Health Lies You Need To STOP Believing

8_health_myths_introIllustrated by Anna Suduit.
Yeah, we know — WebMD is your best friend. But, there's a lot of misinformation out there on the wide, wide web. There's something really empowering about living in an age where near-endless resources help you have a two-way relationship with your doctor, not to mention a fuller understanding of your own body and mind. Unfortunately, though, the Internet doesn't (yet) have a dedicated team of robots to appropriately label the true, the false, and the as-yet-unproven information for your benefit. Until it does, it's up to us humans to sift through the masses of new health and wellness research, and to take everything we read with a grain — nay, a pile — of salt.
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With that in mind, we donned our best Mythbusters cosplay to take on a couple of common lies about your health — and what did we find? Nothing but the truth.
8_health_myths_slide6Illustrated by Anna Suduit.
The myth: Teenagers need insane amounts of sleep, but once you hit 20, six is enough.
The truth: There's no magical switch that turns when you go from 19-and-364-days to 20. Sleep behaviors, like just about anything else, change gradually. If you find you're not sleeping as deeply as you did back in high school, don't assume it's just because you're getting older and that's normal. The general consensus is that sleep more often matches changes in overall health than age — so, just because you're 30 doesn't mean you're sleeping better than a 40-year-old, and just because you're 28 doesn't mean you have to sleep worse than you did when you were 15.
Sleep needs vary a lot from person to person, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it's perfectly normal for adults to need seven to eight hours, and for some individuals, as much as nine hours a night (a number usually — and incorrectly — reserved for teenagers).
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8_health_myths_slide8Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The myth: Vaginal odors are a sign that something is wrong and you are gross.
The truth: Not only are most vaginal odors totally normal, they change throughout your menstrual cycle. So, the idea that a clean or desirable vagina has a particular smell is just unreasonable, because two weeks later, that same vagina might be giving off completely different vibes. Douching might seem like a good option, but aside from being potentially dangerous, it's not going to change anything in the long term. A healthy vagina will return to normal and produce the same odor as before.
Normal smells generally come from vaginal flora (a bacterial population, not flowers) that fluctuates with sweat, changes in hormones caused by birth control, or even sex. Sometimes, a particularly strong or unusual odor can be a sign of something like bacterial vaginosis or vaginitis, but many other infections don't cause any odor, so it's really not a good indicator of anything. If you suspect something's wrong, check with your gynecologist before you follow your nose.
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The myth: You need to take approximately one million multivitamins a day or else you will die.
The truth: Okay, that was a bit dramatic, but Americans spend millions on vitamins and supplements every year — and that number is only getting bigger, having jumped 39% between 2003 and 2006. So, clearly, we think they're pretty important. However, in between your rabid vitamin feedings, you may have noticed a much-cited study popping up around the internet of late. It broke the news in a big way, stating, flat-out, that "most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided." That includes everything from antioxidants to vitamins A, B, and E.
Dr. Eliseo Guallar, one of the study's authors, says that "a good part of the marketing has been done on these supplements is misleading...a healthy and varied diet according to recommendations is much better than taking supplements." While vitamins are demonstrably beneficial in certain specific cases (particularly prenatal vitamins such as folic acid), no studies have been able to show conclusive benefits towards preventing cancer or chronic illnesses, and Guallar says some may even be potentially harmful because "a single supplement can have many, many times the amount [of a vitamin that] you would ever get through a normal diet."
8_health_myths_slide2Illustrated by Anna Suduit.
The myth: The point of dental hygiene is to clean your teeth.
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The truth: Yes, clean teeth are important and wonderful and magical. But, they're just the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to maintaining a healthy mouth (and, as your dentist probably told you regardless of whether or not you were listening, a healthy mouth can prevent a lot of other, larger issues). When you're brushing your teeth, you're not just cleaning a day's worth of snacks off your pearly whites; you're stimulating your gums. Sure, a teeth-cleaning regimen without toothpaste and mouthwash might feel pointless, but its the brushing itself that's keeping your gums healthy.
Recent research suggests a link between inflamed, unhealthy gums and heart disease — and while it's not conclusive, it's definitely something dentists like Laura Ruof, DDS, take into consideration. Dr. Ruof says that while the research on heart-problem/periodontal-disease linkage is "just starting," it's important to note that gum health is crucial to overall dental health. "Gum is a living tissue," she explains, and "underneath the gums is the bone; if the gums aren't healthy, the bone is next to go, so keeping your gums healthy actually keeps your teeth healthy, as well." Additionally, she recommends using a gentle sweeping motion rather than rigorous, side-to-side brushing along the gumline.
8_health_myths_slide7Illustrated by Anna Suduit.
The myth: You can "target" weight loss by doing extra crunches/lunges/what-have-you.
The truth: Strength training does not equal fat burning. This "targeting" myth is particularly dangerous because it seems logical to the average, well-informed person. By, say, working extra hard on the muscles in your abdomen, you can change the muscle-to-fat ratio, and therefore appear more muscular and/or toned, right?
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Not quite. Yes, you can increase the size of your muscles in a particular area by using focused exercises like sit-ups or bicep curls, and that can make muscles appear more defined in comparison to fatty areas. But, it will have very little effect on the fat in that area. If you see results, it's because you're decreasing fat through another portion of your workout. Studies have shown that BMI, fat distribution, and even waist-to-hip ratio is genetically determined — meaning that while different types and amount of aerobic exercise may affect the rate of fat loss, the pattern and distribution will remain the same.
8_health_myths_slide1Illustrated by Anna Suduit.
The myth: Meeting your fitness tracker's daily goal means you are basically an Olympic athlete.
The truth: We have nothing against fitness trackers. In fact, we love fitness trackers, due in no small part to the fact that they've become more and more wearable with our daily stack of bracelets and bangles. Part of the reason these goal-setting, step-tracking gadgets work is because they take advantage of the much-lauded technological technique of gamification. Like a slightly less soul-crushing version of Candy Crush, trackers tap right into your most competitive nature to put you in a race against your own laziness.
However, the truth is that all exercise isn't created equal. Yes, 10,000 steps is better than 1,000. But, are those — forgive us — quality steps? As you probably know, cardio is the holy grail of exercise, and feeling that dreaded "burn" is key to making progress in any kind of fitness routine. The CDC gives specific recommendations on target heart rate for moderate and intense exercise, but interestingly enough, workout intensity can also be measured by your "perceived exertion." That means that even if you met a high daily-steps goal, if you didn't feel like you were exerting yourself, you probably weren't.
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That's not to say walking as much as you can every day is a bad thing. In fact, a fitness tracker or some other kind of movement goal that easily integrates into everyday life is a great way to combat a sedentary, Netflix-based lifestyle. Just don't forget that a stroll around the block isn't equivalent to a long jog or a dance class. Like a balanced breakfast, a good workout has many different parts that work best in harmony.
8_health_myths_slide3Illustrated by Anna Suduit.
The myth: Vitamin C is proof that God exists and will cure everything.
The truth: The proof is in the placebo. A comprehensive study a few years back looked at over 11,000 consumers of the tart stuff and found that, despite downing some 200 milligrams a day, the common cold was still just as common in the subjects.
But, wait! Not all is lost. The same study did find a small reduction in the duration of colds in both adults and children, and researchers said that could potentially be capitalized on with a larger dose. Until that's proven, though, you might want to start looking for a different justification for those times you chug orange juice straight out of the carton.
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8_health_myths_slide4Illustrated by Anna Suduit.
The myth: There are all kinds of fun ways to detox yourself, like hanging out with crystals and sticking things on your feet and drinking a bunch of juice!
The truth: This is our generation's snake oil. You don't need to spend a ton of money on fancy things to detox yourself, because your body already comes with a built-in detoxing system. It's called your liver. Give yourself a pat on the mid-abdomen and say hello.
The liver isn't a lone soldier, either. It works with your kidneys, your colon, and even your skin (which pushes out some toxins through sweat). Technically speaking, a "toxin" can be just about anything; some are even safe in most doses but become toxic at high levels. The more commonly referred-to toxins, like pthalates or BPAs, come from the environment as well as from the food you eat. Toxins can even come in the form of hormones your own body produces, which need to be recycled or expelled after they've done their job. To get all those organs working in tandem to detox your body, all you need to do is drink plenty of water and eat foods high in calcium, folate, and vitamins B3, B6, B12, A, C, and E (read more about that here).
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