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The truth about those old wives' tales

The truth about those old wives' tales
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Will you a catch a cold with wet hair? Will your potato salad go bad in the heat? Does a drink help a hangover? We’ve got the answers that debunk (or defend) common old wives’ tales.

Old wives’ tale: Peeing on a jellyfish sting alleviates the pain

Old wives’ tale: Peeing on a jellyfish sting alleviates the pain
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This old wives’ tale is certainly effective in deterring people from coming too close to jellyfish. After all, no one wants to purposely pee on themselves – or worse, have a friend do it. However, many of you will be surprised (and some, a bit regretful) to learn that the tale is not actually true.

Jellyfish stings result from millions of stinging cells on a jellyfish’s tentacle, known as nematocytes, injecting venom into the skin. After getting stung, rather than heading straight to the bathroom – or commissioning a brave friend to come with you – follow three simple steps to alleviate the pain: First, remove the tentacles with something other than your fingers (to prevent further stinging). Next, disable the nematocytes by pouring an acidic compound, such as vinegar, on the site of the sting. Finally, use a flat object to scrape off the stinging cells, and voilà, you have treated your jellyfish sting – without the use of urine!

Here are 15 more health myths that make doctors cringe. 

Old wives’ tale: You can’t swim after eating, or you may drown

Old wives’ tale: You can’t swim after eating, or you may drown
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The old wives’ tale that you can’t swim after eating is not actually true – although you’ve probably heard your mother say it countless times. Cue the eye-roll and dramatic sigh over all those lost minutes in the pool. This myth assumes that after eating, the body diverts blood from your limbs to the digestive tract, depleting your arms and legs of enough blood to swim. While it is true that digestion requires extra blood, the body does not drain the limbs of enough blood to work properly. According to Duke Health, the worst thing that could happen from swimming after eating is a small, harmless cramp.

Old wives’ tale: If you’re carrying high, it’s a girl. If you’re carrying low, it’s a boy.

Old wives’ tale: If you’re carrying high, it’s a girl. If you’re carrying low, it’s a boy.
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Many expecting parents decide to be surprised by the sex of their baby, adding a layer of suspense to their nine-month journey. Yet, even the strongest wills can be tantalised by anticipation, with many parents wondering if the adage “if you’re carrying high it’s a girl and if you’re carrying low, it’s a boy” is true. According to Adina Holand Keller, MD Associate Chief of OB/GYN, “When a woman is pregnant you can’t tell the sex of the baby based on how the woman is carrying the baby. If a woman looks like she is carrying high or low, it is based on the size and position of the baby and the shape of her pelvis.” Unfortunately, the only verified ways to uncover the sex of your baby are to indulge your desires and ask your doctor – or wait until the big day!

Old wives’ tale: If you cross your eyes for too long, they will get stuck that way

Old wives’ tale: If you cross your eyes for too long, they will get stuck that way
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It happens the same way for everyone. One minute you’re sitting in your high-chair, minding your own business, experimenting with this new eye-trick that you’ve discovered – when suddenly your mother drops the bomb: “If you cross your eyes for too long, they will get stuck that way!” Obviously, internal panic ensues, as you scramble to correct your eyes and ensure that it’s not too late for them to be saved. The jury is finally back on this claim, however, and the verdict is that it’s bogus.

According to Stephen Kronwith, MD, PhD, Chief of Pediatric Ophthalmology at NYU Winthrop Hospital, “Children cross their eyes for fun, but they can’t hold the position for long, and it’s not dangerous. They’ll see double, but it won’t leave any permanent issues.” His advice? “Just ignore it, and they’ll stop doing it,” Dr. Kronwith says.

Here are 51 favourite facts you’ve always believed that are actually false. 

Old wives’ tale: Bees are only attracted to the colour yellow

Old wives’ tale: Bees are only attracted to the colour yellow
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Have you ever noticed a bee hovering dangerously close to your yellow shirt and instantly longed to be wearing the blue one you tossed aside that morning? You’re probably familiar with the old wives’ tale that bees are only attracted to the colour yellow. Surprisingly, however, this is just a myth. According to the New York Botanical Garden, bees perceive colour differently than humans, making them able to recognise colours on the lighter end of the spectrum – like yellow or green. On the other hand, bees see all darker colours as black. Due to their limited eyesight, bees are more likely to pollinate lightly coloured flowers and gravitate toward light clothing (which in their minds are potential flowers). Bottom line? The next time you wish for a blue shirt to relieve you of a bee’s attention, think again!

Don’t miss these 45 interesting facts about your favourite animals.

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Old wives’ tale: Bulls hate the colour red

Old wives’ tale: Bulls hate the colour red
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Bullfighting fans are familiar with the traditional blood-red flag, known as a “muleta,” that the matador dangles in front of his bull opponent, challenging it to charge. While many people believe that the bull chases the flag because of its inherent hatred for the colour red, this is not actually true. In reality, bulls are completely colour blind and are equally as bothered by green and blue flags as they are by red ones. So, what makes the bull surge towards a flapping red flag? The bull is actually instigated by the muleta’s motion, as the matador waves it around the ring.

Old wives’ tale: You should always follow the “five-second rule”

Old wives’ tale: You should always follow the “five-second rule”
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If you’ve ever let a freshly bought snack slip from your fingers, you’ve probably thought about following the “five-second rule.” This famous rule implies that food can lie on the ground for five whole seconds before becoming contaminated by bacteria. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence of a golden window in which food can be dropped and safely recovered. Arefa Cassobhoy, MD, MPH, medical editor at WebMD, previously told Reader’s Digest what doctors really think about the five-second rule: “Eating food that’s fallen to the ground does come with a risk of taking in bacteria known to cause food poisoning. Research shows food will instantaneously pick up bacteria from the surface it lands on.” Though it may pain you to part with your food, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Here are 5 food safety tips for proper food handling. 

Old wives’ tale: It takes 7 years to digest a piece of gum

Old wives’ tale: It takes 7 years to digest a piece of gum
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This ubiquitous old wives’ tale probably manifests in the back of your mind each time your gum loses its flavour and there is no garbage bin in sight. Performing a quick cost-benefit-analysis of your options, you ask yourself whether swallowing this gum now is worth carrying it in your body for the next seven years. While it is true that the synthetic portion of chewing gum is indigestible by the human body, it does not just sit in your stomach for several years. Instead, your stomach periodically empties its waste into the small intestine, which soon passes it along to the colon. Within a week, the swallowed gum will reemerge in your stool.

Old wives’ tale: Coffee stunts your growth

Old wives’ tale: Coffee stunts your growth
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You probably heard this old wives’ tale a lot when you were younger, each time that you were denied a taste of your parents’ coffee on the basis that it will stunt your growth. Coffee lovers (and curious kids) rejoice, however, as this common warning is actually a myth! According to Johns Hopkins, the caffeine present in coffee will not affect children’s growth patterns. Furthermore, coffee consumption is actually linked to numerous health benefits, such as the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, abnormal heart rhythms, strokes, certain cancers and many other diseases.

Here are 10 things that happen to your body when you quit coffee. 

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Reader’s Digest Magazine delayed due to coronavirus
Please be advised that due to the current lockdown in Malaysia and the Philippines, Reader’s Digest magazine will not be available at its regular on-sale date to our subscribers or through our retail channels in these regions. We hope to have the issues available around 15 April in Malaysia and around 24 April in the Philippines, but this is dependent on when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. We sincerely apologise for this inconvenience.
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– The Reader’s Digest team