17 Health Myths Perpetuated by Hollywood

Movies about doctors and hospital dramas are responsible for spreading medical misconceptions.

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It's easy to believe what you see onscreen: Movies and TV shows have a major influence on us. And while there are certain portrayals that you can easily dismiss as nothing but Hollywood fantasy, some of the misconceptions and myths they perpetuate aren't so simple to see through. For instance, Hollywood CPR seen on shows like ER and Grey's Anatomy is a tool that works 99 percent of the time, able to bring back anyone from the brink of death. But in real life, CPR isn't actually able to save that many lives. To help you separate fact from fiction, we've rounded up the Hollywood health myths that might have you fooled.

1
You should put a severed body part in ice.

homer cutting off his thumb in an episode of the simpsons
Fox

It's always jarring when you see someone get their finger severed on screen, but you can rest assured they'll somehow get it reattached—after they carry it around in a bag full of ice, that is. Like when Marge accidentally cuts off Homer's thumb in an episode of The Simpsons, and they stick it in a Tupperware bowl full of ice. But if you were to actually get your finger cut off, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons warns against putting it directly in ice, as this could just damage it further. Instead, you should "cover the amputated part in moistened gauze wrap, place it in a watertight bag, and place that bag on ice in a sealed container or in another watertight bag."

2
When someone drowns, they thrash around loudly and violently.

baywatch drowning scene with david hasselhoff
NBC

Don't let Baywatch fool you. When someone drowns, they are not typically panicking with arms waving violently in the air as their head goes under and out of the water like you see on TV and in the movies. While there may be a brief moment of panic before they drown (referred to as aquatic distress), drowning itself is quick and noiseless—which is what makes it such a silent, deadly killer. As Francesco Pia, lifeguard and water rescue expert, explained to WebMD, a drowning victim usually doesn't have "spare breath" to call for help and their arms are typically stiff, stuck out to the side with "hands pressed down on the water to keep afloat." In fact, along with silence, most of the body is stiff, standing "straight up and down" as if they were standing in the water. This only lasts 20 seconds to a minute, however, before they start to submerge.

3
The average human head weighs eight pounds.

Sony Pictures Releasing

Every Jerry Maguire fan has probably regurgitated this piece of information, despite it not being true. While a human head could theoretically weigh just eight pounds, most do not. According to GW Osteopathy, your body is actually holding up a head that, on average, weighs around 11 pounds. So, if you have a head that weighs eight pounds, you really are on the lighter side of things.

4
You should pee on someone that has been stung by a jellyfish.

friends episode where monica gets stung by a jellyfish
NBC

If you've ever been on the beach and had a friend get stung by a jellyfish, you've probably looked around and asked yourself, "Which one of us is going to pee on them?" You can thank most of Hollywood, like that episode of Friends where Monica gets stung by a jellyfish, for spreading this misinformation. There's no need to pee on your friend; it does nothing, as determined by many studies, including a 2016 one published in Marine Drugs. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic says peeing on a jellyfish sting might even make it worse. Instead, you should immerse the area in hot water (anywhere from 104 to 113 degrees) for 20 minutes.

5
We only use 10 percent of our brains.

lucy brain power movie scene
EuropaCorp

The hot Hollywood concept on the scene these days is the idea that we only use a small portion of our brain power with most of it locked away, keeping us from our true potential. It's the idea behind the 2014 movie Lucy and 2011's Limitless. But this is just another common myth people believe. According to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), most people use almost all of their brain, unless they have a neurological condition. Simply "throwing a ball" uses a "significant portion of your brain," as many parts of the brain are actively working back and forth with each other to complete even the smallest of tasks.

6
You cannot wake a sleepwalker under any circumstance.

step brothers sleep walking in movie
Columbia Pictures

In Step Brothers, you see Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly's characters hilariously engaging in annoying acts while sleepwalking and when their father gets fed up, he's yelled at by their mother to never wake a sleepwalker, as it might harm them or someone else. And many people believe that to be true. However, the National Sleep Foundation says it's nothing but movie myth. While waking a sleepwalker could activate their "fight or flight" response and cause them to lash out briefly, it's actually worse to leave them wandering around on their own. Instead, they recommend trying to "gently guide the person back to bed, without fully waking them." But if you want to wake them, you can—just do so by "making a loud, sudden noise from a safe distance away."

7
CPR is a magical life-saving tool that almost always works.

grey's anatomy CPR scene
ABC

If you watch any episode of ER or Grey's Anatomy, you've probably convinced yourself that under any circumstance, CPR can bring someone back from the brink of death. And while that's nice to believe, the statistics are actually a lot more grim in real life than they are on screen. As emergency room physician Howie Mell explained to the American Heart Association, CPR works nine out of ten times in TV shows and movies. But in reality? The rate of survival is closer to something like two out of ten.

8
Shocking a person who has flatlined will revive them.

ER defibrillator scene
Warner Bros. Television

Just like TV shows and movies often make you think that CPR is an indispensable life-saving tool, Hollywood also perpetuates the myth of the life-saving defibrillator. As soon as a character flatlines, someone magically appears with electric paddles to shock them back to life. But in reality, you can't use a defibrillator on someone who has flatlined, because there is no electrical pattern to shock back into normal rhythms. As Jeremy Shere wrote for Indiana Public Media, doctors won't shock a flatlined heart—otherwise known as asystole—because it can just make things worse. Instead, they will attempt to administer CPR, drugs, or try other procedures.

9
Brown M&M's are healthier than other colors.

Columbia Pictures

Fan of The Wedding Planner? Then you might have easily been convinced when Matthew McConaughey's character told Jennifer Lopez's character that the brown M&M's are healthier because they have less artificial coloring in them. You know, since chocolate is already brown. And the thing is, it sounds plausible—plus McConaughey's character is a doctor, so he knows, right? Wrong. As nutritionist Elissa Goodman explained to Entertainment Weekly, all M&M's have a candy coating, even the brown ones. You can cut them in half and see that all of the colors have a white inner coating, meaning they all include artificial coloring.

10
In a life-saving move, you can inject medicine straight into someone's heart.

pulp fiction shot of adrenaline scene
Lionsgate

One of the most famous scenes in Pulp Fiction has John Travolta dramatically jamming a needle straight into Uma Thurman's heart to save her from a heroin overdose. However, this practice of intracardiac injection died off in the '70s, according to Eric F. Reichman in his book Emergency Medicine Procedures. This is because those in the medical field realized that other routes of medication administration, like just injecting needles into the veins, were safer and simpler, and there was no "advantage" to intracardiac injection over any other means. Not to mention, many serious complications can result from trying to stick a needle straight into someone's heart.

11
If you eat a seed, you can grow that fruit in your stomach.

Nickelodeon

If you grew up watching Rugrats, you may have convinced yourself that eating the seed of something will make it grow in your stomach, like when Chuckie swallowed a watermelon seed. But your inner child can rest assured that's not possible. As Wonderopolis explains, watermelon seeds—like other foods—will just go through your digestive system and exit out in a few days. Thankfully, with all the acidic juices in your stomach, there's no suitable place for plants or fruits to grow inside of you anyway.

12
You should put something in the mouth of someone having a seizure.

the death at a funeral seizure scene
Screen Gems

Many people believe that when someone is having a seizure, they could swallow their tongue. Therefore, you're told to put something in their mouth or hold their tongue. Even in comedies like Death at a Funeral, they push this narrative. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that you not put anything in the mouth of someone having a seizure, as this can actually injure their teeth or jaw. And you don't have to worry that they're going to swallow their tongue, because that's just not possible.

13
The average person has five pounds of undigested red meat in their bowels.

beverly hills cop movie scene with undigested red mat
Paramount Pictures

Listening to Judge Reinhold's character in Beverly Hills Cop, you might believe you have five pounds of undigested red meat just sitting in your bowls. And that's quite a hefty amount. That number is not true, however. So how much is actually in your bowels? None! There are a number of reasons people believe red meat is bad for you, but this particular statistic is just an unpleasant myth. As gastroenterologist David Yamini explained to MEL Magazine, nothing just "sits in your colon and rots." Though meat can cause you to experience brief constipation, it will leave your digestive system normally in a few days.

14
After someone dies, their hair and nails continue to grow.

the tingler movie characters talking
Columbia Pictures

Whether from movies or real-life conversations, you've probably heard that people's hair and nails continue to grow after they've died. Take The Tingler for instance; this movie came out back in the '50s, and it was already spreading this false concept. Your hair and nails could appear longer after death but according to the UAMS, that's only because the skin around a person's nails and hair retracts over time due to dehydration of the body causing it to shrink, not because anything is still growing.

15
You need to suck the venom out of someone who has been bitten by a snake.

snakes on a plane sucking venom out of snake bite scene
New Line Cinema

Watch Snakes on a Plane too many times, and you might convince yourself you're supposed to suck the venom out of someone with a snakebite. Emergency room physician Robert A. Barish explained to WebMD that this doesn't do anything to help the victim of a snakebite. Venom spreads quickly and is probably not easily located. And not only that, but about 25 percent of snake bites are "dry" anyway and contain no venom. Instead, you should avoid getting in the way and slowing down medical help; transport the victim to a medical facility as quickly as possible.

16
You should tilt your head back if you have a nosebleed.

rachel having a nosebleed in friends
NBC

Many people think they should tilt their head back if they have a nosebleed, preventing the blood from leaking out of their nose, but this is an oft-perpetuated Hollywood myth. You see it on Friends, as Rachel's sitting on the couch with Ross when he tells her they can't see each other anymore. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia explains that's actually the opposite of what you should be doing. Tilting the head back can cause the blood to leak back into your throat, which could make you choke or throw up. Instead, you should sit up straight, with your head titled slightly forward while gently pinching your nostrils.

17
Doctors can do all jobs within the medical field.

house scene with dr. house played by hugh laurie
NBCUniversal Television Distribution

In reality, doctors are specialized individuals who work in specific fields. Doctors who remove brain tumors aren't the same ones who deliver a baby, because they're trained in two different areas. However, if you were to watch any episode of House, you would likely see Hugh Laurie's character doing it all. That just doesn't happen in real hospitals.

Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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