8 medical myths debunked

Susannah Hickling 9 September 2021

We live in a scientific age, but old wives’ tales about health still abound. There’s often a grain of truth in them, but what are the actual facts?

Myth 1: You should put butter on a burn

Butter

Er, no, you shouldn’t. Butter seals the heat in and risks making the burn worse. Get cold water on it for between ten and 20 minutes instead. It will help to numb the pain and prevent the skin from continuing to burn.

Myth 2: Getting cold gives you a cold

Not so. Viruses give you a cold, not the weather. Being indoors in a stuffy atmosphere with other people, however, is the perfect environment to catch bugs. That said, it’s possible that having a cold nose diminishes your ability to fight off a cold, according to a Yale University study.

Myth 3: You can pick up germs sitting on a loo seat

This particular piece of folklore has us wiping and covering the seat in public toilets. While bacteria and viruses may lurk there for a very short time, there’s a vanishingly small chance they’ll end up inside you. You’re more likely to catch something from water droplets when you flush, so stand well back, or from the toilet- or door-handle. Always wash your hands.

Myth 4: Chocolate is good for you

One square of dark chocolate a day has been shown to have cardiovascular benefitsand therein lies the problem. Who can stop at one square? Chocolate is also full of fat, sugar and calories, so it’s not the best health food. Sorry.

Myth 5: Eggs give you high cholesterol

golden eggs

Eggs are incredibly nutritious and, while they do contain some cholesterol, as do prawns and kidneys, doctors are more concerned that you reduce your intake of saturated fat in foods like pies, sausages, cakes and dairy products if you want to cut your risk of heart disease. There are no recommended limits on the number of eggs you should eat.

Myth 6: Alcohol warms you up

Who doesn’t think of a cuddly St Bernard dog with that dinky little barrel of brandy around its neck? In reality, you’ll feel warm when you first have a swig, because your blood vessels will dilate and move blood closer to the skin, but this makes you lose body heat faster.

Myth 7: Cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis

It gives relief to the knuckle cracker and sets your teeth on edge if you have to listen to it, but there’s no harm in it, according to research. And there’s been a surprising quantity of it. One American doctor even popped the knuckles on one hand for 50 years, before concluding in a study that there was no link with arthritis.

Myth 8: If you can move it, it’s not broken

Your joints are held together by ligaments, tendons and muscles, so you might well be able to use a broken bone. Seek medical help if you suspect a break, to avoid infection or deformity.

Read more: The joylessness of meal subscription boxes

Read more: 5 pioneering Black British artists

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter