Is This Real Science or an Old Wives' Tale?

SCIENCE

John Miller

5 Min Quiz

Feed a cold, starve a fever.

This one is rooted in Middle Ages-era medicine, so you know it’s not true. Whenever you’re sick, your body needs substantial nutrition in order to get better.

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If you swallow chewing gum, it will remain in your stomach for seven years.

The synthetic resin that makes up chewing gum doesn’t break down in your stomach’s acids. However, your intestinal system will pass the gum out of your body ... and it won’t take seven years.

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A long and hard labor means the baby might be a boy.

This one sounds like an old wives’ tale ... but there may actually be a grain of truth to it. A survey conducted in Ireland found that difficult labor was very frequently associated with boys, so frequently, in fact, that it can't be passed off as chance.

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Hot baths can harm men’s sperm.

Sperm don’t like high temperatures. So if a man takes a frequent hot baths, he may indeed damage the sperm in his testicles.

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Chew on parsley to stop bad breath.

Parsley contains chlorophyll, which really is a deodorizing agent. So yes, chomping that parsley really will help control bad breath.

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You should leave cuts exposed to air to dry them, that way they’ll heal faster.

Drying out your wounds is a bad idea. Actual science shows that moist wounds show faster cell growth, which speeds healing. Just be sure to keep wounds clean.

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Nibbling on ginger can ease travel sickness.

Ginger really has a calming action on the body. So if your body is suffering during traveling (or other stresses) ginger can soothe your gut and your mind.

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Duct tape can help cure warts.

It’s odd but true, if you apply duct tape regularly to a wart, it will often disappear. No one knows why for sure, but some people suspect that the tape starves the area of oxygen, making it harder for the wart to thrive.

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Microwaves destroy the healthy nutrients in foods.

Vitamins and minerals are indeed unstable at high temperatures, but microwaves can actually preserve these nutrients, in part because these devices require less time to cook foods.

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Carrots are good for your eyes.

No, carrots aren’t going to give you infrared night vision. But the healthy dose of vitamin A from this vegetable will definitely aid the health of your eyes.

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If you’re coughing up green mucus, you should seek antibiotics from your doctor.

In the olden days, doctors would prescribe certain medications depending on the color of the gunk you hacked up. No more.

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A drink will help cure a hangover.

The old "hair of the dog" treatment really won’t cure your hangover. You might get drunk again, though, which will make it less likely that you’ll notice being hungover.

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Chicken soup may help fight a common cold.

As it turns out, there’s some truth to this one. Ingredients in chicken soup may thwart inflammation in the body, aiding your recovery from a cold.

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Oily fish is good for your brain.

For generations, the old wives’ tale about oily fish indicated that these foods are good for the human brain. They were correct — the omega-3 components in oily fish really to support brain function.

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Going outside with wet hair will make you sick.

Not true. Cold in general doesn’t cause you to get sick anymore than people who sit in warm areas all day long. So go play in the snow. With wet hair.

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If you don’t exercise, your muscle fiber turns into fat.

Muscle fiber atrophies when it isn’t used ... but it doesn’t turn into fat. Any fat you happen to put on is probably because you’ve become too sedentary.

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If you suffer a burn, you should immediately run cold water on the burned area.

You should absolutely apply cold water to a burn. It will soothe the skin and put a stop to the burning process that damages your skin.

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Waking up sleepwalkers can send them into cardiac arrest.

It’s more dangerous for sleepwalkers to stumble around than it is for you to wake them. When you disrupt their slumber, they might be a little confused, but that’s it. Unless, of course, they are actually zombies, then they'll eat your brains.

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Eating cheese at bedtime can give you weird dreams.

This one isn’t well-established yet by science ... but, there actually may be truth to the idea of cheese causing bizarre dreams. So if you enjoy flying through space on a purple, three-headed donkey, pile on the mozzarella!

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Eating late at night contributes directly to weight gain.

Late night meals don’t add to weight gain anymore than food consumed at other times of the day. But eating a large pizza all by yourself at midnight is probably never a good idea.

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Smashed brown apples can stop diarrhea.

Those smashed applies really might work to stop intestinal issues. That’s because the pectin in the apples can absorb excess water in the bowels.

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Give ipecac syrup to children if they’ve been poisoned.

Let’s not add to the problem, folks. Ipecac syrup does induce vomiting, but it doesn’t actually help in the case of poisoning. Just get that kid to the ER, pronto.

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If you have heartburn during pregnancy, you may have a hairy baby on the way.

It’s bizarre but possibly true, possibly due to hormonal issues during pregnancy. So if you have a lot of heartburn, stock up on razors to shave your baby monkey.

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Humans use only about 10% of their brain cells.

This myth has been around for years, but it’s simply not true. That’s evidenced in part by people who suffer even minor brain damage — they all lose some sort of functionality.

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Honey can help keep a nasty cough under control.

Honey really does help soothe a cough. Not only does it help form a protective barrier over the irritated areas in your throat, but it can act as an antibacterial agent, too.

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Use butter to help a burn heal.

In days of yore, butter was thought to soothe burns and promote healing. In reality, the reverse is true — butter can actually create an evironment that sparks even more bacterial growth.

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Too much sugar makes children wild and crazy.

Kids are just hyperactive in general. Sugar doesn’t cause any sort of physical rush, as proven by multiple studies over the years.

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Use a tourniquet to stop bleeding.

You didn’t need that limb anyway, right? Tourniquets are a measure of last resort. Just apply pressure to the wound to stop bleeding, don’t go around tying off limbs and starving them of blood unless you’re a surgeon on a Civil War battlefield.

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Apply hydrogen peroxide to a wound to clean it and make it heal faster.

Nope. Dumping full-strength hydrogen peroxide on a wound is a great way to kill not only bacteria, but healthy cells, too. But yes, the bubbling is super fun to watch.

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Tilt your head back to staunch a nosebleed.

Forget cocking your head at an awkward angle to stop a bloody nose. Instead, pinch it gently and breath through your mouth until the bleeding stops.

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About This Quiz

Want to be big and strong and muscular? You have to chomp bags of spinach to really get those six-pack abs. Is that growing baby riding high in your abdomen? It’s probably going to be a girl. If it sits low, it’s a boy. These are examples of old wives’ tales, types of superstitions passed through the generations as truth. As it turns out, some of them really are true (at least partially). Others are flat-out false. In our quiz, do you think you can identify the old wives’ tales from real science?


It’s no mystery how old wives’ tales develop. People look for answers to various mysteries surrounding the human condition, and their answers are often totally silly, especially in hindsight.

Sometimes, old wives’ tales are simply proliferated to make children behave better. Other times, they offer folksy treatments for health woes — some of which make actually make you even sicker. Do you know which old wives’ medical aids may hurt instead of help?

If you eat too much ice cream at night, you’ll have nightmares. A bloody nose means you’re in the company of someone you’re attracted to. Chocolate will make your acne much worse. Cracking your knuckles will eventually cause arthritis. Do you know which of these is true? Or are they all simply myths?

Take our old wives’ tale versus real science quiz now! We’ll find out if you’re a candidate for medical school … or if you’re a witch in the making.

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