips under the American Heart Association's recommendation of no more than 300 milligrams a day. "Eggs offer lean protein and vitamins A and D, and they're inexpensive and convenient," Beeson says. "If you do have an egg for breakfast, just keep an eye out for the amount of cholesterol in the other foods you eat that day."
Myth #8: Get cold, and you'll catch a cold
It must be true because your mother always said so. Right?
The truth: Mom was wrong. "Chilling doesn't hurt your immunity, unless you're so cold that your body defenses are destroyed — and that only occurs during hypothermia," Vreeman says. "And you can't get a cold unless you're exposed to a virus that causes a cold." The reason people get more colds in the winter isn't because of the temperature, but it may be a result of being cooped up in closed spaces and exposed to the spray of cold viruses. Staying warm may not prevent a cold, but staying cheerful might. A study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh says positive people exposed to cold viruses have a 13 percent lower risk of getting a cold than gloomier souls.
Myth #9: Your lipstick could make you sick
In 2007, an environmentalist group, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, had 33 lipsticks tested for lead. Although there's no lead limit for lipstick, one third of the tubes had more than the limit allowed for candy. That started a scare that spread like wildfire.
The truth: "The reality is that lead is in almost everything," says Michael Thun, MD, head of epidemiological research for the American Cancer Society. "It's all around us. But the risk from lead in lipstick is extremely small." In fact, lead poisoning is most commonly caused by other environmental factors — pipes and paint in older homes, for instance. The bottom line, Thun says: The risk from lipstick is nothing to worry about.
4 big health whoppers
Most of us want to believe in "miracle" cures. But if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
The National Institutes of Health warns against taking any drug combos sold without U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, including herbal mixes that promise big results. "The problem is that many contain stimulants and may be dangerous for people with underlying heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses they may not be aware of," says Marc Siegel, MD, a New York City physician and author of "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear." "And you may not know how much stimulant you're getting." It's far better to ask your doctor about FDA-approved appetite suppressants or, best of all, exercise and watch what you eat.
Copper bracelets, shark cartilage, honey-and-vinegar mixtures, magnets. If only they would cure arthritis. But it just isn't so, Siegel says. In fact, copper can cause an allergic reaction. Although there's no cure for arthritis, rest, exercise, heat and drugs recommended by your doctor can help.
Colonics have been hawked as everything from a toxin remover to a cancer cure. But they only do what your intestinal system does already. Enemas, laxatives, or passing a rubber tube through your rectum and pumping water in and out can be expensive and dangerous. "There's no evidence that colon cleansing is necessary," Siegel says. And experts say long-term cleansing can cause anemia, malnutrition, infection, intestinal damage and even heart failure.
Removing silver fillings, zapping your brain with electricity, or taking smart pills won't keep your memory intact, says Stephen Barrett, MD, a retired psychiatrist who operates www.quackwatch.org. "Reputable drugs for slowing memory loss are only in their infancy. If brain tissue is dead, you can't revive it with something in a bottle."