25 Dangerous Myths About Your Body You Need to Stop Believing
Correct these medical misconceptions and learn the truth about your body and your health.
If you hear something enough, it starts to feel like a fact. But did you ever stop to wonder if some of the things you believe to be true about your body are actually based on data and science? If you do some research, you'll learn that some of those so-called "facts" are actually just myths about your body. And while believing some of those myths is completely harmless—like thinking that swallowed gum takes seven years to digest (it doesn't)—others can negatively affect your health and well-being. From drinking alcohol before bed for "better sleep" to not getting the flu shot because it "gives you the flu," here are 25 dangerous myths about your body you need to stop believing. And for more health myths debunked, Here Are the Myths About Your Immune System You Need to Stop Believing.
Drinking milk is important for strong bones.
Despite hearing that milk is great for strong bones since you were a kid, that's not the case. Many studies have shown drinking milk doesn't do anything in helping strengthen your bones. In fact, it's quite the opposite. A 2014 study of more than 96,000 people published in JAMA Pediatrics found greater milk consumption as a teenager was associated with a higher risk of hip fractures as an adult.
Fat is bad for you.
All types of fat easily get clumped together, making people think it's never a good choice to have it in your diet. But that couldn't be further from the truth, and eating the right kinds can benefit your body both physically and mentally.
"Most people don't realize there are different kinds of fat and there are actually healthy fats," says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LPC, a psychologist and pediatric mental health expert in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Think avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. "In fact, research has shown that a low-fat diet is associated with increased depression and risk for suicide, so eating healthy fats is very important for mental health," she says. And for more myths about weight, learn 45 Unhealthy Weight Loss Tips Experts Say to Avoid at All Costs.
Eating less calories means you'll lose weight.
When it comes to weight loss, don't just focus on calories. Just because you're eating less doesn't mean you'll necessarily see the weight come off. "The old adage of 'calories in, calories out' isn't alway correct—especially when it comes to weight loss," says Elena Villanueva, DC, a functional holistic medicine expert in Austin, Texas. "Many popular foods out there—like gluten, dairy, and sugar—can cause inflammation in the body. And when these foods are consumed in excess year after year, chronic conditions can develop, which in turn, leads to chronic inflammation and excess weight. The quality of your calories matters."
Detoxing can better your body.
Everywhere you look, there's another ad for some sort of detox that promises to remove toxins from your body. In reality, detoxing is just a fad that won't seem to go away. Kate Patton, RD, a registered dietitian in Cleveland, Ohio, told the Cleveland Clinic that detoxes—whether it's juices or teas—aren't necessary. Your body actually detoxes itself. Instead, stick to a wholesome, healthy diet that will help you feel your best now and down the line.
Your genetics ultimately determine the fate of your health.
Sure, your genetics can be important when it comes to your health—just don't chalk them up to being everything. "While it can be extremely beneficial to know your genetics, how your genes express themselves is key," says Villanueva. "Lifestyle choices affect whether or not a particular gene turns 'on' or 'off.' For example, while you may have a genetic predisposition for a certain health condition, like diabetes, your lifestyle can determine if those genes are 'turned on' and you develop that condition or disease."
You can catch up on missed sleep over the weekend.
Contrary to popular belief, you can't just make up for all those nights of missed sleep during the week once the weekend rolls around. "Poor sleep over the week is known as 'sleep debt.' Research shows, after one night of sleep deprivation, metabolic shifts occur that are linked to diabetes, heart disease, and the build-up of chemical 'waste' in the brain that's linked to dementia and Alzheimer's," says Tsao-Lin Moy, LMT, an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine expert in New York City. "If you do end up with a night of sleep deprivation, it's important to catch up on sleep within 24 hours to reverse the negative effects in the body." And for more bad sleep habits you need to avoid, learn the 25 Things You're Doing That Would Horrify Sleep Doctors.
Snoring is no big deal.
Speaking of sleep, snoring seems pretty innocent. But unfortunately, it's not as harmless as you'd think. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it could be a sign of a more serious health issue like sleep apnea, where your breathing is interrupted throughout the night. It's also associated with cardiovascular disease. "One in ten middle-aged women have obstructive sleep apnea, whereas one in four middle-aged men have it," Virend Somers, MD, a cardiologist in Rochester, Minnesota, told the Mayo Clinic. If you're a snorer, check in with your doctor to make sure your snoring isn't a sign of something more serious.
Having alcohol before bed helps you sleep.
Many people assume having a nightcap leads to a better night's sleep. While it might make you pass out quickly, that sedative effect doesn't last for long. "The problem is, in a single night, as the alcohol is metabolized during the second half of the night, it creates more fragmented sleep. There's more disruption," Jessica Vensel-Rundo, MD, a neurologist and sleep expert in Cleveland, Ohio, told the Cleveland Clinic. It can also relax your muscles, which could allow your airway to close more easily and increase your risk of sleep apnea.
Taking medication makes your health problems disappear.
When you're on a medication that treats a health problem you're having, it's easy to forget that problem is still an issue in the first place. Here's the deal, though: Just because you don't notice it anymore doesn't mean it's gone. "The biggest myth is that when we take prescribed medicine, the underlying cause is no longer there, and we don't have to do anything further," Moy says. "Medications work by changing the 'symptoms'—not the cause or underlying mechanism."
ADHD medications are always safe.
Millions of individuals have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and it's not uncommon to be prescribed a medication to help with the symptoms. Something many people don't know, though, is that they don't always help.
Capanna-Hodge says many people who take medications for ADHD have adverse reactions—something that's not as widely discussed or known. If you are on medication, be sure to watch out for them. "Some reactions are milder such as irritability, but other more serious reactions can include cardiac difficulties, psychosis, personality changes, and rage," she says.
Stress is all mental.
Unfortunately, stress affects your body more than you may realize—even if you're just dealing with small stressors in your life. "Many say 'I'm not stressed if I don't feel it.' People tend to think of stress as something big, like a life event or something they can't handle. So when they experience back pain, digestive problems, fatigue, weight gain, infertility, or insomnia, they can't see how stress plays a significant role," Moy says. "Low levels of stress on a daily basis can leave you more susceptible to headaches, sore throats, colds, and flus, as well as chronic illnesses."
Anxiety and depression can only get better with medication.
While medications can be game-changers for those with anxiety and depression, there are also a lot of natural things you can do to help better your mental well-being, too. "Millions of people around the world are dealing with anxiety and depression, and for many, the symptoms can be debilitating. While prescription medication is necessary in some cases, finding the root cause of your symptoms can help you find relief, too," Villanueva says. For example, bettering your gut health can lead to better brain health, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, exercise has been shown to play a role in treating mild to moderate depression and reducing anxiety.
The flu shot gives you the flu.
Anyone who avoids the flu shot in fear of getting the flu from it needs to drop that belief, stat. "You can't get the flu from the flu vaccine. All the vaccines are inactivated, so they're just proteins," Susan Rehm, MD, an infectious disease specialist in Cleveland, Ohio, told the Cleveland Clinic. If you feel tired after one, she says it's totally normal—that's just your body's natural immune response.
The flu isn't that serious.
Many people avoid getting their yearly flu shot because they believe it's not serious and their health isn't at risk. Well, that's not the case at all. "We tend to forget that the flu is a very serious illness," Rehm says. "Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized in the United States. Unfortunately, there may be between 4,000 and 40,000 people who die from influenza every year." During the 2018 to 2019 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an estimated 34,200 deaths from influenza.
If you're not having chest pain, you're not having a heart attack.
In every movie ever, a heart attack occurs when someone grabs their chest and falls to the floor. In real life, that's not exactly how things always go down. "Symptoms can be very vague," Cydney Vandyke, a chest pain and stroke coordinator in Bountiful, Utah, told Lakeview Hospital. "People can have nausea, dizziness, back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, jaw pain, and even abdominal pain."
With less extreme symptoms like this, many people write their symptoms off as being something else or no big deal, and that can be dangerous—especially because earlier signs are easier to treat, she says.
Not having regular bowel movements is no big deal.
If you can't remember the last time you went number two, you may have a problem. According to NavNirat Nibber, ND, a naturopathic doctor and medical advisor at Advanced Orthomolecular Research in Alberta, Canada, you should ideally be having two to three bowel movements per day when your digestive system is in good shape—not one every three days.
"Regular, good quality bowel movements—no strain, well-formed solid log, even color, no undigested food, blood, or mucous—is a sign that your digestive system is in tip-top condition," she says. "By ignoring irregular bowel habits, you may be causing more inflammation, hormone imbalance, heart disease, blood sugar disregulation, and more."
You can't get pregnant if you have sex during your period.
People assume you can't get pregnant if you have unprotected sex during or right after your period, and there's something you should know: It's not entirely impossible. Amy Stephens, MD, an OB-GYN in Acron, Ohio, told the Cleveland Clinic there's a lower chance, but your chances still aren't zero—especially for anyone who has an irregular period, or if you're having a shorter-than-average cycle.
Periods are always painful.
Women grow up thinking periods and pain go hand-in-hand, and therefore don't think anything can be done about it, or that they just need to "suck it up." But Nibber says periods don't have to—and shouldn't—hurt.
"There are some uterine contractions while your endometrial lining is shedding, but any pain beyond mild to moderate discomfort requires investigation," she says. "Many times, women come in reporting taking five to six over-the-counter painkillers for one to three days of every period. By assigning pain during periods as 'par for the course,' we risk overlooking some serious medical conditions that can worsen over time, impact fertility, and negatively impact quality of life. There are many reasons for very painful periods, including endometriosis, PCOS, STIs, and fibroids."
What you eat has nothing to do with your skin.
One quick walk down the beauty aisle will show you there's a product for just about everything. While you can buy as many bottles as you'd like, putting more on your skin doesn't mean your skin will automatically get better. Instead, sometimes your first step should be figuring out the issue from the inside-out.
"Something I see a lot is someone with acne investing hundreds of dollars into a complex skin care regimen, only to have slight resolution but it keeps coming back," Nibber says. She says it's important to also address things like your gut or hormonal health, which can both play a role in how your skin looks.
You don't need to wear sunscreen indoors.
Sunscreen is important no matter the season—and no matter whether you spend most of your time outdoors or indoors. The sun's harmful rays can come through windows, putting you at risk of skin cancer even when you think you're safe.
"For days when you're going to be indoors, put sunscreen on the areas not covered by clothing, such as your face and hands to protect against UVA since they can pass through glass," Stuart Kaplan, MD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, wrote on his website.
You should tilt your head back when you get a nosebleed.
When you get a nosebleed, you're supposed to tilt your head back, right? While it's probably your first reaction when it occurs, it's not a good move for your body. Neha Vyas, MD, a family practice physician in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, told the Cleveland Clinic you're actually supposed to lean forward and close the nostril that's bleeding by pinching your nose with your fingers. If you tilt your head back, it causes the blood to drip down the back of your throat, which could make your stomach hurt or cause you to vomit.
Supplementing always helps your health.
It's tempting to just grab any and all supplements at the grocery store that sound like they could be beneficial. But you should know that supplementing without knowledge isn't doing you any good.
"Supplements are very accessible. That can be great in many cases, but it does come with challenges," Nibber says. "For example, many people seem to be supplementing blind, taking a kitchen sink approach by taking every vitamin and nutrient they think they may need with no investigation as to why they're taking it. Supplementation without a plan can be at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. It's important to know why, what, and how long you need to supplement."
Young people don't need to worry about their bodies.
Young people tend to not worry about their health as much as older people. But think about it: If you don't keep your health in check in your younger years, you're setting yourself up for numerous different health problems as you age.
"We know that to prevent hip fractures in seniors, for example, we should be increasing bone density by doing resistance exercises and getting sufficient nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, strontium, and boron consistently in our twenties," Nibber says. "Prevention matters, and while it may be difficult to justify the efforts when there are no tangible returns, know that your body will thank you later."
There's nothing you can do about "getting old."
Sure, you're going to age. But Nibber says you have a lot of power in how much and how quickly. "Culture has promoted this idea that aging is riddled with pain, loss of function, and eventual obsolescence. However, aging is an inevitability and privilege that requires us to reframe our understanding to 'aging well,'" she says. "Our bodies are complex machines, and of course some of the processes and parts may become worn over time. Aging well focuses on optimizing and supporting these processes as the demands change."
Any healthcare provider can help improve your health.
While going to the doctor is a great first step when something is wrong, sometimes it's a good idea to hear different opinions from other experts, too, before making any big decisions. "Not all healthcare providers—even those certified by the same examining board—are equal," says E. Gaylon McCollough, MD, a facial and nasal plastic surgeon in Gulf Shores, Alabama. "Do the research, ask probing questions, and make sure the provider you choose is experienced in the procedure you're considering."