When you look back over some of the health-related information your parents or grandparents used to believe, you suddenly realize just how much progress we’ve made in the last 100+ years about how our bodies work and the kinds of daily choices we make that have a real impact on our health. Enjoy looking through these 23 health myths from our parents’ time that we’ve now busted, and thank your lucky stars you’re alive in the 21st century!
Radioactivity Was Considered Good
It’s hard to imagine people extoling the health virtues of radiation given what we know these days about its devastating effects on the human body, but there was a time when you could buy a uranium blanket to treat your arthritis, a radium pendant to find relief from rheumatism, or even radioactive beverages. Industrialist Eben Byers drank three bottles a day and died an early death.
Shark Cartilage for Treating Cancer
Back in the 1950s, a doctor by the name of John Prudden was experimenting with using animal cartilage to treat cancer, claiming he was shrinking tumors with it. His claims could never be replicated or confirmed, but thanks to the 1992 book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer, shark cartilage became the vehicle for carrying Prudden’s banner forward— except that sharks do in fact get cancer and there’s no scientific documentation that shark cartilage does any good at all.
Heroin Cough Suppressant
With a nation deep in the grips of the opioid addiction epidemic, it’s shocking to think that once upon a time heroin was actually touted as an effective cough suppressant. Before it came out with aspirin, Bayer developed a heroin cough syrup in 1898, and its marketing message was aimed squarely at…children! While opioids do have their medical uses, giving kids heroin cough syrup isn’t one of them.
Bloodletting for Cure
For thousands of years, when healers couldn’t figure out what to do about an adverse medical condition, it seems the modus operandi was “when in doubt, let some blood out.” Removing some of the blood from the body was thought to help alleviate all sorts of problems, from fevers and back pain to pneumonia and rheumatism. This went on in many parts of the world all the way up through the 1800s!
Mercury for STD Cure
Today, the medical world is in agreement that mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that has no place whatsoever in the human body, and exposure can be fatal. And yet back in the day, it was used to treat syphilis! What they thought was working was probably just a natural remission in a disease that happens in phases. Today, however, there are still cultures and ethnic communities that make use of mercury for cosmetic applications. Don’t do it!
Tobacco as an Anesthetic
How strange to think that a substance known today to be responsible for so many cases of lung cancer was once referred to as “God’s remedy” and the “holy herb.” The medicinal properties of tobacco are still touted in some parts of the world, namely Indonesia. It’s been used to treat all sorts of conditions, from headaches and colds to fatigue, and was even used as an anesthetic. In India, it was thought to be good for the teeth and was actually an ingredient in toothpaste!
to Cure Mental Illness
Messing around with the brain isn’t to be taken lightly, so it’s very disturbing to think that in the 1940s and 1950s, more than 40,000 people underwent a procedure called a lobotomy, which means severing connections in the brain’s prefrontal lobe. Dr. Walter Freeman developed a quick version that involved inserting a device like an ice pick above an unconscious patient’s eye to do the deed, which was used as a treatment for depression, PTSD, and even homosexuality.
Oil from Chinese water snakes does have a mild anti-inflammatory effect, and when Chinese laborers were brought to the United States to help construct railroads, the idea of a snake oil medicine caught on among some peddlers. Rattlesnake oil doesn’t have the same effects as Chinese water snake oil. Then again, most of what was being sold at the time wasn’t even snake oil at all, which is why “snake oil salesman” is a phrase used to describe con artists.
Tapeworms to Lose Weight
I was very thin during my adolescence— like 6’2” and 135 pounds, even though I consumed vast quantities of food. I can remember one of my grandmothers often saying I must have a tapeworm. As it turns out, back in the early 1900s, tapeworms were actually marketed for their weight-loss benefits— never mind the abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, bloating, and nutritional deficiencies that often accompany a tapeworm infection or the meningitis, epilepsy, and dementia that can come with severe cases.
Cocaine to Relieve Pain
Yes, everyone knows that the original formulation of Coca Cola did have trace amounts of cocaine, and many praised the drug for its ability to relieve pain, not to mention its energizing and euphoria-inducing qualities. Famous psychologist Sigmund Freud took regular small doses to ward off indigestion and depression. Then we found out just how addictive and destructive it can be and realized it was a bad idea all around.
This one is a current myth that requires constant, ongoing awareness. When you see a beverage called Vitamin Water, what do you think? Of course you automatically think it must be healthy, right? Wrong! Its 33 grams of sugar per bottle certainly aren’t healthy and more than counteract whatever modest vitamins might be in it. Don’t believe the hype. Coca Cola has been sued for making it seem like Vitamin Water is a healthy beverage when it’s really not.
Cracking Your Knuckles Causes Arthritis
You can see why people might have gotten the idea that cracking your knuckles might give you arthritis— it just seems like a logical connection. Some people are really bothered by the sound of someone cracking their knuckles; maybe they’re the ones who started the rumor. But the plain fact of the matter is that no scientific study has ever directly linked cracking knuckles to arthritis.
Eating Chocolate Worsens Acne
Many people still hold onto this one, and you’ll hear young people blame today’s breakout on yesterday’s chocolate binge. Chocolate has never been scientifically linked to acne. However, because acne is caused by a bacteria (acne vulgaris), some people find that their acne gets worse when they ingest a lot of dairy and sugar. Chocolate contains plenty of both, so it could be a contributing factor (as the rest of your diet might be), but to say the chocolate is solely responsible is just plain wrong.
Caffeine Retards Your Growth
This is another case where there’s no scientifically proven direct link between the two items in question but possibly a “contributing factor” effect. Your body needs enough human growth hormone (HGH) to develop properly, and since HGH is largely secreted during sleep, then anything that interferes with getting enough sleep could be helping stunt growth. If caffeine is giving you sleeping problems, then the caffeine is indirectly contributing to the problem. Still, there’s no scientific backing for this whole scenario.
Our Brain Only Uses 10 Percent
As it turns out, a lot more than 10% of our brain gets used on a pretty regular basis. In fact, there’s really no such thing as a part of the brain that’s not active. Many people still buy into the 10% myth because it offers an easy explanation for psychic powers. Sure, there are times that parts of the brain aren’t actively used, just like you don’t use all of your muscles all the time, but that’s a whole lot different than saying we don’t use 90% of our brains.
Nails and Hair Grow Even After Death
Besides the fact that even thinking about this one is kind of creepy, it’s also not true. But this is another one where you can understand where it comes from. As a corpse dehydrates, the skin is going shrink and retract from around nails and hair, which might give the appearance of growth, so it’s an illusion. Tissue growth requires energy, which is gone after death, so it’s not possible for hair and nails to grow post-mortem.
Eyesight is Ruined by Dim Light Reading
When you don’t have enough light to properly see what you’re reading, you might experience some eyestrain or find it difficult to focus on the text, but it really doesn’t do any permanent damage to your eyesight. Some people think near-sightedness might be caused by dim light reading, but this doesn’t hold up when you consider that there are a lot more near-sighted people now than when people had to read by candlelight!
Hair Grows in Thicker After Shaving
The myth that hair grows in thicker or faster after shaving was first debunked all the way back in 1928, and yet it persists today. There’s no science to back up the claim, and for many, it’s clearly just a matter of wishful thinking. But it also matches up with some people’s experiences during adolescence. A teenage boy with “peach fuzz” who starts shaving it will find that over time it does grow in thicker or coarser, but it’s because of his advancing puberty, not because of the shaving itself.
Honey is Better Than Processed Sugar
This is one myth that persists because among the health-minded it just feels right. Granulated sugar is highly processed, so whatever trace vitamins and minerals might have been in the sugar cane are stripped away. Raw honey is unprocessed, so it must be better, right? Well, it does have its trace vitamins and minerals intact, but that’s not enough to overpower the fact that it’s still sugar! This is one case where just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthier. Sugar is sugar, and we all need to limit it in our diets for the sake of better health.
Ice Cream Worsens Colds
You might be pleased to find out that there’s no scientifically based reason to avoid ice cream when you have a cold. Eating it won’t make your cold any worse. Then again, to the extent that eating a healthy diet is key to keeping your immune system in good working order, ice cream might be one component of a poor diet that keeps your immune system in a sub-optimal state. But it can’t rightly be blamed for making the cold you have any worse.
Blood Turns Blue Without Oxygen
This one is really hard to bust because when you look at your hands or other parts of your body where you can see your veins, they look blue, right? But making the leap from that observation to the conclusion that the blood in those veins must be blue is just wrong. The veins themselves have that blue color, not the blood in them. All blood is red. Oxygen-rich blood is bright red, while oxygen-depleted blood is darker red. Those blue veins are carrying oxygen-poor blood back to the heart to get recharged, which is why when you have blood drawn, it’s dark red.
Brain Cells Never Grow Again
If this myth were true, we’d all be in a heap of trouble. There are plenty of neurons in the body and specifically in the brain that do regenerate. Sure, some don’t (spinal column neurons don’t regrow, for example). But neurons also change, some of them quite often. If our brain cells didn’t change, we wouldn’t be able to form any new memories or even learn anything new! As an absolute statement, it’s false to say that brain cells don’t grow back. Some do, some don’t.
Vitamin Pills Keep You Healthy
It would be great if we could achieve perfect health just by popping a lot of vitamin supplements, but that’s a dream world that doesn’t exist. Studies have been rolling in lately that show that vitamin supplementation isn’t doing much of anything for anyone. If you want to be healthy, the formula is pretty simple— eat a healthy diet, keep yourself hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and exercise on a regular basis. It’s always better to get your vitamins and minerals from real food, not from pills.