The BS Science Behind 10 Common Health Myths

Will eating carrots give you night vision? Will drinking milk make your bones unbreakable? We asked the experts to tune up their nonsense-o-meters.

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We live in an age where just about any science-related question can be answered (mostly accurately) by the internet, and yet many of us still believe a bunch of old wives’ tales about our health: The number of people who still believe that cold weather causes sickness is, frankly, shocking. To find out once and for all what’s true and what’s not, we rounded up ten of the most common health myths and asked the relevant medical professionals if we should toss these beliefs in the trash, right alongside our snake oil and magic herbs.

The Myth: Alcohol Kills Brain Cells
The Reality: It’s easy to think this myth is true when you’re watching a friend stumble out of the bar like a lobotomy patient, but it would take a serious set of circumstances for it to actually hold up. Urgent care physician Dr. Kwame Asamoah says that chronic alcohol use can only damage a person’s brain if the amount of alcohol they consume is greater than the the amount of food they consume. “[Alcoholics] tend to drink more alcohol than they eat food, so they get a thiamine deficiency, and when they have a severe deficiency, it tends to kill off certain parts of the brain,” he says. ‘It’s not the alcohol that causing the issues with the brain—it’s the deficiency of thiamine from drinking instead of eating.”

The Myth: You Should Drink Eight Glasses of Water per Day
The Reality: Drinking plenty of water is, without a doubt, vital—it regulates our body temperature, moistens our vital organs and removes waste. That said, drinking eight glasses a day is far more than we need to keep things running smoothly, according to Asamoah. “There’s no scientific basis for it,” he says. “We know water is very important for the metabolism and your overall health, but the actual quantity we need hasn’t been established.” So how are we to know if we’re drinking enough water? “The typical fruit or vegetable is 70 percent water,” Asamoah explains. “So if you have a well-balanced diet and drink a couple glasses of water a day, that should be more than enough for most people.”

Registered dietician Samantha Cassetty adds that a simpler way to ensure you’re drinking enough water is to just have a drink whenever you’re thirsty. “Let thirst guide your beverage consumption,” she says. Warning: This may not still be the case when you’re at a kegger.

The Myth: Eating Carrots Can Give You Night Vision
The Reality: According to optometrist Jeff Anshel, carrots contain what are called beta carotenes, which are converted by our bodies into vitamin A—the molecule in our retinas that create the nerve impulses necessary to see light. That doesn’t mean that chowing down on bunches of carrots will give us the eyesight of an owl, though. “It’s important to understand that if you have too much beta carotene, it will stop two other carotenoids—lutein and zeaxanthin, which are critical to the visual process—from doing their job,” Anshel says. This, unfortunately, can lead to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, meaning that not only will you not get night vision, you may lose your regular day vision, too.

The Myth: Cold Weather Will Give You a Cold
The Reality: The common cold is often linked to cold temperatures, but it’s not the weather itself that’s making us sick. “In cold weather, people tend to congregate in proximity to each other, so it’s easier for them to transmit viruses between one another,” says Asamoah. “In cold weather, the virus that causes the common cold also has a greater tendency to adhere to our nasal passages, replicate there, then make its way into the bloodstream, so even though the cold weather isn’t directly causing the cold, this makes cold weather much more virulent.”

The Myth: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever
The Reality: This saying suggests that gorging yourself will cause your cold to go away quicker, while starving yourself will bring down a fever, but Samantha Cassetty says that’s missing the main issue. “It’s about drinking more so than it is eating,” she explains. “There’s a rise in body temperature [that occurs when you have a fever], which can cause a slight increase in your metabolism, so you should be trying to eat whatever you can to make sure you’re staying strong.” The more important thing in both scenarios, however, is to stay hydrated in order to replace any fluids that are lost from sweating or vomiting.

The Myth: Stress Causes Stomach Ulcers
The Reality: Asamoah says that in most cases, ulcers are caused either by a bacteria called H.pylori, or the prolonged and excessive use of anti-inflammatory medicines like Motrin and Aleve—definitely not stress. “These medications actually stop the production of a chemical that protects the inner lining of the stomach from acid,” he explains. “So your stomach loses its natural protection from all that acid sitting there that’s ready to digest food.”

The Myth: Sitting Too Close to the TV Will Damage Your Eyes
The Reality: We all heard this as a kid while sitting two inches from the TV screen, but it’s just plain untrue. Anshel says that sitting close to the TV (or any screen, for that matter) for an extended period of time can cause eyestrain (that fatigued feeling you get when you’ve been looking at your computer all day long), but there’s no scientific evidence that doing so will cause permanent damage. “Sitting too close to the TV is more a sign that someone might be having a vision problem, most likely nearsightedness, because they can’t see it from further away,” he says. In other words, sitting close to the TV is a result of eye damage, not a cause.

The Myth: Shaving Makes Hair Grow Back Faster and Fuller
The Reality: If you’re hoping your two chin hairs will blossom into a full beard, shaving every hour isn’t going to help. Hair grows at the same rate no matter how often you shave, according to Asamoah. “The best thing is just good nutrition and genetics,” he says. “Obviously, you can’t do anything about your genetics.” Sigh.

The Myth: Coffee Can Sober You up
The Reality: Need to sober up in a hurry? Coffee won’t help. “The rate that alcohol breaks down in the body is completely independent of whether or not you’ve had coffee,” Asamoah explains. “You may be awake for 30 minutes after you’ve had some coffee, but once the caffeine wears off, the alcohol will still be there, and it takes longer to metabolize [than the coffee does]. So the best thing you can do [to sober up] is just go back to sleep until the alcohol breaks down.”

The Myth: Milk Is Good for Your Bones
The Reality: There are several things you can do to strengthen your boneslike lifting weightsbut drinking milk isn’t one of them. In fact, it may have the opposite effect: Some studies show that people who regularly drink milk actually have a higher risk of fractures. “Calcium is good for your bones, and milk contains a lot of calcium, but there has been no relationship shown between the amount of milk someone drinks and how strong their bones are,” Asamoah says. “The more natural ways of getting calcium are the besteating green, leafy vegetables and sweet potatoes.” In fact, since the high Vitamin A content in milk can actually weaken your bones, you may want to go ahead and put down that milk gallon.