I don’t know many ‘Old Wives’ but certainly like most of us I have taken on board certain health ‘facts’ that do need re-examining.
Throughout the centuries, many health myths have arisen. Some are tried, tested, and taken as fact, but others are nothing more than fantasy. In this article let’s look at what’s true, and what isn’t.
Health-related myths are common and arise for a variety of reasons. Some may be passed from generation to generation, which somehow escape being challenged by the scientific and medical professions.
Other times, it can be that old but previously accepted science — such as the results of studies from the mid-20th century — is found by modern scientific methods to be less accurate than originally thought.
My favourite isn’t an ‘Old Wives Tale’ but a common medical belief which is that women don’t need progesterone after hysterectomy or menopause – more on this later.
Let’s look at the six most common.
1. ‘Drink eight glasses of water a day’
The advice has always been very specific, that we need to drink a couple of litres (or around 8 glasses) a day for overall good health.
Do we really need it and how much water is “enough?” There are no real scientific guidelines on how much water we should be drinking daily but the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the USA say that women require 2.7 litres and men 3.7 litres of “total water” per day.
The total water point is crucial; this refers to not how much water you should drink but is about what your rough combined intake of water from all sources, including different drinks and foods, should be.
The average person’s total intake of water from drinks forms about 80 percent of their total water intake, with the remaining 20 percent coming from foods.
So the ‘8 glasses a day’ does not take into account the amount of water we get from other drinks or foods at all. So, why do so many people persist in this belief?
A 2002 study traced the eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day claim — known colloquially as “8×8” — back to the misinterpretation of a single paragraph in a government report from 1945.
Even the author of the 2002 paper believes that people only paid attention to the first sentence, and that over time, they disregarded the statement about water-containing food. This then led to the very erroneous impression that 2.5 litres of straight water should be consumed every day in addition to whatever water we imbibe from other drinks and food.
And the author of this study did not find any scientific evidence to back up the 8×8 theory in terms of health benefits. In fact Dr. Margaret McCartney in The BMJ (British Medical Journal) blamed the manufacturers of bottled water for perpetuating the myth in their marketing.
So yes our body needs liquid for so many processes, but look at your overall daily consumption from all sources as this one is definitely a myth.
2. ‘You can catch a cold by being cold’
In my case it was also linked to going to bed, or outside, with wet hair but today more people are aware that you catch cold not from being outside in poor weather, but from a virus.
We become infected with cold viruses, known as “rhinoviruses,” through physical contact or being in the same space as infected people. This is especially true if the infected person is coughing or sneezing, or if we have touched some of the same objects as that person.
So, on the face of it, it seems fairly obvious that the concept of cold temperatures causing people to catch colds is a myth.
That being said, there is a mechanism by which being cold may actually make us more susceptible to coming down with a cold.
Cold viruses try to enter the human body via the nose, but they usually get trapped in mucus there. Normally, the mucus is passed back into the body, swallowed, and the virus is neutralized by stomach acids.
But when we inhale cold air, the nasal passage cools down. This slows the movement of mucus, and this means that the live rhinoviruses have more opportunities to break through the mucus barrier and into the body.
Studies have also found that cold viruses thrive in colder weather, because they are less able to survive at normal body temperature.
So, it is largely due to viruses and not just a consequence of cold weather. But the cold weather myth is not just an old wives’ tale, after all.
3. ‘Cracking your joints can lead to arthritis’
This is one I definitely remember from my childhood but contrary to popular belief, cracking your knuckles is unlikely to give you arthritis.
Several studies have investigated this anecdotal association. They generally report that individuals who crack their joints are at nearly the same risk of getting arthritis as those who have never cracked their joints. So, no, cracking your knuckles will not increase your risk of arthritis.
If you are worried about what happens in your joints when you hear that sound, you may be reassured by the findings of a 2018 study.
When we crack our knuckles, the researchers explain, we are slightly pulling apart our joints, which causes pressure to decrease in the synovial fluid that lubricates the joints. When this happens, bubbles form in the fluid.
The variations in pressure causes the bubbles to rapidly fluctuate, which creates that characteristic cracking sound.
4. ‘Deodorant can cause breast cancer’
I hear many stories linking various products to cancer and this is one relates to the chemicals in the product rather than all antiperspirant/deodorants.
Little evidence has been found for this myth and is based on the notion that chemicals from the deodorant affects the breasts’ cells, given that they are applied to nearby skin.
Nearly all of the studies that have tested this link have found little evidence to support the claim that deodorant can cause breast cancer. However there is certainly a need to be aware of the many chemicals in our toiletries and keep these to a minimum.
5. ‘Eggs are bad for the heart’
Ever since the 1970s, there has been a strong focus in healthcare on the role played by cholesterol in heart disease and eggs have been unfairly labelled as unhealthy for this reason.
Actually, eggs are very good for us, in a number of ways: they are rich in nutrients, but they also have the highest cholesterol content of any common food.
Because of this, some have recommended that we should eat only two to four eggs per week, and that individuals with type 2 diabetes or a history of heart disease should eat fewer.
But new research suggests there is no link between eating lots of eggs and cholesterol imbalance or increased risk of heart problems and type 2 diabetes.
The study noted that occasionally, people who eat more than seven eggs per week have increased low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, but this is almost always matched by a similar increase of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which has protective properties.
The evidence suggests that eating even as many as two eggs every day is safe and has either neutral or slightly beneficial effects on risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
6 ‘Women don’t need progesterone after a hysterectomy or post menopause
This is one I hear a lot from women who have been told they only need oestrogen after a hysterectomy or post menopause.
In fact women need both hormones: oestrogen for the thinning and drying of the skin and tissues and progesterone to build bones and to reduce the risk of hormonal cancers and heart disease.
Whether you need oestrogen or oestrogen and progesterone will depend on your symptoms and their severity but in the view of bioidentical doctors worldwide progesterone is an essential hormone, whatever your age.
Given that at menopause most women tend to put on weight as the body shifts production from the non-functioning ovaries into the fat cells of the abdomen, stomach and thighs it makes perfect sense to balance that with progesterone.
In the body the role of progesterone is to oppose excess oestrogen and the related health risks so supplementing at menopause makes perfect sense.