It's amazing what people will believe just because they've heard it so many times. This applies even more to medical myths. If something sounds plausible enough, people will not only believe it, but propagate it. The worst part about this is that it is "medical" information that is being passed on from person to person, and because no one bothers to verify anything beyond a quick Wikipedia search, the misinformation spreads like a virus. Pun intended.
So after a suggestion from reader Justyna, I've decided to compile a list of some of the more common medical myths in a stupid and useless attempt to dispell them.
MYTH: A woman's ovaries alternate releasing an egg each month.
FACT: Studies show that it's basically a 50/50 chance, which makes much more sense than the body somehow "remembering" which ovary released the egg last month.
MYTH: Going outside in a cold rain without a coat and/or hat will cause you to catch a cold.
FACT: Even my wife continues to propagate this one. She knows full well that the reason people catch colds during cold weather season is because they are more common in cold weather season, not because the virus can somehow magically detect that its next victim forgot a hat.
MYTH: You lose most of your body heat through your head. So put on a hat to stay warm!
FACT: This one sounds right - your head is the highest part of your body, and heat rises, right? Wrong. This information came from a misguided study of soldiers which found that they lost their body heat through their heads. The problem with the study is that the soldiers' heads were the only part of their bodies that weren't covered. Heat radiates out through every part of your body equally, so the head, which comprises about 9% of the body surface area, loses about 9% of the body heat.
MYTH: You need to drink 8 glasses of water a day.
FACT: My mother said this so many times she may as well have tattooed it on my forehead. The fact is if you're thirsty, you need to drink something. If you aren't, you don't.
MYTH: Chewing gum takes 7 years to pass through your GI system.
COROLLARY: You have 7 pounds of undigested meat sitting in your GI system.
FACT: This one is just as true as "If you swallow a watermelon seed, a watermelon plant will grow in your stomach". And many vegetarians tout the corollary as a reason not to eat meat. This one is just pure and utter codswallop. There is no ball of meat sitting in your intestine and causing cancer, and gum will simply pass through your system undigested, much like a coin. Full stop.
MYTH: Eating turkey makes you tired because of the tryptophan.
FACT: No, no, and no. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in all meat, and turkey is no exception. However, even a supposed extra dose of tryptophan isn't enough to make you tired. If you eat a huge meal, you'll get tired. The turkey has nothing to do with it, so leave the poor turkeys alone. If you don't believe me, the Mythbusters busted this one too.
MYTH: "We just have to get the bullet out and he'll be fine!"
FACT: I saw this one on TV just yesterday, and it drives me absolutely bonkers. Think about it - if a bullet passes through the body, what do you think is more important: getting an inert slug out or, oh I don't know, fixing the holes that the bullet made as it went through stuff? Every time I see a doctor on TV reaching in with pliers to pull out a bullet and breathing a huge sigh of relief as he pulls it out, I cringe. Goddammit, ignore the bullet and fix the holes!!
MYTH: We only use 10% of our brains.
FACT: Well, I'm not exactly sure where this one came from, but if it were true, we'd all act like vegetables.
Of all the myths I've listed, the last one is definitely closest to the truth, at least for a majority of my patients, it seems.