Calling something an “old wives’ tale” isn’t usually seen as a compliment – rather, it’s meant to be dismissive.
But considering how long some of these tales have endured, perhaps there is something to them after all. You may have heard these from your own mother or grandmother way back when…
Here are five popular health tips that may be myths, or may contain some truth about modern-day treatments wrapped in a mother’s wisdom.
1. Spicy food causes ulcers
For decades it was believed that spicy foods were the culprit behind ulcers, sores in the lining of the stomach. Not so! According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, the truth is that ulcers have two main causes: an infectious germ called Helicobacter pylori and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen – not picante salsa.
So enjoy that spicy food! Chili powder, for one, is great for vitamin A and C, potent health protectors.
2. A glass of warm milk helps you sleep
Night-time comfort! Did your mother ever serve you a glass of warm milk at bedtime? She may have been onto something. As the New York Times reports, milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that induces drowsiness. This amino acid is the same reason you feel like a nap after your Thanksgiving meal; it’s also found in turkey.
That said, research shows that eating protein-rich foods can reduce the effects of tryptophan, so while milk does contain the amino acid that may not be why a warm glass of the drink makes you want to get under the covers. It’s possible that this is one of those health tips that work because of the placebo effect.
3. A chilly room will make you sick
“You’ll catch your death of cold!” You may have heard that one before, whether it was because you went outside without a coat in damp weather or went to bed in a drafty bedroom. This is one old wives’ tale that just doesn’t hold up. Colds are caused by viruses and bacteria, not by being in a cold room or outside on a chilly day. You’re more likely to catch a cold in the winter because you’re spending more time inside, which makes it easier to pick up germs, not because of the cooler temperatures.
So if you like to sleep in a cool room, go ahead. Fixing those drafty windows won’t do anything for your health, but it may improve your electricity bills.
4. Back sleepers snore more
If you live with a snorer you’ll do anything for a quiet night, including taping a tennis ball to your beloved’s back in order to keep them sleeping on their side. (Just try it!) There are multiple factors that determine whether or not a person is one of America’s 90 million snorers: Weight, age and anatomical differences are a few of them.
But according to the National Sleep Foundation, back sleeping could be a factor as well. Of course, it’s hard to change what you do when you’re asleep, but some people have had success with sleep position training treatments. And it’s a good idea for chronic snorers to get tested for sleep apnea, which is treatable and can seriously affect quality of life.
5. Stress makes you go grey
You might not be able to blame your kids and their shenanigans for those faded strands. Greying is related to the aging process: As we get older we run out of the melanocytes that give our hair its pigment. But whether or not we have silver strands is determined by a variety of factors, Scientific American confirms.
Much of it comes down to genetics, but there is evidence that stress can affect melanocyte production. And a study released last year found that stress led to white hair in mice. All good reasons to tell your kids and grandkids to cause you less stress before you have to spend their inheritances on coloring treatments.