5 commonly believed medical myths: from brain damage to brain size


Many of us have heard the axiom, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” While the sentiment of this statement suggests that a healthy diet will help reduce visits to the doctor’s office, the literal meaning isn’t necessarily accurate.

While few people take the above saying at face value, many people live their lives believing health-related advice that is anything but factual.

Here are five commonly believed medical myths that have been officially debunked.


1. You need eight glasses of water a day


We have all heard this one. Despite how excessive it sounds, there are people who do try to meet this quota. While the origin of this myth remains unknown, the facts have been announced time and time again to no avail. The eight-by-eight rule is a gross overestimate of how much water we really need; a significant portion of the water we need comes from the food we eat.

Most recently, general practitioner Margaret McCartney debunked this myth in the British Medical Journal in 2011, concluding that the myth is “nonsense,” according to a July 14, 2011, Huffington Post article by Amanda Chan.

“From what I can see, there’s never been any evidence in the medical literature about it,” McCartney said in the article.


2. Cracking your knuckles will lead to arthritis


Most everybody has done this one at some point in their lives. People crack their knuckles when they get bored in class; it almost becomes a ritual. I am certainly guilty of this. My mom has certainly tried to plead with me to stop, believing that she was just trying to protect my hands.

The good news is that this myth was debunked in 1990 in the largest study to explore a link to arthritis. Published in The Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, the study examined 300 healthy people over the age of 45, of whom 74 were habitual knuckle crackers. The rates of arthritis were similar in both groups, giving no conclusive evidence of the connection between arthritis and knuckle popping, meaning you can go ahead and annoy your classmates when your fingers get fidgety without the worry of future joint damage. On the other hand (pun intended), however, most studies have shown that knuckle cracking will lead to other side effects like a weakened grip strength, and sensitivity.


3. You shouldn’t let someone with a concussion fall asleep


The origins of this myth are unknown; the belief that people with a concussion could not be allowed to sleep was most likely just due to the fear of more serious brain damage. One of the symptoms of a concussion is fatigue. This symptom exists for a reason; it is your brain trying to tell you something.

“Sleeping is actually the best thing for a concussed individual. Getting physical and mental rest helps someone recover from a concussion,” said Chris Hummel, certified athletic trainer and clinical associate professor at Ithaca College in a March 29 Ithaca College media release.

A concussion can cause the brain to swell, and staying awake and fighting off sleep actually increases blood flow to the brain because of the strenuous mental activity. Pumping more blood into a swelling brain is exactly what isn’t going to help.

With all of this said, it is still important to seek medical attention when necessary. Head injuries are a very serious matter, and concussions should be diagnosed by a qualified professional. If you suspect someone to be seriously injured, take him or her to a hospital immediately.


4. Getting the flu shot will protect you from the stomach flu


This is more of a misconception than a myth. First, people need to understand that the term “flu” is short for influenza, which is a respiratory virus. The “stomach flu” is something that affects your intestinal tract; in fact, the “stomach flu” doesn’t really exist.

The origins of this myth began when people started using “the flu” to refer to whatever general sickness they had. Eventually, whenever people started spewing from both ends, they just called it the stomach flu. If you have ever had to experience this type of hardship, chances are you had something called gastroenteritis, which can be caused by anything from a virus to food-borne parasites. This is important to understand because both are treated very differently — meaning if you take Dayquil for your “stomach flu,” absolutely nothing will happen at all.


5. We only use 10 percent of our brain


This one gets used time and time again, and many continue to argue in informal conversation that it is true. Simply put, if we only used 10 percent of our brains, we would either be in a coma or dead.

This myth has been wrongfully attributed to Albert Einstein, who intended to suggest we have so much potential for our mental capabilities.

Whenever doctors or scientists are looking at the recordings made from brain EEGs, PET scans or any type of brain scan, no part of the brain just sits idle. Besides, why would our brains have evolved to a greater size if so much of it were going unused?


Alex Ondracek is a junior in biology. Please send comments to [email protected]