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Healthy You

Fact-Checking: Debunking Old Wives’ Tales

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 7:08 AM

At some point most of us have heard an old wives’ tale or two while growing up in regards to our health. Some of them were focused on home remedies, some gave medical “advice” while others gave warnings. How much of it is true? Brigham Temple, MD, Emergency Medicine at NorthShore, helps us tell fact from fiction:


Tale: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Verdict: Mostly true. Mom was right when she said that fruits and vegetables are good for us! Apples are full of natural vitamins and nutrients, particularly in the peel. Getting natural vitamins and nutrients, especially those found in apples, can help prevent against heart attacks. About one apple is equivalent to 1500 milligrams of vitamin C, which helps boost your immune system. This helps your body to heal and repair, which means seeing your physician less. But an apple a day is not a one-stop-shop for your health – you still need to see a physician when you aren’t feeling well.

Tale: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
Verdict: False. When your immune system is compromised with the cold or the flu, your body is weakened and requires large amounts of energy provided by food to pull together the immune cells needed to help fight the infection. When you are sick, it is best to drink plenty of fluids, including drinks with added electrolytes, and to fuel up with nutritious food such as chicken soup.

Tale: Going out into the cold with wet hair gives you a cold.
Verdict: False. Colds and flus are infections, caused by viruses, not by extreme temperatures. Viral infections are often contracted when you come in direct contact with someone who is infected – or through airborne particles from coughing and sneezing. Still, it is not recommended to go out with wet hair as it will make you colder and stress your body, which can weaken your immune system. Stress makes you more susceptible to getting sick after exposure to cold and flu viruses.

Tale: Swallowing gum is bad for you!
Verdict: Somewhat true. Swallowing the occasional piece of gum is not terrible for you. Your body cannot digest it and break it down like it does with normal food. Instead – if you do not have intestinal problems – your body will pass it through whole. If you swallow gum often, or ingest a large amount, there is the possibility that it can block the intestines. For this reason, swallowing gum is discouraged, especially for young children.

Tale: Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.
Verdict: False. The cracking sound in joints is from bubbles of gas released from the synovial fluid that lubricates our joints. While cracking your knuckles may be harmless, it is not normal if there is pain involved. People with arthritis often have cracking joints from the irregular tissues and tendon movement, but cracking knuckles is not the cause of arthritis. If you have pain when cracking your knuckles, it is recommended to see your physician.

What are some old wives’ tales that you have been told over the years?