It’s challenging enough trying to eat right and keep fit, all while staying on top of your responsibilities at work and at home. Then you click on a health article that was just shared by that guy you met that one time at your friend’s Halloween party and, boom, yet another thing to worry about.
Fortunately, this is not one of those articles. Let’s dispel seven extremely common (but totally false) health myths you’ve spent your entire life believing.
1. Cracking your fingers causes arthritis.
To be sure, cracking your fingers is no way to make friends in a quiet library. But the habit itself won’t give you arthritis — at least not according to the many studies specifically focused on addressing this myth.
Arthritis develops when the cartilage within the joint breaks down and allows the bones to rub together. Your joints are surrounded by a synovial membrane, which contains synovial fluid that lubricates them and prevents them from grinding together. When you crack your knuckles, you’re pulling your joints apart. This stretch causes an air bubble to form in the fluid, which eventually pops, creating that familiar sound.
Cracking your knuckles isn’t necessarily good for you, though. While there’s no proven relationship between the habit and arthritis, persistent cracking can wear down your synovial membrane and make it easier for your joints to crack. It can also lead to hand swelling and weaken your grip.
2. Going out with wet hair gets you sick.
This myth is dangerously logical. You’ve just scrubbed yourself clean, and you’ve got a head of cold, wet hair — you’ve never been more exposed to the germs and viruses flying around in the air outside.
It turns out, though, that leaving the house just after a shower isn’t going to make you sick… unless you’re already sick, that is.
Research from the U.K.’s Common Cold Centre tested the hypothesis that chilling your body increases your chances of being infected with the common cold virus, also known as acute viral nasopharyngitis. Their results found that, no, it doesn’t. But it can cause the onset of symptoms if the virus is already in your body.
So if you’re afraid that you might be sick but have a very important meeting tomorrow, you may want to blow-dry your hair before you leave the house.
3. Dirty toilet seats can transmit STDs.
Unkempt gas station bathrooms might be the site of your worst nightmares, but it’s highly unlikely (though not impossible) that they’ll give you a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
STDs can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. According to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, only parasitic STDs like crabs or Trichomonas have any real chance of being transmitted by sitting on a dirty toilet seat. And even then, the likelihood is extremely low. Your genital area would need to come into contact with the toilet seat while the parasite is still on it, and alive — and toilet seats don’t provide ideal living situations for parasites.
Exercise a little common sense: Use a toilet seat cover, and don’t linger.
4. It’s bad to drink less than 8 glasses of water per day.
This line of fictionalized wisdom has been bloating the bellies of perfectly hydrated folks for too long. Our bodies are remarkably efficient machines when it comes to letting us know when something’s off. Many of the foods we eat on a regular basis already contain water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a healthy person can meet their daily water needs by doing two simple things: drinking when you’re thirsty, and drinking with meals.
5. Antiperspirants and deodorants can cause cancer.
It has long been claimed that antiperspirants and deodorants contain harmful, cancer-causing substances, like parabens and aluminum, which can be absorbed by your skin when you use them. But the research simply doesn’t back this up.
The National Cancer Institute says that there is no known evidence that these chemicals can cause cancer, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has similarly dispelled the notion that parabens can affect estrogen levels, and thus lead to cancer.
6. All fat is bad.
Go to the supermarket and count how many products you see that are labeled “low fat” or “nonfat.” Chances are, you’ll lose count. But while we live in a world that looks down on any food items that contain even a trace of fat, the truth is: Your body needs fat.
Fats stores in the body are used for energy, cushioning, warmth, and other things, and some dietary fat is even necessary for your body to absorb certain fat soluble vitamins. Monounsaturated fats, which you can find in nuts and vegetable oils, can help improve your blood cholesterol and cut your risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, also support heart health, and can be found in fish like salmon and trout.
An eight year study that involved some 50,000 women found that those who followed low-fat dietary regimens didn’t experience any significant change in their risk for heart disease, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer. Another study found that women who ate low-fat diets were more likely to suffer with infertility issues, and that eating more high-fat dairy products actually made them less likely to suffer from anovulatory infertility (failure to ovulate).
That doesn’t mean that you should necessarily follow a high-fat diet, but it does mean you should be more discerning. The researchers behind the first study say that the type of fat, not the percentage, is the dealmaker. Avoid trans fats and saturated fats, not all fats.
7. Drinking alcohol in any amount dumbs you down.
Alcohol, when abused, can impair your judgment and seriously affect your health. This is why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ official dietary guidelines recommend limiting your intake to just two drinks per day for men, and one drink for women. However, alcohol isn’t all bad for the brain, at least according to some research.
One recent study found that drinking small to moderate amounts doesn’t alter cognitive ability, working memory, or motor skills in young adults. And among middle-aged adults, other research found that drinking more actually improved some cognitive functions, including vocabulary and accumulated information (although they did ponder whether social factors also played a role). The takeaway does appear to be that, so long as you don’t abuse alcohol, it is unlikely to do much damage to your brain.