It’s the season for medical myths

Posted on December 19, 2008


At the very least, that seems to be the case when it comes to the BBC News website. Last year, just before Christmas, they had an article listing seven often held beliefs that are most likely untrue, including the idea that reading in poor light damages eye-sight (I think that I’d have been willing to tick that box as a ‘yes’). I’m quite sure that my wife believes in another of them – that hair grows back faster and thicker after shaving. This year, the BBC has six more for us:

  • Hangover cures – there does not seem to be any that work. Not being one to overindulge too often I didn’t really have any thoughts on that.
  • Eating late causes weight gain. How about the argument that since people are supposed to eat three meals a day, it is the fourth, fifth and sixth meals late in the day that get you? No, I don’t fall for that one, either.
  • Sugar causes hyperactivity in children. I knew that was false but had earlier thought it was correct.
  • Most heat is lost through the head. That only seems to be the case if the rest of the body is warmly covered up and the head is left exposed. Otherwise there is nothing special about the head. You might as well leave your left leg exposed and claim most heat is lost through it.
  • Poinsettia is poisonous. First I’d heard of the idea.
  • Greater number of suicides at Christmas. Especially during a full moon and if it happens to be a Friday.

The category of medical myths is interesting to me as I wonder whether they are in any way connected to superstitions. In fact, I wonder if Lindeman and Aarnio have done any correlation studies for medical myths and superstitions. I’ll need to look back through my copies of their articles. They seem similar in that the connections that are imagined are usually based on fairly naive folk notions of how the world works. The notions tend to be vague and explanations that are given often seem to have a post hoc quality to them, something that seems to be true of a significant number of superstitions.