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5 Old Wives’ Tales You’ve Probably Heard a Million Times Before

We reveal which are true — and which are not


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My grandmother, a Polish immigrant, made my mother wear a homemade necklace of garlic cloves to ward off germs. What it did was ward off classmates, who ran away from the smell. Coincidentally, my mother tells me she rarely got the flu.

She filled me with a multitude of old wives’ tales, traditional folk healing that might not be backed by science. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Don’t go out with wet hair or you’ll get sick.

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As a child, I was forbidden to swim until an hour after eating, otherwise I’d drown, warned my mother. It’s true that after you eat, blood travels to the digestive system and away from muscles. Yet the Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council discredits a cause and effect between eating and drowning, according to “Old Wives’ Tales and Truths,” reported by McGill University’s Office for Science and Society.

Many physicians disclaim nontraditional health remedies. The oddest one I ever heard was putting onions in your socks to cure a cold — completely unproven. When I once asked my internist about a home remedy, he responded, “That’s a bubbeh mayseh,” an affectionate Yiddish expression that translates as a tale from a grandmother.

Natural health remedies have been around for centuries — well before we had flu vaccines and antibiotics. Are they just untrue stories or superstitions or is there some medical explanation?

Feed a cold, starve a fever ... or the opposite?

Everyone knows how miserable the common cold makes you feel. You can’t taste anything and your appetite disappears. It’s only natural to grab soothing liquids like soup; even if it doesn’t make your congestion miraculously disappear, it keeps you hydrated. My mother used to quip, “If you treat a cold, it’ll last seven days. If you don’t, it’ll last a week.”

Twelfth century physician Moses Maimonides advised his patients to use the iconic chicken soup cure. Today, chicken soup has been proven to increase mucus flow and perhaps help the body fight off viruses. A study by Stephen Rennard, M.D., a scientist at the University of Nebraska, found that chicken soup may have anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also filled with cysteine, a healing amino acid. Soup’s electrolytes replace lost potassium, offsetting dehydration. If you make your own soup, the best healing vegetables to add are carrots, onions and parsnips.

Eat carrots for better eyesight

How many times did our parents tell us that? How often did you urge your picky kids to munch a bunch? According to Insider’s “The Truth Behind Common Old Wives’ Tales,” “this tale is said to have roots in military propaganda during World War II, attempting to trick Nazis into thinking the British had superior eyesight.”

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Don’t expect to suddenly have 20/20 vision if you eat a bowl of carrot soup daily. Carrots do have lots of beta-carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A, yet the body can store only minimal amounts. Carrots are healthy, but their vision benefits are most effective in low light or darkness and in “keeping your corneas functioning,” according to Insider.

Joint pain predicts the weather

You may not have studied meteorology, but you’re convinced you can predict weather patterns based on increased knee, ankle and shoulder aches. “It’s believed that changes in barometric pressure trigger these sensations in the joints,” says Toni Golen, M.D., and Hope Ricciotti, M.D., in Harvard Health.

“When the atmospheric pressure and the pressure around our bodies goes down, our joints expand in an attempt to reach equilibrium,” explains Jonathan Jezequel, board certified orthopedic specialist and physical therapy manager at Optum in New York City. “If you have osteoarthritis, this expansion tends to produce a pain output.”

Current research is conflicting, but Jezequel says this type of pain is more than an old wives’ tale. “I’ve informally asked scientists about this, but no one could really offer firm proof,” he says. “But if you spend any time in a physical therapy clinic, you’ll hear clear anecdotal proof of the weather making joints hurt.”

Got a migraine? Put potatoes on your head

Practitioners of European folk medicine depended on potato cures for centuries. I’ve had migraines all my life but haven’t yet tried a forehead of potato slices to reduce the throbbing. Although modern science doesn’t back this up, there isn’t any harm in donning slices on your temples. Or you can eat potatoes, which are known to boost levels of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone, according to Robert Firpo-Cappiello in Prevention magazine.

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Most migraine sufferers tend to use over-the-counter pain relievers, eye shades and hydration to ward off pain. Others rely on caffeine, soaking their feet, and using magnesium and essential oils like lavender. Always discuss any herbal remedy with your doctor first.

Garlic cures colds, lowers blood pressure and helps prevent dementia

Curative properties of garlic stem back to Greek physician Hippocrates. Olympic athletes in ancient Greece used it to enhance performance.

Garlic’s nutritious compounds are sulfur, vitamin B6, vitamin C, fiber, and manganese. According to registered dietitian Amy Richter in Healthline, “garlic supplements are known to boost the function of the immune system” and could shorten colds.

Four cloves a day might lower blood pressure and LDL (the “bad cholesterol”) and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. More studies are needed.

Snackable garlic necklaces may turn out to be a healthy addition to your jewelry collection.

Share Your Experience: What old wives’ tale do you swear by? Tell us your secrets in the comments below.

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