1. If you swallow chewing gum, it will stay in your stomach for seven years.
Old wives’ tales are a cauldron of lies, and this is one of the biggest of them all. Your stomach is engineered by decades of evolution to digest an astounding amount of things, which is why you have a giant pool of acid sitting inside you. While it’s true that gum isn’t easy for your stomach to digest, because it’s not food, it’s not going to hang around in there that far past its welcome. It’s not Ashton Kutcher. Your gum will inevitably be digested, and you’ll poop it right out along with all that pizza you ate. It’s the miracle of nature.
2. Carrots improve your vision.
This myth is a product of WWII propaganda, when the British army claimed that the reason its soldiers had such great night vision was that they ate their carrots. However, the British government merely promoted this information as a way to distract from the real reason their senses were going crazy: the fighter pilots all had radar in their aircraft, making the enemy much easier to detect. The carrot myth stuck around, despite its basis in lies, and it even found its way into Bugs Bunny cartoons.
3. Touching a toad will give you warts.
One can see why people don’t want to go around touching toads, because they’re ugly, slimy creatures; however, handling them won’t make you look like one. The common perception is that toads’ skin are covered in warts, and those warts emit bacteria that are communicable. (When I was a kid, I was told it was an “oil” on the toad’s skin that made them so easy to get.) However, that’s based in a misconception of what those actually are. That’s just the animal’s skin, adapted to help the toad better blend into his environment to avoid predators. Warts only come from human viruses.
4. If you swim right after eating, you will get a cramp and drown.
When you’re a kid, you’re constantly told to wait to swim after you eat — between 15 minutes to a half hour. However, that’s just the result of overprotective parenting. Despite the common belief, there’s no correlation between cramping and eating, and our bodies are perfectly adapted to simultaneously swimming and digesting. You might get queasy if you exert yourself too quickly, like going to the gym after a big meal, but that has nothing to do with the water. It would happen anyway.
5. Sugar causes children to be hyperactive.
This seems like it should be true, but it isn’t. Calories fuel our daily energy, and when a rush of calories (in the form of simple sugars) is shipped to the bloodstream, it seems like the sugar would fuel a burst of energy and activity. However, sugar metabolism works a little differently, as the bloodstream will first send those sugars to muscles and internal organs, then storing the rest for later. The idea of the hyperactivity myth is that those excess sugars have to be “worked off,” but that’s not the way the body works. Your kid is just being hyper because he’s a kid — or if he’s eating chocolate, he’s had too much caffeine, which does lead to hyperactivity.
6. If you shave your legs, your hair will grow back thicker.
Women are often told this when they are young and just begin to shave their legs, but if you apply logic to the statement, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Men shave their beards or their heads quite frequently with no effect on the density of their hair, or else every man would end up looking like Grizzly Adams. Shaving can, however, stimulate hair growth where it didn’t exist before, which is why you should be very careful where you shave, lest you end up the Wolfman or with a unibrow.
7. Drinking too much caffeine will stunt your growth.
Although too much of anything isn’t particularly good for you, particularly something addictive, science has yet to pin shortness on caffeine. The myth sounds logical: Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is emitted during sleep, a process that caffeine impedes, but no studies have ever actually proven this. If you look at the facts, they actually suggest the opposite. As people consume more caffeine annually, with the sales of coffee, tea, energy drinks and soda rising, average height is increasing. Between 1960 and 2002, the average American became 1.5 inches taller, all while drinking that extra cup of joe.
8. Eating chocolate gives you acne.
Chocolate, by itself, is not a cause of acne. Your favorite facial bumps are brought on by acne vulgaris, a bacterial strain that infests in your pores and follicles when they become clogged with unwanted oils or dirt. Builds lead to skin irritation and zits, and these lovely blemishes can be aggravated by foods that are high in dairy and sugar. Thus, it’s not the chocolate that’s making your breakout go wild. It’s the dairy. You can, however, stick to a low-glycemic dark chocolate and be just fine.
9. Cracking your knuckles too much will give you arthritis.
The misconception here comes from the belief that the sound you hear when someone gets a loud crack out of their knuckles is the sound of their bones grinding against each other, but that’s not the case. That noise comes from bubbles of air and gas bursting inside the joint, and studies have proven that that’s not the sounds of arthritis. In all the research tests conducted, not a single knuckle-cracker studied later got arthritis. However, cracking one’s knuckles could lead to other problems down the road, like a decrease in flexibility and ligament damage.
10. Going out with wet hair will cause you to catch cold.
Unless it’s summer, the Blue Crush look is out anyway, but if you’re rocking it in the Fall, it’s unlikely to give you pneumonia, as my mother always warned me. However, studies have found no connection between the dryness of one’s hair and the susceptibility to cold. The chilly weather often dries out the nasal passages, which can make you at a higher risk to cold-causing viruses. You don’t get colds from wet hair. You get colds from hanging out with one of those people with a virus, so use your tonsils wisely.
11. You should cover up your cranium in the winter, because your body loses most of its heat through your head.
Although it’s always a good idea to keep covered during the winter, so you aren’t exposed to the elements, this isn’t quite true. In the 1950s, the U.S. military conducted Arctic research experiments where subjects were bundled up everywhere but up top, and those volunteers lost up to 80% of their body heat through their heads. Afterwards, army manuals began dispelling the myth that you lose “40 to 45 percent” of your body heat through your head. The brain does take a lot of energy to power, and when you’re working or exercising, a temporary spike can cause you to lose 50% of your heat from the head — but only initially. After those rushes, the heat loss goes back down to around 7%.
12. If you don’t eat when you’re sick, your fever will go away.
You’ve often heard the phrase: “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” This implores you to fast when you have the flu, because the idea is that a lack of nutrients will flush the illness right out of your body. On top of making no sense, this isn’t accurate. Although flu sufferers often have a curbed appetite, this doesn’t mean you should go all the way with it. When you’re sick, you still need to be eating a healthy number of meals with ample vitamins and nutrients, all of which will help your body fight off a cold. You might be concerned about throwing up, but that’s on you. Literally.
13. Watching TV will ruin your eyesight.
When you’re a kid, you’re often told to stay away from the TV set when watching your favorite program, because if you get too close, you’ll be in the four-eyes brigade. (I always told to sit six-feet away.) Although this sounds like sound advice — because it seems like it should be true — it’s really not. Excessive television or screen-staring can lead to eyestrain when you’re at a monitor for hours on end, but it won’t irreparably kill your eyes. It can, however, cause headaches or fatigue, which is why you should take regular breaks from your screens — both because it’s good for your eyes and your relationships with other humans.