8 Health Myths Debunked (Including What You Can Catch from Toilet Seats)

5 years ago

There are numerous health myths out there that many people not only believe, but repeat to friends, family, strangers, and their children. One of my favorites is "don't leave your home with wet hair because you will catch a cold." Really? Last I checked, a cold is a virus and you have to touch or be exposed to the virus to "catch it." Being in the cold is not enough. Don't believe me?

Image: Oslo in the summertime via Flickr

Well, Dr. Rob Danoff on MSN Health agrees:

Going outside with wet hair may cause your mom to worry, but it won't cause you to catch a cold or the flu. The most common way to catch them is by inhaling airborne viral particles released by the cough or sneeze of an infected person. However, an illness may also occur after touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed fingers that have come into contact with a virus that has contaminated a high-touch surface such as a doorknob or keyboard.

Here are several other health myths that have been debunked. Maybe you've been guilty of believing some of them!

Next myth: The truth about toilet seats -->

If you sit on a public toilet seat, you will catch something.

This is one of the those things that I know many of us fear. When I was in college, I was an expert at crouching over a toilet seat and peeing the perfect stream without making a mess. And when toilet seat covers were invented, I was ecstatic: no more lining the seat with toilet paper that inevitably fell into the toilet!

But somewhere down the line, I've become less paranoid about catching something from a toilet seat -- and if I have to go and can't hold it, I will go ahead and go! My thought is everyone else is covering the seat, so what do I need to worry about? And this is supported by doctors. While public bathrooms do harbor bacteria, studies show that the dirtiest places are the floor and (surprise, surprise) door handles, sinks, and faucet handles. So wash your hands, use a towel to turn off the water and open a door, but never mind about the toilet seat -- unless, of course, it is visibly dirty!

Next myth: The stomach flu -->

Are you vomiting, have nausea and/or diarrhea? You have the stomach flu!

Image: lorenkerns via Flickr

This year, there has been a terrible "stomach flu" floating around. Indeed, I know numerous people who have been violently sick for 24-48 hours, and most (including me) have referred to it as a "stomach flu." However, the doctors at WebMD dispel the stomach flu myth: What people have actually been experiencing is called gastroenteritis, "which means irritated and inflamed stomach and intestines (the gastrointestinal tract) and may be any number of things, including bacteria or viruses," including the very common norovirus.

Next myth: What you can't spread -->

Everyone who has a cough should stay home.

Image: (3) via Flickr

I know during cough and cold season, I am a stickler about trying to stay as far away as possible from people who are coughing -- and especially sneezing (my biggest pet peeve on a plane) -- because I don't want to catch anything. However, every cough is not one that can be caught, and some coughs don't require one to stay home from work or school. In blogger Shirebacon's post, The Boy Who Coughs, she describes her son's asthma-related symptom:

"Every time I took him to sports class (or the grocery store, or the pumpkin farm) and he coughed I could feel it. I could feel the looks. The looks from the other parents that said 'How can she bring her kid here?' Or 'I can't believe she lets her sick kids be around my kid. If my kid gets sick…"

My son also suffers from asthma, and I totally relate. Every cough doesn't mean "stay home," and it is ridiculous to think so!

Next myth: What sex can't do -->

Sex is a great workout.

Image: josemanuelerre via Flickr

As much as I'd like this one to be true, for most people it just ain't so. According to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine this year, sex lasts on average six minutes and burns about the same calories as taking a walk. With a six-minute session, sex would only burn 21 calories! I guess there will be no weight loss from sex unless you employ some serious positions and time -- but that is a discussion for another post.

Next myth: Feed what? Starve what? -->

Feed a cold, starve a fever.

Image: Rubryan via Flickr

This is certainly a myth. According to an article in Duke Health, this belief may date back to 1574, but there is no truth to "feed a cold, starve a fever." While you may probably not feel like eating when you have a fever, it is important to try to eat and stay hydrated! Colds last longer, which may be the rationale behind "feeding a cold" but again, stay hydrated, eat when hungry, and practice good hygiene.

Next myth: How long to wait before swimming -->

No swimming for an hour after eating.

Image: tom@hk via Flickr

I know this is one we followed in day camp, but it is a myth: you don't need to wait an hour after eating to go swimming. However, according to pediatrician Dr Scott Cohen, when you eat, it takes blood away from muscles to the digestive system, which was previously thought to have the potential to cause cramps. However, you are likely just not to swim as strongly; on the flip side, you will have more energy.

Next myth: Got milk? -->

Drinking warm milk will help you sleep.

Image: bluewaikiki via Flickr

I can't speak to this personally, because I am lactose intolerant and never tried milk as a sleep aid, but this too is a myth. Although milk does have levels of tryptophan, a chemical that causes calmness, studies show that drinking warm milk had no sleep-inducing effect.

So there you have it, seven health myths debunked! Can you think of any that I've missed? Please let me know in the comments below.

You can find all my adventures in health and fitness on my blog Renee J. Ross and my thoughts on parenting, fashion and travel on my blog Cutie Booty Cakes.

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