Most of us still have a slew of old wives’ tales stuck in our heads from childhood—and though our mother’s warnings about swallowing gum and sitting too close to the TV may have scared us silly in our younger days, we can’t help but wonder now if there’s actually any truth to them.
To put decades of myths to bed, we asked health experts to separate fact from fiction and de-bunk some of the most popular old wives’ tales in the book. Here’s the truth about eight of our favorites.
1. Chicken Soup Helps You Get Better When You’re Sick
While no scientific human studies have ever identified chicken soup as an effective cold remedy, “It can be a nutrient powerhouse, delivering important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your body that can help boost your immunity,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., C.P.T. Carrots and onions, in particular, provide carotenoids (a type of antioxidant that can support healthy aging and eye health) and prebiotic fiber (which acts as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut), respectively.
Plus, nutrition aside, chicken soup can just be plain old comforting—and that’s especially important when your body is in a state of stress, like when you’re not feeling well, says Shaw. So while it may not be a miracle-worker, it’s certainly worth sipping on.
2. You’ll Catch A Cold From Going Outside With Wet Hair
“The very act of walking out the door with wet hair won’t in itself cause you to develop a cold,” says Robert Glatter, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health. “You have to be exposed to the specific virus in order to develop an illness.”
That said, exposure to extremely cold weather does put stress on the body, which can hinder your immune function and increase your chances of getting sick when you are exposed to a bug. Plus, “certain respiratory viruses thrive in dry cold temperatures, so you have a greater chance of being exposed in that environment,” he says.
Ultimately, your best bet at preventing sickness is washing your hands (for at least 20 seconds!) frequently and coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue—especially during cold season.
3. Sugar And Dairy Give You Acne
While factors like hormones, bacteria, and excess sebum, are typically the main drivers of acne, there’s no denying that some connection exists between our diet and our skin, according to a review published in Dermatoendocrinology
That connection is just…murky. Preliminary research suggests a link between eating a high-glycemic (think refined carbs and sugar) diet and prevalence of acne, and some studies suggest the hormones in milk can influence acne, but the findings are limited, at best.
If you have sensitive, oily skin, though, experts still recommend you proceed with caution. “Milk contains precursors to testosterone and other androgens [male sex hormones], which influence the hormone receptors in the skin to turn on the process that causes acne,” says board-certified dermatologist and founder of customized skincare company Curology, David Lortscher, M.D. “Dairy and high-glycemic foods send insulin levels sky-high and trigger more oil production in the sebaceous glands,” he explains.
If you’re having trouble with acne and drink more than three servings of milk (skim seems to be more of an issue, though why isn’t clear) per week, consider eliminating dairy for at least a few weeks to see how your skin reacts, says Lortscher. The same goes for any type of food: If you notice a trend of breaking out the day after eating it, consider cutting it out.
4. If You Eat Fruit Seeds, They’ll Grow in Your Stomach
As you probably guessed, this one is totally bogus. “Seeds need the right environment to germinate and grow, and the highly-acidic stomach isn’t it,” says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., and author of The MIND Diet. Swallow a raw seed whole and it’ll just pass through your system pretty-much undigested.
That said, you should chew the seeds in some fruits and veggies—like pumpkin or watermelon seeds, for example. In fact, they make for a portable, nutritious snack! “Each one-ounce serving of watermelon seeds packs a surprisingly high eight to 10 grams of protein and also provides iron,” Moon says.
5. Cure A Hangover With Hair Of The Dog
We’re not going to say you can’t enjoy a brunch-time Bloody Mary after a night out, but don’t expect it to benefit your body in any way. The phrase ‘hair of the dog’ is short for ‘hair of the dog that bit you,’ and it comes from an old superstition that you could cure yourself of rabies by taking a potion made with the hair of the rabid dog that bit you. Ya know, super-scientific.
In reality, trying to cure a hangover with more alcohol is like trying to lose weight by eating more junk food. “When you’re hungover, your body is in a state of dehydration and elevated inflammation, so your best bet is to stick with water and eat antioxidant-rich foods like sweet potatoes, blueberries, black beans, tea, and sorghum,” Moon says.
6. ‘Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever’
“While it is common to lose your appetite when you have a fever, there is no need to starve yourself,” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition. Regardless of whether you have a cold or a fever, you want to eat nutrient-rich foods to provide your body with the fuel it needs to recover. Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables—especially vitamin C-packed foods like kiwi and carrots—and even chicken soup.
7. Cracking Your Knuckles Will Give You Arthritis
“Knuckle cracking has gotten a bad rap throughout the years, but claims about it causing arthritis don’t seem to have any scientific backing,” says Axe. In fact, a 2011 study published in the Journal of American Board of Family Medicine found that rates of arthritis were no higher in people who frequently cracked their knuckles than in those who did not crack their knuckles.
Here’s what happens when you crack: The sudden change in how your joints are positioned releases gases (nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide) that are dissolved in your joint fluid, causing a popping or cracking sound, explains Axe. That’s why you can only get a particular knuckle to crack every so often; those released gasses have to dissolve back into your joint fluid. Interesting but not harmful.
8. An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
No, you don’t need to eat an apple every single day to stay healthy, but there is some truth to this old wives’ tale. “An apple is a great healthy addition to an overall healthy diet because it provides dietary fiber, which can help ward off common health concerns like constipation, and key nutrients like vitamin C and potassium,” says Axe.
“In general, scientific evidence has shown us that consuming fruits and vegetables helps lower your risk of major chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease,” he explains. “So yes, eating fruit, like an apple, can definitely provide health benefits.” Of course, that doesn’t mean you can load up on processed foods and unhealthy habits (like smoking or never exercising) and think that as long as you have an apple a day, you’ll never have a reason to see the doctor.