4 medical myths fact-checked against the science

By Alistair Gardiner
Published March 18, 2021

Key Takeaways

Many of us grew up hearing that certain foods and habits can be miracle cures, while others can spell disaster for health. Some of these nostalgic tales are unproven, but others hold a kernel of truth. Here are the facts behind some well-worn medical beliefs, according to research and health experts.

Chicken soup has healing properties 

When you got sick as a child, there’s a good chance a bowl of steaming chicken soup arrived at your bedside, along with the promise of its healing properties. But is there any scientific evidence behind this age-old remedy? According to family medicine specialist Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, the answer is yes—sort of.

“Sipping soup warms your nasal passages and allows you to clear out the mucus, helping you feel better,” noted Dr. Iroku-Malize, in an article on The Well, a website sponsored by Northwell Health. In addition, consuming any kind of hot liquid can help slow the attack of white blood cells, which will lower levels of inflammation, the article noted. Of course, this may slow the speed at which your body fights off the virus, but it will relieve symptoms a little.

When you’re sick, symptoms like fever, vomiting, and diarrhea can leave you dehydrated, so drinking lots of fluids is important. Dehydration can make it harder for your body to regulate its temperature, and leave your mucous membrane cells unable to act as a barrier to bacteria.

In addition, chicken soup is usually packed with nutrients, although some of them may be more effective at preventing illness than curing it. The protein and zinc in the chicken, and vitamin A in the carrots, can boost the immune system and help body tissue recover, according to The Well article. Other ingredients, like garlic, onion, and ginger, have antiviral properties.

In short, while it’s no miracle cure, the fluids and nutrients in chicken soup could help alleviate cold symptoms or prevent you from getting sick in the first place.

Chicken soup isn’t the only food with a reputation for healing properties. Garlic, citrus fruit, pomegranates, almonds, and mushrooms fall into this category, too. 

Being cold gives you a cold

There are more than 200 viruses that cause the symptoms of “the common cold,” according to the CDC. Given this moniker, it’s no surprise that when our mothers told us we needed to wear our coats or we'd catch a cold, we took it as fact. According to medical experts, our moms were right—but for the wrong reason. 

Going out in cold weather doesn’t make us sick; exposure to bacteria or viruses does. However, lower temperatures weaken our immune systems and make us more vulnerable to contracting an illness, according to an article published on Verywell Health, a health information website.

During cold months, lower humidity dries out our skin, eyes, lungs, and the mucous membranes in our noses, all of which lower our defenses to viral invaders. Additionally, rhinoviruses like the common cold thrive in colder temperatures; they’re able to multiply and survive better. Plus, when it’s cold, people tend to spend more time indoors in closer proximity with others, which can assist the virus in moving from person to person.

Fewer hours of sunlight during winter months can also leave us deficient in vitamin D, which is another blow to the immune system. So, while cold weather doesn’t make you sick, it can leave your immune system struggling to maintain its defenses.

Read on to learn more about popular remedies for the common cold, including zinc, vitamin C, and more.

Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis 

Cracking your knuckles, neck, or other joints is a source of satisfaction for some, and an annoying habit to others. For those who fall into the latter camp, one of the most oft-cited reasons we’re told to stop is that the habit will increase our chances of getting arthritis.

But is it true? The answer is a resounding “No,” according to orthopedic surgeon Robert Klapper, MD, co-director of the Cedars Sinai Joint Replacement Program in Los Angeles.  

Our joints are surrounded with synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant, reducing friction during movement and protecting cartilage, explained Dr. Klapper. Synovial fluid contains a number of gases, including nitrogen. When you crack your neck or knuckles, you end up stretching the joint capsule, which causes a rapid release of gas. 

The popping you hear is the sound of nitrogen bubbles bursting. It typically takes around 20 minutes before the nitrogen bubbles reform in the fluid, at which point you could crack them again.

According to Dr. Klapper, this habit does not lead to arthritis and, in fact, does no harm to your joints. He noted, however, that if you experience any pain or discomfort when you crack your joints, it could be a sign of an underlying condition, like gout—and, yes, even arthritis. In that case, it might be time to see a doctor.

Carrots improve eyesight

This myth dates back to World War II, when the British Royal Air Force started a rumor that a carrot-heavy diet gave its pilots the ability to see better at night in order to hide the fact that they were using radar for the first time.

Carrots cannot give you 20-20 vision or give you night vision. However, as registered dietitian Densie Webb noted in an article on the website Berkeley Wellness, there is some scientific basis behind this lore. 

Carrots are a good source of beta carotene, which the body converts to a form of vitamin A called retinal. While this molecule is vital for maintaining normal vision, most Americans get enough through a normal diet. Consuming more of it won’t make your vision better. 

That said, beta carotene can help in cases of age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness for people over 55 in the United States, or for those with a condition that causes malabsorption issues.

So, yes, carrots do boost components that are good for vision, but eating large quantities of them won’t make your eyesight better, and certainly won’t allow you to see in the dark.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter