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A doctor answers your questions

Hands up if your mother convinced you that the cold you caught was a result of that *one* time you stepped out of the house with slightly damp hair? Hands up if she then proceeded to dose you up on excessive amounts of vitamin C to clear your blocked nose and sore throat?

Hands up if you spent your teenage years smearing Colgate toothpaste all over your face to try and clear that breakout?

And hands up if your wise old mother also convinced you that the only reason rabbits have night vision is because they eat lots of carrots, and therefore you should too?

Mate, if I had a penny for every one of these myths I’ve fallen for and proceeded to believe, let’s just say I would not be working a full-time job and taking advantage of all the free office food.

And that’s right, they’re just that – myths.

Babylon Health and UK-based GP Dr Haider Al-Hilaly teamed up to debunk the top 20 Googled health myths – and mum, I love ya, but you need to read this now.

The 20 most Googled health myths debunked

1. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day

Google Result Hits: 1,760,000

Doctor’s Verdict: There is no evidence to support this, and it’s actually thought to have originated from cereal companies. A high fibre breakfast – as opposed to sugary cereals – will make you feel fuller for longer and make you less likely to snack before lunch.

2. Toothpaste can help heal spots

Google Result Hits: 1,550,000

Doctor’s Verdict: It depends on the type of toothpaste. Most contain several chemicals which can reduce inflammation, however, it is not as kind on your skin as proper spot medication.

3. Sugar makes you hyperactive

Google Result Hits: 1,380,000

Doctor’s Verdict: False. Doctors actually employ the use of sugar in infants and babies to soothe them after a painful procedure. Lots of studies have confirmed that sugar does not lead to behaviour change in children (or adults), but we can ‘observe’ a change of behaviour due to the expectation.

4. We only use 10 per cent of our brain

Google Result Hits: 1,140,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Several studies have shown through MRI scans on subjects’ brains that most of the brain is engaged while performing tasks.

5. A glass of red wine a day is good for you

Google Result Hits: 1,100,000

Doctor’s Verdict: This myth was based on observational studies of those who had a glass of red wine a day but did not take into account their other habits. Recent changes in ‘recommended’ weekly units of alcohol are in keeping with the evidence that alcohol is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

6. The most skin damage by the sun is done before age 18

Google Result Hits: 819,000

Doctor’s Verdict: You always need to be sensible in the sun and wear adequate SPF protection. Older people may be more susceptible to skin damage in the sun because skin thins with age and loses its ability to hold moisture.

7. Muscle turns to fat when you don’t exercise

Google Result Hits: 790,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Muscle cells hypertrophy (grow larger and multiply) when you exercise. If you stop exercising, the muscles will atrophy (get smaller) but they won’t convert to a different cell type and turn into fat.

8. Carrots make your vision stronger in the dark

Google Result Hits: 627,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Carrots contain beta carotene which, when consumed, is converted into vitamin A, proven to be good for eye health. However, the myth that your eyesight can become stronger in the dark is false and originates from WWII propaganda.

9. Vaccines cause autism

Google Result Hits: 440,000

Doctor’s Verdict: No link has been found despite copious research. There are lots of risk factors known to contribute to autism, including: advanced age in either parent, premature birth, low birth weight, being a twin/multiple pregnancy and pregnancies spaced less than one year apart.

10. You lose 90 per cent of your body heat through your head

Google Result Hits: 414,000

Doctor’s Verdict: You lose most of your body heat through uncovered skin. We feel colder in some places due to how many blood vessels are there, e.g. upper body/head/peripheries.

11. Vitamin C prevents colds

Google Result Hits: 408,000

Doctor’s Verdict: There’s no evidence to support this. Vitamin C can help the immune system function better in general but not fight a virus.

12. If you go outside with wet hair you can catch a cold

Google Result Hits: 313,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Colds are viruses and can be contracted at any time, including in the summer. The reason we associate them with cold weather is because people tend to congregate in small spaces for warmth and cold viruses are then more likely to be passed around.

13. Pull out a grey hair and two grow in its place

Google Result Hits: 291,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Hair follicles contain one hair and anchor it into the skin. They help hair grow in this area for years, then can take a break. The act of pulling out a hair forcibly does not cause two to develop in its place, and the colour of the hair makes no difference to this.

14. Wifi causes cancer

Google Result Hits: 255,000

Doctor’s Verdict: There is no good evidence. A few studies have suggested an association with an increased risk, however the radiation emitted by WIFI is not the type that can cause direct damage to human tissues and no accredited study has proven that WIFI causes cell change or cancer.

15. Coffee enemas cleanse your body of toxins

Google Result Hits: 250,000

Doctor’s Verdict: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that coffee enemas are helpful in treating any condition. A working digestive system does enough to rid the body of waste and toxins. Waste in the colon is not toxic and does not need to be cleared.

16. A pregnant woman shouldn’t exercise because it is bad for her and the baby

Google Result Hits: 229,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Most exercise – especially core exercises that can relieve back pain – are actually beneficial. There are specific ones to avoid however such as anything that leads to you lying flat on your back, contact sports, deep sea diving/scuba diving and exercising over 2,500m above sea level.

17. Gluten is bad for your digestive system

Google Result Hits: 224,000

Doctor’s Verdict: This is true only if you have coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity.

18. The pain of a jellyfish sting is relieved if you urinate on it

Google Result Hits: 221,000

Doctor’s Verdict: There is no evidence to support this. The best thing to do in this situation is to wash the sting with salt water. Most stings are alkaline but urine isn’t always acidic so it could potentially make things worse.

19. Juice cleanses rid your body of toxins

Google Result Hits: 175,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Our body detoxifies itself through the digestive tract, liver, lungs and kidneys. Juice cleanses may contain less calories and fat than normal meals and make us lose weight, but they don’t ‘detoxify’ anything.

20. It takes 7 years to digest gum

Google Result Hits: 163,000

Doctor’s Verdict: Gum is mostly indigestible. It passes harmlessly through the gut and is excreted in a normal amount of time, however swallowing large amounts could result in blockages in the intestines.

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