Get smarter with this facts-first guide

Medical myths that survive despite contrary research are dangerous.

Myth: Chewing gum stays in your stomach for seven years

Fact: While it is true that many of the ingredients in gum, such as elastomers, resins and waxes, are indigestible, that does not mean they hang in our guts for eternity. Plenty of what we eat including recommended edibles such as fibre, is indigestible. However, the digestive system is a robust piece of organic machinery, and anything it can't absorb, moves along. Despite the stickiness and strange consistency of gum, it passes right through your digestive tract and into the toilet bowl.

Myth: Reading in the dark or sitting too close to the TV ruins eyesight

Fact: Dim light, or staring into the multicoloured tube at close range, can undoubtedly make your eyes work so hard that they hurt. However, there is no evidence that these practices cause long-term damage. The TV myth may have started in the 1960s, and at that time, it may have been true. Some early colour TV sets emitted high amounts of radiation that could have caused eye damage, but this problem has long been remedied, and today's TV and computer monitors are relatively safe. If you tend to sit so close to the computer or TV it hurts the eyes, it may be time to check for nearsightedness.

Myth: Vaccines cause the flu

Fact: While there is a possibility that our body can react to any shot with a low-grade fever, rumours that a flu shot causes the flu are not quite true. The flu shot does contain dead flu viruses but they are, as their name suggests, 'dead'. And a dead virus cannot be resurrected to cause a flu.

Myth: Supplements make you healthier

Fact: Really? Research suggests the reverse. In fact, an increasing number of studies say that vitamin supplementation may not only be ineffectual, but also hazardous to your health. A study published this year in the journal Cancer Research linked fish oil supplements with cancer in mice. On the other hand, there is no need to worry about overdosing if the 'good-for-you' compound is coming from real food, rather than a pill. Go natural, we say.

Myth: Cold weather makes you sick

Fact: Studies have shown we may feel more cold symptoms, real or imaginary, when we are chilled, but the temperature does not make us more susceptible to viruses. Studies have shown when shivering in a frigid room or stuttering in an icy bath, people are no more likely to get sick after sniffing cold germs than they are in warmer climes. Scientists speculate that colds are more common in cooler months because people stay indoors more, interacting more closely with one another and giving germs an opportunity to spread.

Myth: You need to stay awake if you've had a concussion

Fact: While concussions always merit medical attention, they are rarely severe or lifethreatening. Warnings to stay awake after a concussion grew out of a misunderstanding about a particular type of head injury that involves brain bleeding, where a lucid period is followed by a coma. However, this is uncommon and doesn't concern people with normal concussions.

Myth: You should wait an hour after eating before you go swimming

Fact: There is no special reason not to swim after eating. Sure, any type of vigorous exercise can be uncomfortable (although not dangerous) after eating a hearty meal, but for most of us whose waterfront dining experience includes fried chips and sandwiches, that is hardly a concern. And cramps can happen anytime, whether you've eaten or not.

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