Updated 10 November 2017

Here is the truth about your body

We’ve all been exposed to old wives’ tales about how to stay healthy but new research reveals some common health beliefs are simply myths.

Should we drink eight glasses of water a day? does sitting on the floor cause piles? For years our mothers and gogos have passed down these amabali, superstitions and so-called “facts” to make sure we look after our bodies.

And although there are many things we think we know about our health, new research is constantly offering new discoveries.

American paediatricians Aaron Carroll and Rachel Vreeman recently published a book titled don’t cross your eyes, they’ll get stuck that way! It lists some of the most popular myths surrounding our bodies and how they work – or don’t work.

here are some of their more interesting findings.

Myth #1 dress warmly to avoid colds 

In a study to show how your immune system reacts to cold, scientists went as far as placing a flu virus inside volunteers’ noses.

In spite of the weather and what they wore – some wore coats and others only their underwear – everyone had the same risk of infection.

This proves that dressing warmly doesn’t protect you from colds and flu.

Researchers also found that cold weather boosts the production of white blood cells, which fight sickness.

Other chemicals that the body produces to fight infections were also increased.

So why do people get more colds in winter? One explanation is that they spend more time indoors, in close proximity to one another, which allows them to pass the virus around through sneezing and coughing.

Myth #2 Shaved hair grows back faster, coarser and darker 

In a study to compare hair growth in shaved patches to growth in non-shaved patches, scientists discovered the hair that replaced the shaved hair wasn’t darker or thicker. It also didn’t grow faster.

When hair first grows back after being shaved, it has a blunt edge on top, and over time, that edge gets worn, so it may seem thicker than it is.

It can be darker too, because it hasn’t yet been bleached lighter by the sun.

Myth #3 vitamin E heals scars 

Vitamin E is a popular home remedy for cuts, scrapes and surgical wounds and is believed to help scars to heal. But there’s no evidence to back this up.

A recent study shows that patients who had had skin cancers removed were given two ointments to treat their scars. One contained vitamin E while the other didn’t.

None of the patients, or doctors saw any difference with the vitamin E treatment.

In fact, a third of the patients developed an itchy rash from the vitamin E.

Myth #4 muscles turn to fat when you stop exercising

Fat and muscle cells are very different and one can’t convert into the other.

When you stop exercising, muscle cells get smaller and thinner, but the number of fat cells remains the same.

Some fat cells die and others replace them, but you don’t grow new fat cells when you get fat – instead, your fat cells get bigger as they store more and more fat.

Myth #5 If you cross your eyes they’ll get stuck that way

We all heard this one while growing up.

Some of us have even passed this down to our own children, but there’s absolutely no medical or scientific evidence that this is true.

Crossing your eyes for a long time is not good for your eye muscles – it can cause strain that may result in temporary pain, blurred vision and even eye spasms, but keeping them crossed won’t lead to them freezing that way!

Another myth about your eyes is that reading in bad light weakens your vision.

Reading in dim light can cause eye strain and lead to temporarily decreased sharpness, but this subsides after resting your eyes.

Myth #6 Uncovering a wound helps it to heal

Many people think that drying a wound allows it to scab, which helps the wound heal.

But when you cut yourself, your skin heals by growing new cells.

These cells need a moist environment to grow and spread. In fact, when the wound dries out or a hard scab forms, it can become more difficult for these cells to get to where they need to be.

A hard scab can also force these cells into ugly formations and cause permanent scars.

A moist, covered environment is best.

Myth #7 You catch lice only from infected people 

Adult lice can live for up to three days outside a human being.

The eggs can survive and hatch into more lice up to 10 days after they are laid, so that makes combs, hats, headbands and other hair accessories risky.

So too are pillowcases, pieces of upholstered furniture and even headphones.

Myth #8 tilt Your head back to stop a nosebleed 

All this does is transport the blood that might exit through your nostrils to your throat.

And while it might seem less messy, it’s a serious choking hazard!

It could also make you vomit, and you might bleed for longer.

What you should do is keep your head above your heart – so stand or sit up. Then lean forward to help the blood drain out of your nostrils, not down your throat.

Some people also recommend applying pressure by squeezing your nose just below the bony ridge for five to 15 minutes until the bleeding has stopped.

This may help the blood clot more quickly.

Myth #9 Green mucus means you need antibiotics 

Mucus becomes green when cells called neutrophils eat the germs that make you ill.

Once they’ve swallowed the germs, they digest them, using enzymes, and one enzyme in particular contains a lot of iron.

When the neutrophils are full of digested germs, they burst and the iron gets mixed into the surrounding stuff in your nose – and that turns your mucus green.

This is true for germs, bacteria and/or viruses, so green mucus doesn’t mean you have a bacterial infection.

The bottom line is you can’t tell what kind of bug is infecting you (or if you need antibiotics or not) from the colour of your mucus.

Myth #10 Sweeteners can cause cancer 

Several studies have shown that artifical sweeteners aren’t the health risks many people believe them to be.

A study in 1996 found a rise in brain tumours and questioned whether or not they were linked to the sweetener aspartame.

But further research showed the rise in brain tumours began eight years before aspartame was introduced.

Also, most of the increases were in people over the age of 79, who had the least exposure to aspartame.

There’s no evidence to support the idea that sweeteners have caused an increase in cancer, but many people remain convinced that they are linked to the disease.


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