The coronavirus crisis has you paying attention to widely circulated health information than ever. Some of it is essential and useful; some of it (particularly reports of home remedies or cures) is nonsense. And although much of the nonsense was quickly debunked, it got us thinking about how less-than-helpful health tips can endure through the years. Although none of these are as dangerous as drinking bleach—please don’t do that—these are the top “health” tips you should stop following immediately.
The CDC is still studying how you can develop immunity to the coronavirus—but having had it is no guarantee. “We do not know if the antibodies that result from SARS-CoV-2 infection will provide someone with immunity from a future infection,” they report. “If antibodies do provide immunity, we don’t know what titer or amount of antibodies would be protective or the duration that protection would last.”
This folk remedy belongs in the past—there’s no scientific basis for it. Your body runs a fever in response to an infection, and to recover from that illness, it needs plenty of nutrients, fluids and rest (including when you have coronavirus). When you’re running a temp, eat as normal, or as close to that as you feel able. Definitely don’t fast; you won’t be doing your body any favors.
Low-fat diets and processed foods became a craze in the 1980s. You know what else did? Obesity. Our bodies need fat to feel satiated—and some parts of the body, like the brain, are predominantly composed of fat and need it to function—otherwise, we just keep consuming calories. Ground your diet in lean protein and healthy fats, like the unsaturated kind in nuts, avocados and olive oil. Keep processed foods labeled “low-fat” out of your kitchen; they’re likely packed with sugar.
Like low-fat diets, another healthy-eating tip was gospel for decades: Avoid egg yolks; they’re high in cholesterol, so they can raise your blood cholesterol level, which can contribute to heart disease. Today, we know that the cholesterol we consume from food has little effect on blood cholesterol levels, and eggs are back on the menu. They’re a good source of protein, vitamin D and the B vitamins. Experts say it’s safe to have two egg yolks daily.
This used to be the guideline for the screening test for colorectal cancer. But rates of the disease have been rising in younger people—experts aren’t sure why—so much that the American Cancer Society recently revised its guidance, suggesting that first screening begin at age 45. If you’re approaching that age, talk with your doctor about what type of screening is best for you: a traditional colonoscopy, a less invasive test known as a flexible sigmoidoscopy, or a test that looks for blood in your stool.
Your parents and grandparents may have reported getting less sleep as they got older, but that doesn’t mean it’s a natural or healthy part of aging. Experts including the National Sleep Foundation say that adults of every age should get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly to keep your immune system in top shape and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
The internet is rife with products promising to detox your body—diets, drinks, supplements, and on and on. The truth is, they’re not necessary. The body has its own super-efficient detox system: the liver and kidneys. They’ll detox your body just fine, as long as you support them with a proper diet, exercise and limiting your use of harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco.
Juice might make you feel good, but it won’t “cleanse” your body. These regimens can also leave you feeling hungry, since juice eliminates satiating fiber from fruits and vegetables but keeps the sugar.
Many of us have been taking a daily multivitamin since childhood, believing it’s the route to better health. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that’s the case. Last year, researchers from Johns Hopkins evaluated studies involving almost half a million people and determined that multivitamins don’t lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline or early death. Their advice: Don’t waste your money on multivitamins; get the vitamins and minerals you need from food.
This is another health tip that’s been around so long it’s gospel. And it’s definitely a good idea to stay hydrated. But according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, “eight a day” isn’t right for everyone—some people might need less water, some might need more, particularly depending on your activity level and environment. A good rule of thumb: Drink water when you feel thirsty, and enough to keep your urine colorless or light yellow.
Although it’s true that eating a large meal right before bed isn’t a great idea—it can keep you awake and lead to acid reflux—your body doesn’t automatically convert food into fat after a certain hour. In fact, some experts recommend having a small, protein-rich snack before bed to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Physical activity is key to maintaining a healthy weight (and overall health) and losing a few pounds if that’s your goal. But spending hours on the treadmill can be counterproductive: Long periods of intense exercise causes the body to release cortisol, a stress hormone that tells it to hang on to fat. Instead of marathon cardio sessions, look into being more generally active and workouts like HIIT (high intensity interval training), which have been shown to be effective for fat loss.
This used to be the golden rule of weight loss, but today experts advise concentrating on whole foods—including lean protein and healthy fats—and avoiding processed foods and added sugar instead of counting calories. The reasons? You’ll feel less deprived, which will make it easier and more enjoyable to view your eating regimen as a healthy lifestyle change instead of something punitive.
According to Harvard Medical School, taking vitamin C is only “marginally beneficial” when you have a cold—200 mg a day can reduce the duration of a cold by about 8%. But it’s not a cure, and taking it daily won’t reduce your risk of getting a cold.
Diet experts once recommended avoiding full-fat dairy if you didn’t want to gain weight. But research has shown that drinking full-fat milk—and consuming other full-fat dairy products like yogurt—can actually help keep your weight down. Why? It’s more filling, so it helps keep you from consuming calories from other sources
We’re awash in information these days, and it seems like everyone is looking for miracle cures and cutting-edge tips. But these can be downright dangerous if they don’t come from legitimate sources and solid studies. Do your research online, but trust your doctors.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.