What we know about medicine is changing all the time.

From studies appearing in newspapers, to what our parents and grandparents may have told us when we were little; over time, theknowledge we acquire forms our views and opinions on health.

For GPs, these theories, valid or not, are part of the territory in our field of work; and with good reason. The human body is such a fascinating and complex subject that conflicting ideas and reasoning are to be expected.

People in general, not just mothers and ‘old wives’, like to provide their  insight when someone they know is faced with a certain phenomenon; and this is how tales and myths tend to circulate. What I’d like to do today is address some of those more popular health myths, and explain why they may not necessarily be true.


1. Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the degradation, over time, of the cartilage tissue between the joints. However, this is not caused by clicking joints. The sound is actually that of gas moving around in the synovial fluid capsules which house these joints. 


2. Coffee stunts your growth.

It is true that large amount of human growth hormone (HGH) are released while we’re asleep, and it is also true that excessive coffee consumption can make it harder to sleep. But the two are not thought to be directly related.


3. Starving a Fever, Feeding a Cold and Oranges Cure Flu.

The first two of these theories have their background in centuries-old studies into metabolism; and the idea that slowing this down or speeding it up with food could bring illness under control. In fact, the best dietary advice for someone with a cold or a fever is to eat as normally and healthily as possible, and to make sure they’re drinking enough water.  

This goes for flu sufferers as well. Having a healthy amount of vitamin C in your diet can contribute towards a healthy immune system and therefore aid you in fighting off or preventing flu. Spiking vitamin C levels will however, not ‘cure’ the virus.


4. Hair of the Dog.

Those who drink alcohol the morning after the night before may claim to, in rare cases, have enjoy temporary success at ‘curing’ their hangover. But they are in fact only compounding the severity at which headache and other symptoms will return later on. Rest and hydration are more sound coping strategies. 


5. 70% of Body Heat is Lost Through the Head. 

On average? Try around 7-10 per cent. Physical exertion can cause blood to rush to the brain, leading to an increase in the amount of heat which exits the body through the head. However, the body soon compensates, and blood flow and heat expulsion return to normal.


6. Carrots Help You See in the Dark.

Carrots contain a substance called beta carotene, which does contribute towards normal ocular function. But carrots are no different to other vitamin-rich vegetables in their capacity to maintain good eyesight.


7. Acne Means It’s a Girl and Chocolate Causes Spots.

Acne can come about as a result of fluctuating hormones in the body; and there are few periods during which they rise and fall more than in pregnancy. 

Similarly, the consumption of foods with a high sugar content can make conditions for acne-inducing bacteria more hospitable. But in this regard, chocolate is not an especially unique offender. Other factors, such as general cleanliness and overall diet, play a huge part.