Old Wives’ Tales: Truth or Superstition?

Ever heard the advice “don’t go outside in the cold with your hair wet”? Or what about “wait an hour after eating before swimming”? These phrases are well-known old wives’ tales. According to dictionary.com, an old wives’ tale is “a superstition or traditional belief that is regarded as unscientific or incorrect.” Most of the time, these tales are based on alleged advice, folklore, and legends passed down through generations by older women. While these old wives’ tales originated from a place of heart, many of been proven false and to be only a myth, such as the following tales.

Wait an hour after eating before swimming –

You may not need to wait a complete hour after a meal before heading into the water, but it is suggested to wait until your food is fully digested. It may be only five minutes, but be aware that a bigger meal will take longer for your body to digest. Avoid swimming or strenuous activity after a large meal for a bit.

If you go outside in cold weather with wet hair, you’ll catch a cold –

This is one I remember being said when I was growing up. Viruses are the culprits that cause colds, not cold weather or wet hair. Viruses are easier to catch in cold weather, due to their ability to spread more easily indoors.

Chocolate causes acne –

This old wives’ tale is (thankfully) false. Research has shown no connection between the sweet treat and acne. Yet, too many sugary, high-fat foods should be consumed in moderation.

Reading in the dark will damage your eyes –

Based on research, reading in dark or dim light will not cause lasting damage, except it can cause eyestrain. However, good lighting will help prevent eye fatigue and squinting.

Eating carrots will improve your eyesight –

Research has proven that carrots do help improve a person’s eyesight, but you don’t need to eat large quantities to reap the benefit.  Researchers believe this tale may date back to World War II. According to British intelligence officers, their pilots during the war had wonderful night vision, due to eating a lot of carrots. In reality, the British pilots were actually using radar, but wanted to cover up this form of technology from the Germans.

Too much TV or sitting close to the TV is bad for your eyes –

Watching television is not bad for a person’s eyes, no matter how far away they are from the screen. Like other old wives’ tales, watching too much TV can cause eye fatigue and it is suggested to split up your time with other activities, such as reading, spending time outdoors, etc.

Feed a cold, starve a fever –

Within this piece of advice, it is suggested for people with colds to eat, while others with a fever to stay away from food. The truth is to actually drink tons of liquids and eat regular meals to help ease the symptoms of a cold and a fever. Taking in additional nutrients will help the sick person get well faster.

Spicy foods cause ulcers –

The fact about spicy foods is, while they don’t cause ulcers, they can still cause irritation.

While the majority of old wives’ tales are false, believe it or not, there are a few that have been confirmed true.

Fish is a brain food –

Different types of fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are known to help with brain function. The key thing to know – be careful of the high levels of mercury within fish. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is suggested to only eat swordfish, shark, or tuna only once per month or not at all for pregnant women or those of childbearing age.

Loud noises cause hearing loss –

Loud noises can cause hearing loss…just temporarily. These noises cause the eardrum to vibrate extensively and the tiny hairs in the cochlea to change the sound into electrical signals. The brain then processes these signals into hearing loss. Just 15 minutes of loud noise can lead to tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, and hearing loss for a day or two. Over time, loud noises can turn into permanent hearing less. Just be careful as to how loud you listen to your music, TV, and more. When in doubt, turn down the volume or wear headphones.

There are many more famous old wives’ tales that people will continue to follow and pass to their family and friends. Whether the tales are true or false, they are valuable and beloved traditions that will last throughout the course of time.




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