Year-End Clearance: All Medical Myths Must Go!


Sorry, moms: it turns out that reading in low light won’t make you go blind; going hatless in the winter won’t make you freeze to death; and you could eat poinsettias all day and not be poisoned.

All this holiday medical myth-busting and more is courtesy of our somber friends at the British Medical Journal (part one and part two).

Of course, you probably didn’t need the British Medical Journal to tell you that — a quick Google search would have popped the bubble on each of the three myths we mentioned.

The internet may be good at slaying old myths. But if myths can spread like viruses, do they also respond under the pressures of natural selection by evolving?

Google might cure you of the myth that turkey-borne tryptophan is what makes you sleepy at Thanksgiving. But WebMD might give you imaginary Restless Leg Syndrome.

Happy New Year to all and feel free to share your favorite medical myths in the comment section below.

(Hat tip: Chris Blattman)


giving children candy will make them hyperactive, even if temporarily.

Buzz Flewhart

More babies are not born during a full moon.


#5 a teaspoon full of suger does get rid of hiccups. Maybe not for everyone, but I've been using that remedy for years and it hasn't failed me once. Once I take that sugar, hiccups are non-existant. Not even one more. Or at least not until the next bout with them. (Which is usually weeks in between)


Chiropracters provide mrdically sound treatment.

Dr. Rick

Cranberry juice is of no benefit to your urinary tract in any way , shape or form. Sorry, Ocean Spray.


and here we see the real problem, as the first actual scientific facts get added to the list of things to be debunked.

Yes it's true, for up to 45 minutes after eating you are less able to exert your strength and therefore less good a swimmer.


Watching TV in the dark is bad for your eyes is an oldie but a goodie. That you only use 10% of your brain is also an oldie but recently it's becoming better-known to be false.

As for poinsettia toxicity ... they may not be "toxic" by a strict definition, but I've found -- through harsh experience -- that they can definitely make plant-nibbling cats sick to their stomachs. Not badly enough to require a vet visit, but knowing they can cause my cats to feel ill, I'm not keeping poinsettias in my house. It may not be correct to call them "toxic," but with cats around, I effectively treat them as though they are.

And about restless-leg syndrome ... I can't say how "real" this disorder is. But I recall reading about RLS in a general-health book full of doctor-recommended "home remedies" printed back in the early 80s -- by Consumer Reports, if memory serves. So it can't be something that was "invented" in the last few years to sell drugs, which is a myth I often hear. It's older than that. FWIW, if I remember correctly, the home remedy for RLS was heat, cold, or both (alternating), applied to the lower legs.



If you cross your eyes they can become stuck.

Any of the cider vinegar remedies.


I've heard sleep doctors explain that Restless Leg Syndrome is a real condition. The problem with RLS is that the advertisement made it sound like everyone could have it. That marketing ploy doesn't change the fact that it's a real problem.

You can find all sorts of debunked myths on In fact, whenever I get a urgent email forward from family members, I immediately get the snopes article refuting it, hit reply-all, and correct the idiotic statement.

David Chowes, New York City


Thank God -- some quite wise and intelligent people have validated my long standing beliefs.

My mother made into a critical thinking scientifically appreciating human.


Just one area of a plethora of examples: as a child, to me she would say, "I got a bad cold today! And I know how I got it.' 'Really?' I would ask.

'Yes, you see, I left the widow open a half inch and a draft must have blown on me. That caused me to get sick and I have to be more careful in the future.'

My response: 'How do you know that?'

Her response: ' What else could have caused this terrible cold?'

This type of thinking drove me crazy! But like the virus which
"caused" my mom's cold... With Americans (perhaps) obtaining more formal education, it has spread ever more widely during recent years...

The preference of untested "alternative medicine" over scientifically scrutinized clinical practice by many,... Acupuncture, many vitamins used as treatments and prophylactics, St. John's Wart, going to your GNC store or friends for an ameliorative effect for your 'disorder du jour.'

Hey! Don't you know about NATURAL REMISSSION and THE PLACEBO EFFECT? And that the clerk at your friendly local vitamin and other natural 'paliatives' establishment
is, at best, working on the basis of anecdotal data? And, at worse, he/her is thinking, in the main, of the bottom line: more $$$.

And please allow me the indulgence of alluding to the CAUSE AND EFFECT FALLACY -- which explains my mother's many irrational rationales. And the 'thought processes of so many 'sophisticated' Americans.

I'm getting real angry! So, 'nuf said!



Eating carrots will help you see at night. I gorged myself with carrots as a kid thinking maybe, given enough of them, I could maybe see through a incredibly disappointing.


Masturbation will not make you go blind, cause hair to grow on your palms or cause you to break out with acne. The last one is correlation, not causation.


"of course everyone is sick now; what with the temperature being warm one day, cold the next you don't know how to dress!" Now I just nod as I guess everybody is getting tired of my replying "Actually, I subscribe to the germ-theory of disease".

David Chowes, New York City

[Re: Comment #30]

However, I definetly do believe in the widespread existence of the disorder "Medical Myth Syndrome."

One of the major pharmaceutical companies has received FDA approval for this prodcuct which has helped many patients. The patented name is: PLACEDIUM.

On the many TV ads, this malady is referred to as: "MMS."

Should you suspect that you or, someone you know is suffering from "MMS," be sure to ask your phtsician about PLACEDIUM.

Caveat Emptor

Myth: Knowing economics is useful, and will keep you off the dole.

David Knutsen

A teaspoon of dry white sugar DOES cure hiccups. I have been using this remedy for 50 years, for myself and all members of my family.


Talking about the craziest myths:

I have a 6 month old baby boy.

The other day he had a very bad case of hiccups, and my mother told me to get a red thread about a couple inches long and wet it with my own saliva and stick to the baby's forehead.

I laughed at her, I mocked her, I ridiculized her. I told her it was the more absurd remedy I've heard of. I asked her to give me any medical or scientific explanation on why a saliva wet red thread on a baby's foreheqad would stop the hiccups. She, obviously, wasn't able to provide me with any reasonable explanation, but insisted on her idea.

In the end, I did the red thread thing just to prove her wrong.

But I had to shut up my mouth because (I'd like to think it was just a coincidence) when I put the thread on my baby's forehead, the hiccups stopped instantly!!

Pierce Randall

I like the myth in Korea that leaving an electric fan on at night can cause sudden death by asphyxiation (other explanations for the death also exist). Many fans sold in Korea automatically shut off every 5 minutes for this reason.

My least favorite myth is that MSG is bad for people who are not allergic to MSG. The so-called "Chinese Food Syndrome" was a joke misinterpreted by the shrill maligners of anything with a chemical-sounding name in food. In any event, glutamate -- the flavor overexcitor and the "G" in MSG -- is in tons of stuff naturally: soy sauce, meat, mushrooms, seaweed, etc. Yeah, it may be addictive, and it may even push Lay's potato chips, but it's not going to get you sick.


This blog entry saddens me. People with RLS suffer from a very real and life-affecting problem. Ridiculing those people is a pretty clear cut case of bigotry.

"Look ma - someone who isn't like us! HAW-HAW!"


Eating chocolate does not cause acne.