What misconception do I have about health and hygiene?
November 19, 2011 8:36 AM   Subscribe

What did your parents tell you about health that turned out to be utterly wrong?

My family is from Russia and, even considering that my paternal grandfather was a physician and my maternal grandmother is a dentist, have imbued me with a lot of misconceptions about health. Up until my girlfriend moved in and started giving me wide-eyed stares of disbelief regarding these things, I was under the impression that, for instance:
  • Being wet in anything but the warmest of temperatures could make you horribly ill. So, wet hair in the cold, or wet socks after water got in them, or not drying completely after taking a shower is something that made you sick.
  • Eating cold things while sick with a flu or cold makes it worse.
  • Mustard plasters open up your lungs if you have a cold.
  • Sitting on concrete outdoors does something terrible to your spine for some reasons I never quite understood.
  • Urinating on a burn disinfects it (I think this one actually has some credence to it.)
Now, I understand basic biology, virii, bacterial infections, and other things like that, but since I've been hearing this stuff regularly since a rather young age, I sort of end up accepting it like a reflex even if it makes no sense. I'm sure that a lot of people here, especially those not raised in America, grew up with similar misconceptions. So, what do I think about health and hygiene that is completely wrong?
posted by griphus to Health & Fitness (101 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Don't cross your eyes, they'll stay like that! Don't sit on that concrete, you'll get piles! Don't go out with a wet head, you'll catch pneumonia!

And much, much more recently, the health misconception the next generation is being sold (literally) and will carry forth, is that antibacterial everything is required to protect them from an environment that will otherwise make us all sick.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

Don't swim after eating, or else you'll get horrible cramps and sink like a stone. This belief has been well-debunked for years.

Ulcers are caused by stress and spicy food. Stress may influence stomach ulcers, but they're not the cause, and spicy food has nothing to do with the formation of stomach ulcers.

You should raise your child in as antiseptic an environment as possible, in order to ward off disease. This is, of course, a phenomenally terrible idea.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:45 AM on November 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

This link speaks of getting wet. This AskMetafilter Questionmay address another issues you listed.
posted by 6:1 at 8:45 AM on November 19, 2011

I was going to say not to take a shower during lightning storms, but apparently that's useful advice . Thanks, mom!
posted by jabes at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2011

My mother believed we should have penicillin when we had persistent colds. But that going to doctors was otherwise unnecessary.
posted by Occula at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2011

I used to be given homeopathic arnica when I had tonsillitis as a child.

Since proved to be utter, utter nonsense. I was too young to have critical faculties then!
posted by tonylord at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2011

If the food was on the floor for less than five seconds, it didn't pick up any floor-cooties.
It's okay to eat raw ground hamburger from the grocery store.
You lose most of your body heat through your head. (debunked, apparently, but I'm still clinging to that one)
posted by argonauta at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2011

Being from Russia you probably share the misconception held by many Eastern Europeans and their doctors that antibiotics are a universal cure-all and should be prescribed for near anything from a sniffle upwards. This is generally considered bad practice as antibiotics have no effect on virii, and their wide and indiscriminate use contributes to the significant issue of antibiotic resistant super bugs.
posted by jannw at 8:58 AM on November 19, 2011

That exposure to any cold draughts will result in said cold entering into one's muscles and residing there like some evil voodoo spirit, infiltrating all clothing, skin, subcutaneous fat and basic mammalian ability to thermally self-regulate, and resulting in symptoms identical to a minor strain. The afflicted area is then said to "have cold on/in it", as in "I've cold on on my back", or "My shoulder's got some cold in it." Confirmation bias ensures that this phenomenon only ever seems to happen at the onset of winter, because at any other time of year it's obvious that you've just strained a muscle.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:59 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not my parents, but my grandmother: washing your hair when you have your period will give you cramps.
posted by dilettante at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

In health class at school (which was taught by a classmate's mom, awkwardly enough), we were taught that if you have sex your penis will become diseased and fall off or you'll get pregnant. But probably both. There was a slideshow to prove it.
posted by phunniemee at 9:06 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Then near-universal idea that taking vitamins can cure virtually any common illness/the equally widely-believed idea that the majority of the population are somehow vitamin deficient and must take ludicrous amounts of supplements in order to prevent minor illnesses.

Also, every cold-related anecdote already mentioned. No, mom, going out in cold weather doesn't make your body spontaneously generated viruses.
posted by anaximander at 9:07 AM on November 19, 2011

Related to wet clothes, but going out without shoes and socks in bad/cold/rainy weather was a surefire way to come down with pneumonia, according to my great-grandmother, grandmother and (occasionally) mother.

I know it's bunk but still catch myself occasionally going after my own small kids for running around outside barefoot (and occasionally without pants) in the wet leaves and grass when its 40 outside.
posted by jquinby at 9:18 AM on November 19, 2011

Going outside with wet hair will make you sick. I don't know if my mom actually believed it, or just used it as an excuse to keep me looking presentable.
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:21 AM on November 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Eating lots of beef fat is good for you. God, how I remember sitting at the table hours past my bedtime, with a disgusting lump of congealed beef fat in my mouth that I simply could not force myself to swallow, and being told that I could not leave the table till I did.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:28 AM on November 19, 2011

My mom always told me that only the sleep before midnight counts. She later amended it to "the sleep before midnight counts double."
posted by cider at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

- Swallowed gum will sit in your stomach for 7 years
- Tampons are bad for you. Sure, there is a slight TSS risk, but it's very rare. Them being "unhealthy" has more to do with the belief that one mustn't make your ladybits impure or tainted for babymaking when you're married
- Swallowing seeds (apple, oranges, lemon, watermelon, etc) will grow those respective plants in your stomach

I used to be allergic to raw carrots (still am, and about 2 dozen other things since), but my parents wouldn't believe me because there weren't any obvious, visual signs that I was allergic, so they still forced me to eat my carrots and drink a glass of carrot juice every morning during their carrot juicing phase. They Eventually they let me off the hook and let me stop eating them and take my chances on developing poor eyesight. 31, still don't eat carrots often, especially raw. Got shiny eyes, and perfect vision that doesn't seem to be deteriorating any time soon.
posted by raztaj at 9:31 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't wear socks to bed, or they'll trap in the sweat and somehow, um, make you sick via your feet or something!
posted by Eshkol at 9:35 AM on November 19, 2011

Well, along the lines of my mother's particular bent: Only married women use tampons; and nice girls don't cross their legs, ride bikes with banana seats, or sleep with their hands under the covers and they only wear huge white cotton underwear. And yes, sitting on concrete will give you piles. My goodness was that woman ever concerned with what went on in my pants.
posted by peagood at 9:40 AM on November 19, 2011 [15 favorites]

Eating cold things while sick with a flu or cold makes it worse.

My doctor specifically recommends that I avoid cold beverages when I have a chest cold, as she feels it contributes to me developing bronchitis. In fact, she prefers I avoid cold beverages in general. And though I have my doubts about that, it's true that my colds do not automatically turn into Bronchitis anymore since I stopped drinking cold water.

So, she still might be crazy, and the plural of anecdote isn't data, but at least your beliefs are not wildly out there.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Russian grandmother used to have me soak my feet in boiling water whenever I was sick. My husband now teases me for my ridiculously high tolerance of scorching water (I shower on the hottest water setting possible).
posted by litnerd at 9:46 AM on November 19, 2011

It's a sign of good oral hygiene if your gums bleed when you brush your teeth.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:49 AM on November 19, 2011

Also, white spots on your fingernails are a good sign that you're getting enough calcium, and if you don't have any you should drink more milk.
posted by Eshkol at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2011

Funny how the sitting on concret thing is so universal. My German grandmother told me it would make you wet the bed. Also: don't sleep with the shades open during a full moon or you will go insane.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:58 AM on November 19, 2011

My husbands relatives in England told me that we shouldn't go to sleep with the heat on or it would cause us to be sick/ill. Several co-workers have also told me this.

My Japanese friend believes 100% in fan death and even explained the science behind it.

My mother told me that washing my hair more than once a week would make it fall out and she still believes this.

I was told as a child eating sweets after 6PM would cause me to have horrible nightmares and in fact, cartoon characters would come after me. More than one person told me this.

If I pulled out grey hair, two would grow in its place (does that count? Or is it more of an old wives tale thing?).

When I gave up refined sugar for Lent this year, my mother told me that I would get really sick because refined sugar is necessary for health.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2011

My parents insisted that adding any amount of salt or seasonings/sauces to things is unhealthy. That would be true ceteris paribus of course but in their diet, and consequently to some degree in mine, it resulted in simply eating more prepared foods that already have the salt, fat, and carbs in them: you'd never put a cheese sauce on broccoli and you'd never put a cream dressing on a salad, so consequently broccoli and salad is the teeniest fraction of their diet.

In the past couple of decades they also appear to have developed the idea that if something has whole grains in it, it's automagically healthy and you can eat as much of it as you want.

(That's probably marketing companies to blame in the latter case, I suppose. I decided to buy some prepared frozen chicken at the supermarket the other day and I noticed that some were labeled as "whole grain"; at first I thought that it must be describing which ones were made of actual chicken meat instead of McNuggets-type ground chicken slurry but no, nothing to do with that, upon closer inspection they're actually advertising that the breading of their deep-fat-fried product contains whole grains.)
posted by XMLicious at 10:03 AM on November 19, 2011

My grandmother believed that if women exercised (like the gym or running) that they would damage their reproductive organs.
posted by bolognius maximus at 10:19 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

eating candy/anything sugary causes diabetes. sugar is from the devil.

oh gosh, the mustard plasters . . . the burn! the burn!
posted by Sassyfras at 10:19 AM on November 19, 2011

Fake sugar will give you cancer, as will eating anything even slightly burnt. The only thing my parents didn't have to negotiate via the divorce mediator was the "never give the kid diet soda" rule. Both were very enthusiastic about it, actually, even though both raised me to be highly skeptical of pop science health things like "eggs give you heart disease."
posted by SMPA at 10:23 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

As an American living in Russia, I'm frequently assured that sitting on cold stone or concrete will make me infertile.
posted by toesock at 10:26 AM on November 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Any amount of draft or moving air in the room when you sleep will make you sick.

You have to "protect your liver" when out in the cold, so make sure you always keep your torso super-warm even if your arms and legs are exposed.

Mass produced food is better for you cause "It was made in a factory."

Coffee is poison until some magical time after 16.

Don't let the cat lick your face, you'll catch fever.

Vegetables are untrustworthy unless they come out of a can or boiled into a mash, anything else will just upset your stomach.

Milk cures basically anything, yes even lactose intolerance, but yogurt is "spoiled" and shouldn't be eaten.
posted by The Whelk at 10:30 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and I narrowly escaped the "kids should have their tonsils taken out no mater what" thing.
posted by The Whelk at 10:38 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

from the SO "Drinking anything cold after eating fondue would turn the cheese solid and block your stomach and make you very sick."
posted by The Whelk at 10:39 AM on November 19, 2011

Not my story but a friend thought chicken skin was poisonous because her mom would take it off with scorn every time she served it. That still makes me shudder.
posted by sweetkid at 10:40 AM on November 19, 2011

An older relative believed that having the heat on indoors and then going outside in the cold causes pneumonia.
posted by Neekee at 10:43 AM on November 19, 2011

Oh! And staying up late makes people schizophrenic, I swear I was warned I would "go schizo" if I kept my 11am to 3am summer sleep cycle.
posted by The Whelk at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you pull a face, you will stay like it if the wind changes direction. Not sure if this one came from my parents or a teacher!
posted by kenchie at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This isn't much of an answer, just an anecdote about your question --

"Sitting on concrete outdoors does something terrible to your spine for some reasons I never quite understood."

My high school German teacher, who, in the mid-90s, was old enough to remember the war, and who subsequently grew up in East Germany, said the same thing. She'd have a conniption at any students she saw sitting on pavement.
posted by colin_l at 10:52 AM on November 19, 2011

My mom insisted until the day she died that my lactose intolerance was caused by her letting me eat too much mac & cheese and ice cream when I was little (plus my generally crappy diet as an adult), completely ignoring the whole native american genetic predisposition issue.
posted by elizardbits at 10:56 AM on November 19, 2011

Sitting in a draft will give you a cold.
Being out in the cold, and getting a little uncomfortable, will give you a cold.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:56 AM on November 19, 2011

the crust of bread is the healthiest part.
posted by hollyanderbody at 11:20 AM on November 19, 2011 [27 favorites]

Sitting on or near cold concrete, the concern is that you'll chill your kidneys. It wasn't til I lived in Central Europe that I had people complain to me that their kidneys hurt.
posted by Ellie Higginbottom at 11:25 AM on November 19, 2011

My mother never let us wear earmuffs because she believed they would damage our ears/hearing somehow... never quite figured that one out.

I also grew up during the "Halloween will kill your children!" phase, specifically temporary tattoos laced with drugs. I have never worn one because of that.

Finally, not sure where I picked this one up, but somehow I got it into my head when I was a child that "jet lag" was some horrible incurable disease caused by traveling too much and my father (a frequent business traveler) was going to die from it or at least suffer extreme fatigue for the rest of his life.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:26 AM on November 19, 2011

Gelatin is good for nails.
posted by maurreen at 11:29 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was told I couldn't be a healthy child without drinking a lot of milk. Of course, that not true.
posted by devymetal at 11:31 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't stop that, you'll go blind.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:40 AM on November 19, 2011

Starve a cold, feed a fever.
posted by kinetic at 11:43 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

That sitting too close to the television or reading in dim light would "ruin my eyes."
posted by Knappster at 11:52 AM on November 19, 2011 [11 favorites]

There's no such thing as depression, you're just sad and/or weak.
posted by mesha steele at 12:08 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Continual crash dieting (and then regaining) is healthier than being marginally overweight, active, and eating a healthy diet.

My grandmother lived to her late eighties but made herself miserable for most of it by constantly dieting (dry rye crackers only!) when her largest size was only about a UK 16, her non diet foods were unprocessed and largely homegrown, and her lifestyle included plenty of exercise. I blame my grandfather mostly, he was a naturally tiny person with some issues with women. They taught my father the same stuff, and he's a crash dieter too, who talks constantly about "good" and "bad" foods. I have my grandmother's body type, keep to a stable weight and eat everything in moderation and I firmly believe it's much better for my physical and mental health.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:12 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Starve a cold, feed a fever. posted by kinetic at 1:43 PM on November 19 [1 favorite +] [!]
See? I was going to come in and say "Feed a cold, starve a fever." That's what I learned.

I guess neither is right.

I was also told that gelitan was good for nails (wrong, wrong, wrong!).
posted by patheral at 12:34 PM on November 19, 2011

My mother told me that if I didn't let her take the splinter out of my foot, it would absorb into my bloodstream, go up into my heart and kill me. Once when I was about 10 I had a splinter and I didn't tell her, because I didn't want her to go digging for it with a needle. After a couple of weeks the splinter disappeared, and for weeks I lived in dread of when that splinter would reach my heart and kill me instantly.

Still, it wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I realized she was full of shit. I thought I'd just gotten lucky I hadn't died that one time.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:37 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to some of the above (tampon weirdness, concrete sitting, and splinter horror stories), my mom also told me these two:

That I would catch an STD from sitting on a toilet seat in a public restroom. Which STD was left unspecified.

That sage leaves were poisonous if left in the stew (or whatever) after cooking. They had to be removed and never, ever eaten or left in the leftovers in the fridge.
posted by OrangeDisk at 12:45 PM on November 19, 2011

My grandmother told me the reason I was the only family child with glasses was that I "read too much."
posted by availablelight at 12:45 PM on November 19, 2011

-Eat gelatin for strong nails - my mom's were fantastically strong, mine are shit.

-Your boobs won't droop until you breastfeed. Uhhh, maybe they'll droop MORE then, but gravity is moving things along apace, thanks.

-Ditto reading in dim light, going out barefoot (it's the hillbilly in me), going out with wet hair.

-Bonus for in-laws: my FIL insists my habit of sleeping with a fan on gave my husband (who's immunocompromised, just like his father is) pneumonia. Which resulted in a three-week coma. I'm still not pleased about that one.

-My favorite foods are watermelon and cucumber, because that's all my mother ate when she was pregnant with me. Also, my full head of hair gave her the worst heartburn ever.
posted by timetoevolve at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2011

Yes, Ellie Higginbottom, cold in the kidneys! The danger of cold stone/concrete is a cold in your kidneys. According to my father, who agreed with this, wearing a short coat that didn't cover your bum would also lead to a cold in the kidneys (even though one's kidneys are somewhat higher than one's bum).

According to my late mother, butter spread on a bruise or a burn will help heal them. Don't know if margarine, lard, or live oil would work as well. The only good breakfast was a hot breakfast. My friends who were happily chomping down cold cereal and milk for breakfast were being mistreated and malnourished.

My mother's mother was a physician, rare for a woman of that generation (she graduated from the University of Gottingen in 1928, IIRC), who prescribed an apple, chopped into small pieces and eaten slowly, for an upset stomach. Since applesauce is a part of the Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast diet that is recommended for a post-gastro problems, maybe Granny was on to something.
posted by angiep at 12:57 PM on November 19, 2011

My Mom once told my cousin that you get pimples from kissing boys.
posted by luckynerd at 1:06 PM on November 19, 2011

All the vitamins are in the peels (apples, potatoes, carrots, etc.) Turns out it is not ture for potatoes, and it is dietary fiber for apples, and no idea for carrots. But no vitamins.
posted by oflinkey at 1:17 PM on November 19, 2011

I was thirteen years old before I figured out that it was ok to eat fish and drink milk in the same meal. My mother had a hard time believing that it wouldn't kill you even when I discussed the evidence with her.
posted by Kyrieleis at 1:19 PM on November 19, 2011

My mother convinced me that I was allergic to eggs. She's always claimed that she is too. So I grew up not just eating eggs - except in cakes, pancakes, yorkshire puddings, meringues, and basically anything my mother liked that happened to contain eggs.

It was only when I was 15 or 16 that I realised that she just didn't like the taste. And, as a baby, I didn't like eggs much either, so somehow I ended up being 'allergic' by the same flawed logic.

I eat plenty of egg-containing foods now, but for some reason I still draw the line somewhere between egg-fried rice and quiche.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2011

My mother would suggest an unfeasbily long list of food stuffs which would lead to diarrhoea, including but not limited to dark chocolate, dates, nuts and a number of fresh fruits.

Picking your nose will cause your nose to start looking like a pig's trotter.

Those whose grans suggested anything burnt could cause cancer are some way to being in opposition to my gran's belief that eating burnt toast could cure a cold. (I am not sure this is totally unlinked to my gran being an utterly terrible cook.)

Don't keep your coat on in the house as you "won't get the benefit" when you go outside.

If you pull a face and the wind changes, your face will stay like that.

If you sit on stone walls or other cold or hard surfaces you will get piles.
posted by biffa at 1:40 PM on November 19, 2011

the crust of bread is the healthiest part.

Whoa, this is not true? I'm 27 and I still believed that one.

Another vote for things about sitting on concrete (secondhand though) - my friend who lived in Ukraine was repeatedly told that it would damage either her ovaries or her uterus, I forget which.
posted by naoko at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2011

Colds come from exposure to cold temperatures.
posted by themel at 2:06 PM on November 19, 2011

Cracking your knuckles will cause arthritis.

My mother advised me that flu vaccines don't work, they're just a racket by corporations to prevent people from taking sick days. The logic was that employees won't fake being sick if they know that their HR file shows that they've had a flu vax.

This seemed like mildly amusing kookery until my grandmother contracted Swine Flu. As an elderly woman with chronic lung problems, she should have been at the top of the list when the vaccine was released, but she never got it.

Speaking of my grandmother, she is insistent that you should always go to the doctor and get some antibiotics when you have a cold. I once tried explaining the difference between a virus and a bacterial infection, and the problems being caused by overuse of antibiotics, but it didn't go well.

That caffeinated beverages dehydrate you due to caffeine being a diuretic. Even if this is the case, there is more water in a cup of tea than is lost due to the diuretic effect.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 2:16 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

That it's a sign of weakness and hyperfussiness to wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them, because "a little dirt is good for you" (anticipating a warped version of the hygiene hypothesis) and "you lose all the value."

Various permutations of "your health is the most important thing"; "as long as you have you have your health, you have everything." My father, in particular, thought that anyone who had to take a pill every day was weak and might just as well be dead. These ideas didn't make it any easier for me to deal with chronic illness when it came along in my forties, and I had to unlearn all that.
posted by Corvid at 2:37 PM on November 19, 2011

My father often throws out the line that you won't die till you eat a peck of dirt, so you better be careful with washing that fruit Corvid.
posted by biffa at 3:17 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Walking barefoot will give you warts. People used to stop their cars in suburban NJ to tell me that!
My significant other (Honduran) believes that if a twin says something good about something and touches it, bad things will follow. When he was afflicted with allopecia and had HUGE bald spots dotting his head, he went so far as to track down a pair of twins & beg them to spit on his head. Not witchcraft, science, he assured me.
posted by Ys at 3:36 PM on November 19, 2011

My mother's long-standing crush on Linus Pauling meant her children took massive doses of Vitamin C when under the weather -- it was decades before I realized this is why every illness I had would eventually showcase a viciously upset stomach. She also believes the smoking she did during her pregnancies made us curious (as in interested in the world) and that denying food cravings during pregnancies leads to strawberry marks on babies.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:43 PM on November 19, 2011

Starve a cold, feed a fever. posted by kinetic at 1:43 PM on November 19 [1 favorite +] [!]
See? I was going to come in and say "Feed a cold, starve a fever." That's what I learned.
I guess neither is right.

I was a typical teenager and had to argue these with my Mom.
"Why do you feed a cold?"
"Because your body is fighting the infection and needs the nutrition."
"Okay, then why do you starve a fever?"
"Because if you have the flu, and eat, you'll just throw it back up."

She had me there. Now I pass this one on to my kids.

In a similar manner I tried to explain how it makes no sense that the well mixed up dough somehow splits back up and all the nutritious parts somehow move to the outside, making the crust healthier. "It is crust because it is cooked more. If I toast a piece of bread, does it all magically become as nutritious as the crust?" I got no debate, nor did they change their opinions on several of these. I hope I'm listening to my kids more when they challenge my misconceptions.
posted by eye of newt at 3:50 PM on November 19, 2011

My mom was an RN so I didn't get a whole lot of these upthread from her, but I have heard of most of the commoner ones. So, none from the parents, really.

My MIL is american-born italian though and she reports (and does believe!) that the bay leaf used for flavor in soups and stews must be removed from the pot before serving, because accidental injestion will cause your "insides to be sliced-up like a razor blade".

She always counts how many she adds during preparation and on the chance she was unable to recover them from all from the victuals, she will warn you to watch out for them in your bowl. So you don't get sliced up like a razor blade, etc.

I think this is hilarious, and I so far cannot diabuse her from this thinking!
posted by bebrave! at 3:54 PM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also got the "Don't eat for an hour before swimming--or you'll get a stomach cramp, causing you to double over, and drown!"

And I believed this until I read Mark Spitz saying he always had a burger right before he went swimming.
posted by eye of newt at 3:58 PM on November 19, 2011

My mom swears up and down I'm not allergic to dogs because I like dogs. She claims my regular allergy attacks and rashes around dogs are stress-related. She even argued with the doctor who was holding the blood test results because I like dogs. She is also likely allergic to dogs but, again, because she likes dogs, she can't be allergic to them even though every time she goes somewhere there aren't dogs, her allergies miraculously clear up.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:10 PM on November 19, 2011

There are a lot of pregnancy-related old wives' tales. Don't lift your arms above your head, you'll strangle the baby with the umbilical cord. If you're carrying low it's a boy.

Recently my friend's pregnant daughter asked her mom if she went swimming, would she drown the baby? Apparently this is a common one and women are told not to bathe.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2011

The bay leaf thing is true in a sense, though - it won't cut up your insides, but it is a choking hazard.
posted by limeonaire at 4:56 PM on November 19, 2011

Seconding the tonsil thing, except I had mine removed when I was 7 due to chronic illness which turned out to be undiagnosed allergies. Also, not from my parents but from the culture, that old, weird, bad advice about putting butter on burns. Probably the worst thing you could do to treat them. Great thread by the way.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 5:01 PM on November 19, 2011

"Grains are good, animal fat is bad." Don't know if it was my parents so much as the general climate of things.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 5:21 PM on November 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

You only sneeze when you feel cold.

If, while pregnant, your belly button juts out, it's a boy, if it stays a inny, it's a girl.
posted by Neekee at 5:22 PM on November 19, 2011

Someone I trust when it comes to these issues, my Mom, told me that being cold and wet actually can make it easier to catch common viruses because your body is under stress trying to remain warm and this somehow affects the immune system. But it does not give you a virus. She has lied to me before, so take that with a grain of salt.

A misconception I got growing up was that dragonflies are poisonous and can bite you. People called the darning needles or diamond needles, if you saw one you were supposed to go indoors. I am not kidding.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:47 PM on November 19, 2011

At my high school I heard several times that having sex a lot would give you certain kinds of pimples, and people could tell. I don't know what the supposed difference was.
posted by cmoj at 5:52 PM on November 19, 2011

What about that one where you're supposed to stay home when you have a cold so you don't make your co-workers sick ...oh the dirty looks we get as we snuffle our way through the day... didn't they conclude a few years back that the contagion period for colds is 7 days BEFORE you start showing symptoms? Or am I listening to incorrect bunk again?
posted by Ys at 5:52 PM on November 19, 2011

Someone I trust when it comes to these issues, my Mom, told me that being cold and wet actually can make it easier to catch common viruses because your body is under stress trying to remain warm and this somehow affects the immune system. But it does not give you a virus

Turns out this is also a misconception, sounds a bit more scientific than cold gives you colds but it turns out the complete opposite is true.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:57 PM on November 19, 2011

Wearing your hair in a ponytail will make you go bald.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:11 PM on November 19, 2011

Wait why do good girls not cross their legs? Good girls spread their legs?


One thing my grandfather swore was that razor burn was the mark of an impatient man ill-equipped to pay attention to detail. This, he implied, was a moral failing. Not sure if that's health-related but there you have it.
posted by dfriedman at 6:42 PM on November 19, 2011

My (Croatian born, Italian raised) grandmother would have an absolute shit attack if I ever carried anything she considered too heavy. Evidently her big concern was that it would cause varicose veins. I WAS FIVE, NONNI!
posted by msali at 7:50 PM on November 19, 2011

Oh, yeah, I have a port wine stain birthmark and, while not from my parents, I have heard just about every possible theory on what caused it, including most commonly:

- Your mom must have fell or been struck in just that spot while she was pregnant
- Your mom ate too many [insert red food here - berries are most commonly cited] while she was pregnant
- Your mom must have drunk wine, or too much wine, or really wanted wine, while she was pregnant

Actually, I take that back, some of the theories people have, I have (thankfully) never been told in person. Strangers are quite regularly rude about the mark, but I think some of those theories would be too much even for the brashest person to suggest in public!
posted by SMPA at 9:15 PM on November 19, 2011

If the food was on the floor for less than five seconds, it didn't pick up any floor-cooties.

Hey, there is at least a little support for the five second rule. Okay, it's not high powered design, but its something.
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:32 PM on November 19, 2011

My mother told me that making instant oatmeal with only enough water to make it thick and... well, oatmealy (as opposed to water with an occasional oat floating by), would cause me to develop stomach cancer and die at an early age because the oatmeal would instantly suck up all the water in my body and I would die. Apparently instantly and horribly.

I was told over and over again that eating English Muffins made my legs fat. And that bread went straight to your legs and nowhere else.

That all acne can be cured by scrubbing with antibacterial soap multiple times a day, and if you still have acne, it means you're not washing and therefore lazy. Then she told me to try Lysol on my face. Which, to be fair, I'm sure would cure all kinds of pesky things, like... I dunno, having eyesight.

When I was very little, I too was told and believed that seeds I swallowed would grow in my stomach until leaves came out my ears and nose and stuff. And that if I ate too much, it would literally pack up into my throat, and up and up, until I could see it in in the back of my mouth. Many a Thanksgiving was concluded with me racing to a mirror to look in my mouth and see how full I was.
posted by involution at 11:52 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watching too much tv (or sitting too close) would make you go blind.
posted by kinetic at 5:29 AM on November 20, 2011

Ad hominem: "A misconception I got growing up was that dragonflies are poisonous and can bite you."

They may not be poisonous, but I have been bitten trying to move a large specimen back outside. They have rather impressive mandibles.
posted by HFSH at 5:39 AM on November 20, 2011

Wait why do good girls not cross their legs? Good girls spread their legs?

No, good girls sit with their knees pressed together. Only loose girls cross their legs.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:12 AM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

The white marks you get on your fingernails are from lies you have told.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 7:50 AM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

My grandmother told me that eating bread crusts would make my hair curly, but it still didn't make me eat them since I didn't particularly want curly hair.

However now that I do sometimes eat bread crusts, my hair is in fact much curlier than it was when I was a kid!

posted by exceptinsects at 10:26 AM on November 20, 2011

Someone mentioned above that they were told they shouldn't wash their hair when they had their period--I'll go you one further. I was told you shouldn't take a bath at all when you had your period! Showers were okay, though, I guess because when you shower it's harder to get water "up there."

As for the sitting on concrete/cement thing, I had several kidney infections when I was a kid, and I remember the doctor telling me to my face it was because I spent too much time sitting on the stoop in front of my house when I was a kid. After that, when my friends would sit, I would have to stand, at least if my mother was around. I have no idea if there is any truth to that.
posted by ElizabethEllis at 10:52 AM on November 20, 2011

Don't swim after eating, or else you'll get horrible cramps and sink like a stone. This belief has been well-debunked for years.

I thought this was less of a belief and more of a thing parents say so they have time to clean up after a meal before supervising kids in the water.
posted by stopgap at 11:30 AM on November 20, 2011

"Sugar makes kids hyper." I'm at the age where some of my age have recently started spawning, and I was kind of surprised to see how many of them still believed this.

"Candy causes cavities." This is one where there is a kernel of truth in this, but it's long been misunderstood, and used to rationalize our Puritan-inspired notions about how deprivation and punishment is good for kids. There is a connection between carbohydrates and cavities, but it's not specific to sugar, and has to do with frequent and prolonged exposure, like sipping soda or juice all day, or a Kojack-level lollipop habit.

"The Pill causes weight gain and mood swings." Another example of Puritan ethics sneaking their way into our culture. Both of these myths are still very prevalent despite consistently failing to be confirmed in double-blind studies. The telling result from the various studies of hormonal oral birth control is the dramatically increased reporting of weight gain and mood swings among women taking placebo birth control vs. placebos in studies of other medications.
posted by patnasty at 12:29 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

"The Pill causes weight gain and mood swings."
Lol, whut? This is TRUE.

What's not true is that it will happen every time, to every woman who takes it, with every birth control pill. But some pills WILL do this to some women. I've been on 6 different hormonal birth control pills, and I switched that many times mostly because of how they affected my migraines, but also because a couple of them gave me horrible mood swings, and in one case, my body weight increased by almost 20% and I went up a cup size (going up a cup size past puberty basically never happens). My friends have had similar experiences with trying different pills that work for them. I know my anecdotes are not data, but, look, this is not a puritanical myth. I have dealt with this for years I have spoken with many doctors about it. Were all of the doctors (and in my case, neurologists as well due to the migraine factor) deluded men and women who were tricked by puritanism...? I would believe that the double-blind studies you refer to are due to the fact that different women will just respond to different pills differently, there's not going to be a single pill that makes all women of different backgrounds and body types ALL gain weight and have mood swings, but certain pills will definitely do this to some women. The copious types of pills with different doses and means of delivery and so on are not just because of the pharmaceutical industry going overboard, but because the different types of hormones and ways of absorbing them do affect different women and their bodies differently.

(Sorry if this is a derail, just really surprised by seeing that as a myth when it has been a difficult reality for me and others I know.)

As for the actual question... I was told that eating bread crusts would make my hair grow longer, specifically, "braids grow longer" (dunno why it was braids and not hair generally!).

I was also told the thing about cherry pits and so on growing cherry trees inside you, but never quite believed it... I did want it to be real though, I thought it would be so cool if there were cherries growing out of my ears and stuff!
posted by fireflies at 2:46 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

As a kid my mom always told me to not stand near the microwave while it was in use because the radiation is bad for you. A coworker recently told me that while this was true 40 years ago, newer units have radiation shields. However this is so engrained in me that I still step to the side when nuking food!

I have met a lot of people (African-American, in the South) who firmly believe that a woman who is menstruating should not hold a young baby because the baby could get sick.
posted by radioamy at 5:39 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wearing your hair in a ponytail will make you go bald.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:11 PM on November 19 [+] [!]

A friend who was in the military for about 10 years and always wore her hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail now has a receded hairline. So, there is that.

I've also gotten the "chewing gum stays in your stomach", "any kind of sugar rots your teeth" (no, Mom, I just inherited bad teeth from *your* side of the family), "swallowing seeds will make plants grow out of your ears", and "sitting in front of the television/reading in dim light will ruin your eyes". My dad also refused to eat potato peels and apple seeds because they had poisons in them -- as I understand it they do, but in such trace amounts you'd need to eat a truckload to see any ill effects.

These didn't come specifically from my parents, but from my host families in Romania I also heard versions of: "don't sit on cold concrete, it will freeze your ovaries" and "never go out with wet hair, even in the middle of summer". They also have a rabid fear of draughts indoors, any and all maladies get blamed on them. Toothache? It's the curent. Earache? Curent. Cold/flu/pneumonia? Curent. Backache? Curent. On a sweltering summer day you will have every old person on the tram *screaming* at you if you so much as crack a window to keep from passing out. Apparently you can stop it by stuffing your ears with garlic cloves or cotton.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 9:41 PM on November 20, 2011

if you bite your nails you ingest worms' eggs that you've picked up by playing outside and these will hatch in your stomach.

Being too close to the tv makes your eyes go square
posted by Gomoryhu at 8:01 AM on November 21, 2011

I was told by many female relatives that eating the tops of okra (especially the pickled variety) would make my boobs grow bigger.

Curiosity made me Google this before posting, to see if maybe it was just my family -- apparently not.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2011

Does milk cause mucus production? SPOILER: Nope.
posted by saveyoursanity at 12:16 PM on December 20, 2011

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