|Hair grows back thicker when you shave it! Reading in dim light turns you blind! The way our bodies work is a bit of a mystery, and our desire to unlock its secrets has led to a vast amount of misinformation. Many of these false notions are more widely believed than the truth. We took our healthy skepticism and a bunch of research to find the truth behind some of the most common myths about our bodies. Here’s what we learned.
Note: Knowledge is power, so as we see it, misinformation makes us weak. Our myth-busting series aims to root out common myths so you can make better, more informed decisions.
Myth 1: Body Hair Grows Back Thicker When You Shave It
If shaving caused hair to grow in much thicker, balding men would be shaving their heads for hair loss prevention. Children’s health researcher Rachel C. Vreeman and assistant professor of pediatrics Aaron E. Carrol put this myth to rest:
Basically, shaved hair feels coarse and that leads you to believe it’s thicker. In reality you’re just fooling yourself and your hair remains the same.
Photo by Phil and Pam Gradwell.
Myth 2: Calories Counting Is All That Matters for Weight Management
We might like to believe that calories-in-equals-calories-out is a sufficient weight loss theory, but that means we have to accept our bodies are pretty simple. While consuming fewer calories can certainly have an impact, not all foods have the same impact once we stuff them down our throats. If you want to think about it in a very simple way, consider the difference between a candy bar and a cucumber. They taste different, they consist of different nutritional elements, and are not the same thing. It doesn’t make sense that they’d be used by your body in the same way.
The problem with the idea of calories being the only necessary metric is that we think of a calorie as a physical thing. Calories are just a means of measuring heat, and they weren’t initially a term used in reference to food. A calorie, according to Wikipedia, "approximates the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius." Basically, calories are a measurement and not something your body uses for fuel. What your body does use is what it finds in the foods and liquids it digests. If you put crap in your body, you’re not going to be better off just because of a low-calorie rating.
The way your body processes sugar is an excellent example of how different foods yield different results. While the idea that health can come from eating a magic number of calories each day, the reality is that foods and your body are more complex. Pay attention to the composition of the foods you eat and you’ll wind up with much better results.
Photo by Victor Hertz.
Myth 3: You Need Eight Hours of Sleep Per Day
We’re told we need to sleep eight hours each night, and while that’s true for some it isn’t true for all. The Hindustan Times points to a European study that showed people who possessed a gene known as ABCC9 could sleep for significantly fewer hours than the average person. Finding the same gene in fruit flies, the scientists found that by manipulating it they could also manipulate the amount of time the fruit flies spent in a restful state. When we asked you how much sleep you require, the results varied quite a bit. For some, eight hours was necessary. For others, it was too much. Your experiences match this study.
Additionally, Wired Magazine profiled a chemical called Orexin A that is believed to work as a sleep replacement. It’s already present in humans in limited amounts, and when depleted causes us to feel tired. Since its discovery, Orexin A has been fashioned into a nasal spray (for testing purposes) to find out if it can be used as a treatment for narcolepsy. In a study at UCLA, a few scientists decided to make some tired monkeys snort the chemical:
While information about Orexin A is still rather new, it points to the possibility that sleep may not be as relevant as we think it is. Either way, while eight hours of sleep isn’t a bad recommendation it is definitely not a necessity for everyone.
Photo by Joi Ito.
Myth 4: Reading in Dim Light Ruins Your Eyes
Reading in dim light is supposed to be bad for you, which is somewhat evidenced by a surviving bedside lamp and book light industry. If not, you’ve certainly been told to turn on a light when reading in the near-dark. While reading without sufficient lighting can cause eye strain, according tochildren’s health researcher Rachel C. Vreeman and assistant professor of pediatrics Aaron E. Carrol it won’t cause any serious and permanent damage:
For more information on the studies mentioned above, read this.
Photo by Giles Cook.
Myth 5: Your Slow Metabolism Makes You Fat
When you have a fast metabolism, your body is burning more calories. That means that fit and healthy people have faster metabolisms, right? Not necessarily. ABC News interviewed Dr. Jim Levine, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, who studied the human metabolism in both thin and heavy people. What he found was the opposite of the myth we believe. Referring to lean patient Kathy Strickland and heavier patient Dawn Campion, he said:
Dr. Levin inferred that the weight problems in his patients was due less to the speed of their metabolism and more due to their sedentary lifestyles. That is, of course, only one part of the equation. Gaining unwanted weight can stem from an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and a number of other problems as well. It’s a complicated problem, and your metabolism isn’t necessarily to blame.
Photo by Tony Alter.
Myth 6: You’ll Catch a Cold from Cold (and Wet) Weather Conditions
Did your mother ever tell you to put on a jacket or you’ll catch a cold? Did you ever feel like you were coming down with something nasty after taking a dip in cold water only to be exposed to freezing air? While your comfort levels may have been reduced, you can’t actually catch a cold from feeling cold. It’s a virus—rhinovirus, to be exact—and you need to catch it through transmission. Mark Leyner and Dr. Billy Goldberg, authors of the book Why Do Men Have Nipples?, explain:
But if that’s true, why do people contract a cold more often in the Winter? Doctors don’t have a certain answer, but according to the New York Times there are a few working theories. Because colds are spread by transferring the virus from one person to another, you need to be in contact with other people. People spend more time indoors during the Winter, and so you often find yourselves 1) around them, and 2) in an enclosed space. If one person gets sick in a household, office, or wherever, there’s a good chance that virus will spread. As you should any time of year, keep your distance from the contagious.
Photo by Faith Goble.
Myth 7: More Heat Escapes Through Your Head
Heat rises, and your head is generally warm, so it would stand to reason that walking around outside with your head uncovered isn’t the best plan if you want to stay nice and toasty. While that idea seems to make sense, you’re not going to lose more heat through your head than you will from pretty much any other part of your body. According to Children’s health researcher Rachel C. Vreeman and assistant professor of pediatrics Aaron E. Carrol, wearing a hat will just keep your head warmer:
For more information on the studies mentioned, read this.
Photo by Jenny Downing.
Myth 8: High Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease
Until writing this article, I believed high cholesterol was the primary contributing factor towards heart disease. It’s been a myth I’ve been told my entire life because I’m prone to cholesterol problems and have watched my levels very carefully since I was a child.According to Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, and many others, the data doesn’t consistently link high cholesterol with heart problems. It seems the real culprit is more commonly high blood pressure, and cholesterol problems may have found themselves grouped in because the two issues often appeared together. This doesn’t mean you want higher levels of cholesterol (with the exception of your HDLs), but that if you’re worrying about a heart attack it’s not the first sign of trouble.
Photo by Healthy Living.
Myth 9: It’s Dangerous to Wake a Sleepwalker
It’s actually dangerous to not wake a sleepwalker, but many have believed this myth for ages because, perhaps, a few of them have gotten smacked when they woke up their startled somnambulatory friends. Sleepwalkers are certainly prone to feeling that surprise when they don’t wake up in their beds but, rather, at the outer limits of their camping grounds. (Oh wait, that was me when I was 10.) Because this is so disorienting, many woken sleepwalkers won’t know who you are and become frightened. That said, letting them just walk wherever they want is far less safe than a little fear. The New York Times interviewedDr. Ana C. Krieger, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York University, who suggested that the best thing to do is guide a sleepwalker back to bed. Wake them if you have to, but better to just help them get to where they should be in the first place.