25 Myths About The Human Body – Debunked!
We’ve all been through the cringey health class days, but was everything they taught true? Between myths passed on by parents (or grandparents), the failings of our school system, and misconceptions in the media, we’ve been taught a lot of false things. Read on to find out what “facts” about ourselves and our bodies are completely false.
1. Juices are not going to detoxify your body
Myth: Juice cleanses flush toxins out of your body.
This isn’t true. You already have organs that get rid of toxic chemicals in your blood: your kidneys and your liver. They’re busy taking the crap out of your blood so the body can excrete it while you’re downing criminally expensive juices.
Most people have no idea what “toxins” they’re trying to remove, either. Sure, drinking juice can be healthy — if it doesn’t have loads of added sugar and still contains fiber. Thin, watery juice is probably doing next to nothing for you. Oh, and those colon cleanses? They’re BS, too.
2. You don’t need to drink 8 glasses of water a day
Myth: You need to drink eight 8-oz glasses of water per day.
In 1945, the Food and Nutrition Board recommended that people need 2.5 liters of water per day. People took this to heart and started preaching the whole “eight glasses of water per day” ideal. But it seems no one read the recommendation’s next line: “Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”
You consume water through fruits, vegetables, tea, juice, and other foods and beverages. While you should be drinking water, you don’t have to get all 2.5 liters straight from the source. There aren’t any real scientific recommendations for how much water everyone should drink per day because it’s highly dependent on things like what you eat and where you live.
3. You don’t swallow spiders while sleeping
Myth: You swallow eight spiders a year while sleeping.
This is probably a relief: you do not swallow eight spiders a year while sleeping. You probably don’t even swallow one. To spiders, we are like giant rocks in their landscapes. When we’re sleeping, we’re producing vibrations from breathing, pumping blood, and snoring.
Spiders are very attuned to vibrations, so they most likely find sleeping people to be scary. The eight-legged critters probably rarely approach sleeping people. Also, it’s highly likely you would wake up if you felt a spider crawling on your face. If it does happen, it’s a random occurrence, not a regular eight per year.
4. Watching TV up close doesn’t damage your eyesight
Myth: Sitting too close to the TV is bad for your eyesight.
Once upon a time, this myth was not a myth: The first television sets emitted radiation that actually could give people eye problems if they regularly sat near the TV. However, in the 1950s people began making TVs with shielding to keep the radiation from affecting viewers.
If you sit close to a TV and spend a long time watching it, you could experience eyestrain, but the symptoms aren’t permanent. Eyestrain, characterized by soreness, blurred vision, headaches, and other symptoms, is caused by looking at any digital screen for too long.
5. You don’t lose most of your body heat through your head
Myth: You lose 40 to 45 percent of your body heat through your head.
Apparently, this myth comes from a US military experiment in which people were dressed in Arctic suits and exposed to extraordinarily cold conditions. Their heads were left uncovered, so naturally, they lost most of their body heat that way.
However, if you measured heat loss from someone in just swim trunks, the story would be very different. It’s more accurate to say that you lose about 10 percent of your body heat through your head when you aren’t dressed (it matters which body parts are clothed!). However, your face, head, and chest are more sensitive to temperature changes.
6. Your deoxygenated blood isn’t blue
Myth: Deoxygenated blood is blue, which is why your veins are blue.
Your eyes are lying to you: All of your blood is red. Some of it is bright red and some is dark red, depending on its oxygen content, but you aren’t blue-blooded like a horseshoe crab. So why are your veins blue? It’s a result of how light penetrates your skin.
Blue light wavelengths are reflected off your skin, not absorbed, so the veins appear blue. Human blood is red because it contains a lot of iron, which doesn’t absorb red light. Meanwhile, horseshoe crab blood is bright blue because it has a high copper content. Also, it’s saving lives in the medical field.
7. We have more than five senses
Myth: Humans have five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.
While these five senses may be helpful to think about when doing creative writing, they don’t tell the whole story. This myth originated with Aristotle, who came up with this list because they are the senses you can obviously see. But we humans sense all kinds of other things!
We have proprioception, which is our ability to sense where our body parts are. For example, it’s how you can keep your eye on the ball and still catch it with your hand. And our ears don’t just hear, they also help with our sense of balance. Plus, we have thermoception, the sense of temperature, among other senses.
8. Your fingernails and hair do not grow after you die
Myth: Fingernails and hair keep growing after you die.
After a person dies, their cells stay functioning for differing amounts of time. Nerve cells die within a few minutes, but skin cells can live for around 12 hours. Fingernails, however, grow by making new cells, which require glucose. And since the supply of glucose no longer flows once you’re dead, you can’t make new cells, and your fingernails don’t grow.
It’s pretty much the same with hair: The growing process needs oxygen, which the follicle no longer gets once you die. This myth originates from the fact that when you die, your skin becomes dehydrated and retracts, making your nails and hair appear longer.
9. We use a lot more than 10% of our brain
Myth: A person only uses 10% of their brain throughout life.
It’s unclear exactly where this myth came from, but it appears to have originated with some scientist in the late 1800s or early 1900s (possibly a pretentious Albert Einstein). At certain moments, you may only use 10 percent of your brain, like while simply resting and thinking.
However, during the course of an average day, you will use basically every part of your brain (sorry to burst your bubble, but that terrible movie Lucy will never come true). In reality, 10 percent of our brain cells are neurons and the rest are glial cells, which surround neurons. Glial cells are poorly understood, but appear to contribute to our ability to think.
10. Your tongue isn’t zoned for tasting
Myth: Certain parts of your tongue have different taste receptors: sweetness is tasted with the tongue tip, salty and sour are tasted on the sides, and bitter receptors are toward the back.
The taste receptors for sweet, salty, sour, and bitter are actually scattered all across your tongue. This myth originated in 1901, from a paper by a German scientist. He found that the edges of your tongue are more sensitive to tastes than the middle.
Plus, it seems the different sections of the tongue might have a slight sensitivity toward one taste or another, but nothing as absolute as the oft-taught map. The roof of your mouth and throat even sense these different tastes. And this “tongue map” never accounted for the fifth taste: umami.
11. You can’t catch warts from a toad or frog
Myth: Touching a frog or toad can give you warts.
You were probably warned as a kid to not touch toads for fear of getting warts. Sure, toads are bumpy, but there’s no reason to think those bumps are contagious. However, the bumps behind a toad’s ears can contain poison.
So there is some danger in touching a toad, since touching their bumps can irritate the skin of humans or predators. Warts, on the other hand, are caused by a human virus. They are caught via touch, either skin-to-skin or through an object that both people handled. They’re usually pretty harmless.
12. Sugar doesn’t make kids hyper (for the most part)
Myth: Eating sugar makes kids hyper.
For the most part, scientific studies have found that sugar has little to no effect on child behavior. There are kids who might be more sensitive to it, like maybe those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but it doesn’t have a huge effect on hyper behavior.
Parents are prejudiced against sugar; they believe it causes kids to be hyper and so that’s what they see. They’re not thinking about the fact that children often eat sugar at exciting events, like birthdays and holidays, which are already making them energetic. But while added sugar most likely isn’t making your kid hyper, it still isn’t all that healthy.
13. Your hair doesn’t grow back thicker or darker
Myth: Shaved hair grows back darker and thicker than it was before.
You can’t win: First, you’re told to shave your body hair, then you’re told it’ll grow back even worse. Well, science can’t fix society’s expectations and disgust toward body hair, but it can give you a little peace of mind. When you shave, your hair is not growing back thicker or darker.
The hair appears a little different when it grows back because the original hair had a tapered tip; the newly cut hair is blunt at the end. That can make the hair feel coarse or stubbly for a bit. This applies to facial hair as well as body hair.
14. Humans did not evolve from chimps or monkeys
Myth: Humans evolved directly from chimpanzees and monkeys.
Yes, evolution is real, but people have plenty of misconceptions about how it works. All the animals we see today are the result of thousands of years or more of evolution. The species have all been changing and adapting to be their best selves today. So, no, humans did not evolve from chimpanzees or that cute little monkey.
The truth is that we share a common ancestor with the other apes. This ancestor lived around 7 million years ago (give or take a million), after which something changed to make it evolve into two separate lineages. One became gorillas, chimps, and bonobos, while the other became hominids and thus us humans.
15. Alcohol does not kill your brain cells
Myth: Drinking alcohol will kill some of your brain cells.
Sure, pure alcohol probably could kill your brain cells. But no one is drinking pure alcohol (at least we hope not). When scientists compared the brains of alcoholics with non-alcoholics, they found no real difference in the number of neurons between the two groups.
What does happen when you drink is this: Your neurons’ dendrites, the things they use to communicate with each other, become damaged. This accounts for the impaired brain functioning you feel while drinking. Luckily, your body repairs the damage, so it’s temporary. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to other brain issues that aren’t myths.
16. There’s no such thing as a right-brained or left-brained person
Myth: Creative people predominantly use the right half of their brain while analytical people mainly use the left half.
This is simply just a figure of speech. Yes, there are people who are more artistic and those that tend toward numbers and data, but it most likely has nothing to do with which side of their brain they use. Like we already learned, everyone uses their whole brain (unless a part is damaged).
One study compared 1,000 young people and compared the active parts of their brain with their personalities. They found no sidedness. Certain functions are tied to particular regions, like the back of the brain is crucial for vision, but it seems everyone uses their whole brain.
17. Your appendix is (probably) not useless
Myth: The human appendix is a leftover organ that one of our ancestors once used but is now useless to us.
Your appendix is a small organ attached to your cecum, which connects your small intestine to your large intestine. For many years, scientists thought that it doesn’t do anything anymore and had a long lost function, like wisdom teeth. But science in the 21st century is suggesting that theory was wrong.
The new hypothesis is that your appendix acts as a home for wayward good bacteria. This is supported by a study that found people without their appendix are four times more likely to get the bacterial infection Clostridium difficile (aka C. diff). Plus, the appendix has evolved at least 30 separate times in different mammal lineages, yet rarely disappears.
18. Green or yellow mucus isn’t a sure sign of a bacterial infection
Myth: Green or yellow colored mucus means you have a bacterial infection.
Sure, it sometimes indicates that you have a bacterial infection. But the color can also be from a viral infection like the common cold. In this case, the nasal discharge might start out clear and then become colored from an increase of immune cells in it.
The mucus color can tell you something, though. Often, a bacterial infection will start with greenish, yellowish mucus while a viral infection will start with clear mucus, later developing the snotty color. Bacterial infections usually last longer and viral infections can’t be treated with antibiotics, but sometimes you can get both at once.
19. Coffee doesn’t sober you up
Myth: Drinking coffee while drunk will make you sober.
This isn’t true and it’s a rather dangerous myth. The truth is a little more complicated because the coffee does do something. About two hours after drinking alcohol, people get sleepy. So if you have coffee at this time, the caffeine makes you more alert and awake.
However, while coffee can remove the alcohol’s tiredness effect, it does not remove alcohol’s impairment of your cognitive abilities (remember, your dendrites are damaged). So this can be dangerous because the energy from the coffee can make people think they’re sober and ready to drive. Don’t do that.
20. Gum doesn’t stay in your stomach for seven years
Myth: Swallowed chewing gum stays in your stomach for seven years.
We’ve all heard the tale: Chewing gum stays in your stomach for seven years after you swallow it. Well, the first tip-off that this isn’t true is in the very specific number seven. Where did that come from? Who knows.
While it’s true your body can’t digest gum, the glob just passes through your digestive tract and back out again. However, if you were to swallow copious amounts of gum, it could block your intestines. So maybe don’t do that. Plus, that makes a pretty compelling argument to keep kids from swallowing their gum.
21. Tongue rolling is not genetic
Myth: The ability to roll or curl your tongue is genetic.
Whether you’re rolling your tongue into a taco or a triple taco (aka that wacky W shape), you’re not getting that gift from a single gene. Sure, in 1940 a geneticist published a paper saying that the tongue rolling ability came from a dominant gene, but in 1952 a different scientist disproved that. He found seven pairs of identical twins in which one could do it and the other couldn’t.
The original geneticist acknowledged his mistake, but the myth perpetuated. It’s in science textbooks and taught in schools. So what gives people the ability? It might be multiple genes that affect the ability, but some people can practice and learn to do it.
22. Fingerprints aren’t as unique as you’ve been told
Myth: Every fingerprint is completely unique.
There’s really no way for scientists to determine if each and every fingerprint is completely unique. And considering someone actually did find two identical snowflakes (at least, identical under a microscope) it seems that this common belief could be false.
Combine this lack of knowledge with the justice system and you have a bit of a mess. Jurors often believe that a fingerprint “match” is a sure sign of guilt. But when you take into consideration the fact that forensic scientists often only find partial prints at a crime scene, it becomes worrying if those are being “matched” to the wrong person.
23. Swimming after eating is just fine
Myth: You have to wait 30 minutes between eating and swimming, or else your blood will be diverted away from your limbs and toward your stomach, increasing your risk of drowning. Also, you might cramp.
While it’s true more blood will go into your stomach, your body has enough blood to keep everything working after you eat. Additionally, cramps seem to be unrelated to whether you eat before or not. During exercise, cramps could be caused by fatigue, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalances (or a mix).
Any time you exercise vigorously after eating you put yourself at risk of discomfort (and maybe vomiting), especially if you’re diving. But if you’re just splashing around, you probably won’t feel very different. The real concern is swimming after drinking alcohol, considering that actually impairs your physical abilities.
24. Early cancer detection and screening don’t necessarily save lives
Myth: Regular screening for all cancers and early detection for any cancer will save lives.
This one is pretty surprising! Yes, early detection is important when it comes to cancers like lung, cervical, and colon. And if you’re particularly at risk for those, regular screening to look for cancer can save your life. However, this isn’t the case for all cancer types.
There are times when regular screenings don’t decrease the number of people dying from a particular cancer, like thyroid cancer. Many cancers grow very slowly and will never be harmful, but early detection of these could lead someone to a costly, unneeded treatment.
25. Vaccines do not cause autism
Myth: Vaccines cause autism.
No, they do not. The popularity of this myth can be traced back to Andrew Wakefield; he was once a doctor, but had his ability to practice medicine revoked. Wakefield was determined to prove the MMR vaccine caused autism because he was being paid by angry parents to do so. Plus, he was planning to make money off of creating an alternate vaccine.
After he published his “study” (which had fake data) in 1998, scientists studied the perceived relationship between autism and vaccines until they were absolutely sure that vaccines do not cause autism. People still stubbornly believe this, despite the overwhelming evidence against it.
NEXT: BODY HACKS – crazy things you didn’t know your body could do…
1. Predict the weather (and avoid migraines)
Seeing the future would be pretty cool, right? It turns out that our bodies do sense the future, at least related to the weather, and they can alert us with migraines. Sudden changes of weather, especially dropping into colder temperatures or rising quickly into hotter temperatures, can sometimes cause imbalances in the chemicals in our brains.
These chemical imbalances (usually, imbalances in serotonin) can lead to migraines. People who get headaches a lot, scientists say, probably have a higher sensitivity to the weather. To keep those headaches at bay, you can try to stabilize your surrounding temperature. Staying in an environment that’s not too hot and not too cold can help prevent those chemical imbalances.
2. Prevent brain freeze
On a hot summer day when you’re dying for something to help you cool off, munching down on a giant ice cream cone might sound like the best idea in the world—until you get the brain freeze that comes with it. Unfortunately for us, eating or drinking something super cold super fast almost always results in one of those terrible brain freezes.
Luckily for us, though, there’s a quick and easy defense mechanism that our body has against those terrible summers (or winter, for those of us brave enough to slurp down a slushy in the middle of December) brain pains. Simply press your tongue up against the roof of your mouth, and voila! Your brain freeze is gone.
3. Access your super-hearing
Okay, so it’s not really “super” hearing. But our ears do work in cooler and weirder ways than most of us probably realize. For example, if you’re in a super noisy place and need to focus on one sound specifically (like listening to your friend talk), you should turn your right ear towards them. If you’re trying to figure out what song is playing on the radio, you should listen with your left ear.
Different sides of our brain are better at listening for different things; so are our ears. Our right ear is better at listening to active talking, and our left ear is better for hearing music. That’s why you should give your right ear to someone when you want to hear what they’re saying.
4. Clear your nasal passages
As of right now, we don’t yet have a cure for the common cold. What we do have, however, is a surprising method to help clear our nasal passages during those days when our nose is so stuffy we feel like we can’t even breathe. And, happily, it doesn’t involve paying a lot of money for special decongestants.
All you need to do is push your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and flick the area between your eyebrows. This may sound rather odd, but it causes the bone in your nose to move, which can help temporarily clear your nasal passages.
5. Avoid pain during an injection
We’d all like to avoid the pain of getting a shot, right? No-one likes the feeling of being stuck with a needle, even if it’s for an important vaccine or other medical necessity. Luckily, though, there’s a super weird trick we can use to help lessen the pain when we get those injections.
Scientists have discovered that coughing while getting an injection can lessen the pain. Coughing causes a sudden rise in pressure in your chest, as well as in your spinal canal, which can inhibit the pain-conducting structures in your spinal cord. So next time you go to get your flu shot, consider coughing to help get you through.
6. Let everyone know when you’re scared
This may seem a little unfair, but it is something we should be aware of when our body reacts to various situations. A long time ago, when our ancestors had a lot more hair on their bodies, in situations when they were scared their hair would stand on end, making them appear larger and scarier to potential predators as a way to scare them off.
Nowadays, though, we don’t have or need all that extra hair; but our biological response to fear still remains. That’s why we get goosebumps, and those goosebumps can betray our feelings of fear even when we’re trying to play it cool. It’s also a way to alert us to nearby danger, even if we haven’t consciously picked up on it yet; so pay attention to your skin.
7. Keep yourself warm, even in the cold
There’s a story of a group of Tibetan monks that can dry sheets, even in freezing weather, simply by wrapping the sheets around themselves and raising their core temperature. Sounds a bit like magic, right? Well, there’s actually some truth to it.
Scientists recreated the scenario, and while the participants of the study couldn’t successfully dry sheets, they were able to regulate their body temperature, even while simply sitting still and concentrating. In another study, participants were able to raise their core body temperature by practicing a meditating technique and following certain breathing patterns. “Mind over matter” never felt so real!
8. Synchronize with music
Music may be more beneficial for our health than we realize. Studies have shown that when participants listen to music with grand crescendos, like classical pieces by Beethoven, their heartbeat, blood pressure, and respiration increased with the crescendos of the music, slowing down again during calmer portions of the music.
During some sections of the music, participants’ heartbeats even synchronized with the music. So those emotions you feel when you listen to your favorite rock’n roll music, or the cheeriness you feel when listening to Christmas music, are very real responses to the music. Next time you’re feeling a little stressed, try putting on some calm music—it might help more than you realize.
9. Tell you when spring is coming
We would all love to know exactly when spring is going to get here. Who needs Groundhog day when we have our very own human body to tell us when spring is around the corner? If you have allergies, chances are you’re familiar with the watery, itchy eyes that come with pollen spreading in the air as the seasons change.
If your eyes start getting watery and itchy when it’s still cold out, however that’s a sign that spring is almost here! Your body can alert you to the upcoming change in seasons even before the rest of the world can see it.
10. Slow down your heartbeat
When we’re nervous or scared, our hearts start to beat faster; it’s a mechanism to make sure we’re getting enough oxygen to the rest of our body when we’re in a dangerous situation. But we don’t always want to be feeling like that, especially if we’re just going into an office meeting or giving a speech to a group of peers; we’d rather be calm.
There’s a surprising way to get our heartbeat to go down almost immediately, even when you’re feeling stressed: just blow on your thumb. It may sound crazy, but there’s science to back up this theory. There’s a nerve in our thumb that’s connected to our heartbeat, and by blowing on it, we can help slow our breathing, which in turn helps regulate our heartbeat and gets it back down to a normal pace.
11. Create a near-photographic memory
While some people are born with the ability to remember everything that’s ever happened to them (it’s rare, but it definitely exists) most of us have to struggle along through life with our average memories. But it turns out that with practice, we can retrain our brains to remember things almost perfectly.
Using simple techniques like mnemonic devices and practicing different encoding techniques, we can improve our memory drastically. One man spent a year training his memory and entered a national Memory Championship—which he then won, setting a new world record while he was there. Our brains have the capacity for amazing things if we only train them.
12. Accidentally heighten your sense of bitterness
Some of us may think we’re already pretty aware of the bitter things in our life, thank you very much. But there’s an actual biological change that can happen in our mouths that can make us hyper-aware of the bitter taste of things. We’ve all tried to drink orange juice after brushing our teeth and realized that’s just about the worst combination in the world, right?
The reason for that is that the chemicals in our toothpaste temporarily alter our sense of taste. It suppresses the taste buds that are sensitive to sweet things while heightening our sense of bitter things. So if you want to actually taste things properly in the morning, you might want to wait a bit after brushing your teeth.
13. Sixth sense
Before you blow on your thumb to get your heartbeat back down to normal, you might want to think about what’s going on around you. Our heartbeat increases for a reason; normally for things we can see or feel, that would make us scared or nervous, or even excited. Sometimes, however, our heartbeat seems to increase for no reason at all.
Scientists have recently discovered, though, that when our heartbeat goes up for no reason, sometimes there actually is a reason—it just hasn’t happened yet. Yes, you read that right: our heart will start reacting to something before we even know it’s there. So if your heart starts going crazy, maybe don’t blow on your thumb right away. Instead, take a look around and try to figure out what your heart’s trying to tell you.
14. Beat dizziness
Feeling dizzy sucks. Sometimes you feel dizzy because you spun around too many times (not everyone can handle the teacup rides at the happiest place on earth), but sometimes you can feel dizzy for other reasons, too; like having a few too many sugary drinks or coffees (or, yeah, a few too many alcoholic beverages).
The part of your ear responsible for balance can be thrown off by things like too much alcohol, as the alcohol dilutes the blood and causes the cupula (the thing in your ear that keeps you on-balance) to become less dense and start moving around, causing you to feel dizzy. If you put your hand on something stable, it tricks your brain into thinking you’re stable, too, and you can feel less dizzy.
15. Prevent nighttime acid reflux
If you suffer from this and constantly wake up needing to ease the heartburn, there’s actually a super simple trick you can use to help prevent the issue from even arising. All you need to do is sleep on your left side, instead of your right. If you’re already a side-sleeper, this body hack will already be a breeze for you.
This works because, since your stomach and esophagus are tied at an angle, sleeping on your left side keeps your stomach below your esophagus. If you sleep on your right side, however, your stomach is higher than your esophagus, which can allow stomach acids to trickle into your esophagus, causing the acid reflux.
16. Cure a toothache with your thumb
Yes, you read that right. It turns out that to cure a toothache, you don’t need expensive medicines or pain relievers (well, for small toothaches, anyway; always check with a medical professional if you’re having serious pain). All you need is your own hand and some ice.
For this technique, simply take an ice cube, and rub it on the area between your thumb and your forefinger. This may sound crazy, but the neural pathway that keeps pain from going to your face is located there. Rubbing ice there can help relieve pain in your face, even for those pesky toothaches.
17. Predict the weather some more
Remember that old myth that you probably heard your grandparents tell you, that when their joints were aching it was probably going to rain? It may actually have some truth to it. When the temperature drops and cold weather arrives (such as the sudden drop right before the rain comes), the atmospheric pressure drops, too, which can increase joint pain in those that are already experiencing it.
Scientists conducted a study and concluded that patients with chronic pain could often feel increased levels of pain in their joints a full day before a storm arrived in their area, due to the changes in atmospheric pressure. So the next time someone tells you their bones and joints are aching, you might want to grab an umbrella.
18. Increase alcohol tolerance
Most of us are pretty aware of our alcohol tolerance—but did you know it can change based on where you’re drinking? Studies have proven that if you drink regularly at one place, your central nervous system, upon recognizing the place (with familiar sounds, smells, and other cues) will start to accommodate for the drinks you’re about to have, allowing you to build a higher tolerance.
If you go to a new place, however, your central nervous system won’t kick into gear until after you’ve started drinking, so your tolerance can drop drastically. Good to remember the next time you plan to drink in a new place!
19. Regulate your brain temperature
This might seem like a weird thing to do, but you’re already doing it without even realizing it—and you’re doing it with a yawn. You probably associate yawning with being tired, and, in a way, you’re right, but probably not for the reasons you think.
When you’re tired and starting to fall asleep, your body temperature starts to drop. Yawning, and breathing in larger-than-normal amounts of air, increases blood flow to our brains and cools down the temperature of that blood flow by breathing in cooler air. This can help speed up the process of cooling our body down as we get ready to sleep.
20. Turn off the pain switch
While normally our body does (and should) alert us to injuries by letting us feel pain, sometimes our brain can prevent us from feeling pain—almost like turning off a switch. This might sound counterproductive, but it can actually be useful in some situations. You can’t control when it happens, though.
Usually, our brains will shut off pain receptors when we’re in a state of shock, or trauma; this allows us to deal with the shock, or get ourselves out of a dangerous situation before we start to feel the pain that might otherwise incapacitate us. While this is helpful in getting us to safety, you should also be aware that if you’re in a dangerous situation, your injury might be a lot more serious than you think—your brain might just not be letting you feel it yet.
21. Get rid of the stitch in your side
If you’ve ever exercised before, especially going for a run outside or on a treadmill, you know getting a stitch in your side is pretty much just the worst. It hurts like none other, and there’s not really a way to get rid of it. Or is there?
It turns out, scientists say, that getting a stitch in your side is usually caused by exhaling as your right foot hits the pavement (or treadmill). This puts a downward pressure on your liver, which is on the right side of your body, which then pulls down at your diaphragm, creating the stitch. So, to prevent a stitch, or to help with one that you just got, try exhaling as your left foot hits the ground instead. It’s a little trick that can go a long way.
22. Reveal you’re in love with someone
While you might think of this as a bad thing (who wants everyone to know who you’re in love with, right?) it’s still a pretty cool function that our body can perform, normally without us even realizing it. When you’re in love with someone, or at least when you’re attracted to them, your pupils tend to dilate when you’re looking at them.
When we’re focused on an attractive individual or loved one, our dopamine levels rise and sensory receptors are heightened, so our eyes allow for more light (and thus, information) to enter. Our eyes are windows to our soul, after all. So if you want to hide the fact that you’re crushing on someone, you might want to avoid eye contact for a while.
23. Warn you of oncoming hypothermia
While going out skiing or sledding during the winter months isn’t likely to cause you any long-term damage, the cold can be pretty dangerous if you expose yourself to it for too long. If you’re out in the cold for too long and your body temperature drops too much, hypothermia can set in, which is extremely dangerous. Our body has a way of warning us that it’s coming, though.
To save energy as your body temperature is dropping, your eyes will constrict, which can cause temporary blindness. This may sound pretty scary, but it’s also a warning to you that hypothermia is going to set in soon, so you need to get warm as soon as you can. It’s also something to look out for in your friends; if they suddenly say they can’t see, you need to make sure they get warm.
24. Help with a burn
We’ve all accidentally burned ourselves on something, whether it’s a candle, a hair straightener, or something that just came out of the oven. It’s not a pleasant sensation, to say the least. A lot of us would probably run to grab an ice pack or some ice cubes to put on the burn, but science says that’s actually a bad idea; all you need is your own two hands.
What you should do instead is to apply light pressure to the burn area with your unburned fingers and hand. This will help return your skin to a normal temperature, while ice will actually increase your pain faster. Using your own hand instead of ice will also reduce the risk of blisters forming.
25. Alert you to nerve disturbances
Your body will often find ways to alert you that something’s wrong, if only you know what to look for. One of the ways it tells you that something’s not quite right is through hiccups. When you breathe, your diaphragm contracts, making room for the air you’re bringing in. Sometimes this process is interrupted with hiccups. They might seem random, but, biologically, they’re actually far from it.
Hiccups occur when there’s a disturbance in the nerves connecting your brain to your diaphragm. This can happen if you’re eating too quickly, swallowing too much air, or even experiencing anxiety. It causes a spasm in your diaphragm, which you experience as a hiccup. Focusing on your breathing (which can also help you calm down when you’re anxious) regulates your air intake once more and stops the spasms.
26. Heal a tickling throat
A sore throat may be painful, but having an unshakeable tickle in your throat is probably a close second for discomforts that you’d really rather be rid of. Our bodies have a defense mechanism against this uncomfortable sensation, though, even if it’s a bit of a weird one.
If you have a tickle in your throat, all you need to do is scratch your ear! It may sound crazy, but doctors have backed it up. When the nerves in your ear are stimulated, it can cause a reflex in your throat that can create a muscle spasm, which in turn relieves the tickling feeling. Our body is connected in more ways than we realize sometimes.
27. Save your ears when you’re on a plane
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’re probably familiar with the terribly uncomfortable sensation of the pressure in your ears once you get up to a high enough altitude. It may feel like our body is betraying us at that moment, but it also has a cure for the sensation ready to go!
One way to combat our terrible ear pressure is to chew something—gum is a good option. Forcing yourself to continually swallow helps push air up the eustachian tube (which connects your throat and nasal cavity to your ears) to relieve the pressure. You can also take a big breath, close your mouth, pinch your nose, and try to breath out again; this forces air back up the eustachian tube too, and can help relieve the pressure in your ears.
28. Destress with laughter
“Laughter is the best medicine” is a pretty well-known mantra. But how much can laughing actually help you? It turns out this old-wives’-tale-sounding mantra is backed up by science, and laughter can help a lot when you’re stressed out or worried about something. We naturally feel good when laughing, especially as a group, but from a scientific vantage point, why is this?
When you laugh, your body releases endorphins that make you feel happier. Additionally, laughter increases your blood flow. Both of these things can lower your stress levels and make you feel a lot better, even after just a few minutes. So if you’re having a stressful day at work or at home, queue up your favorite video and get to cackling.
29. Become a superhero (sort of)
Most of us have probably heard a story about someone performing some superhuman feat when they or a loved one was in danger (for example, a woman who lifted a car to save her child that was trapped underneath). They are stronger and faster than they ever were before, and than they should ever be able to be. This could happen to you, too.
When you feel yourself to be in danger, adrenaline will start pumping through your system, causing a whole host of chain reactions throughout your body. Your heart will beat faster, you’ll start to sweat, and your digestive system even shuts down for a while. This causes your muscles to contract, giving you extra strength for the duration of the emergency. Our bodies may be human, but with them, sometimes, we can be superhuman.
NEXT: These 30 outrageous vintage hygiene practices are actually real
1. In a time before Toilet Paper
Toilet paper is definitely one of the many things we take for granted. Soft, perforated squares connected together in a long scroll of 2-ply paper, conveniently designed so that it unrolls with a gentle tug is a relatively new invention. With something so common, it’s hard to imagine life without it — and to appreciate its genius design.
Up until 1888, people had to come up with some creative ideas to clean themselves. This often involved a whole host of uncomfortable-sounding materials, including, but not limited to: sticks wrapped in cloth and dipped in water, leaves, rags, or simply an unlucky hand.
2. Barbers used to perform tooth extractions
When you think about it, we put a lot of trust in our barbers — but this takes that trust to a whole new level.
In the dark ages, there were two types of barbers: surgeons who were trained to perform complicated operations, and those that focused on basic grooming. You may be surprised to learn that the barbers who performed tooth extractions were part of the latter camp.
Toothaches were commonly treated by drinking beer and wine, or if one had the means, by using herbal remedies developed by Eastern and Arabian cultures. If and when these methods failed, it was time for the tooth to go, and you had your local barber at the ready to take care of you.
3. People kept miniature toilets under their bed
You know that feeling when you’re falling asleep and all of a sudden you get the urge to go to the bathroom? Walking down the hall can seem like such a daunting task but there’s no way around it. Well, centuries ago people had their own solution.
Chamber pots were commonly stored beneath their beds. Whenever nature would call in the middle of the night, you’d pull it out, handle your business, and slide it back under. In the morning, you (or your unlucky maid) would dispose of its contents. On the second thought, maybe the 2 a.m.-trek down the hall doesn’t sound so bad after all.
4. Surgical equipment was unwashed and un-sterilized
People had no concept of germs, bacteria, or the reasons behind infections until the 1800s. If you had something inside you that needed to be cut out, they’d do it without washing or sterilizing any of the knives, forceps, or other equipment.
Obviously, this often caused more harm than good. There was also no decent anesthetic, so when you went under the knife, you felt it. The mark of a good surgeon was how quickly you could perform an operation. This meant that not only would the patient be in pain for less time, but the rate of success would be much higher — presumably because the wounds wouldn’t be open for too long, and therefore less likely to become infected.
5. Wigs were so popular in the 16th and 17th centuries because of syphilis
England suffered a massive syphilis outbreak in 1580. The spread of the disease rivaled only that of the Black Death, which wiped off half the continent centuries earlier. Syphilis is easily treatable with antibiotics nowadays, but back then it was a very serious affair. People would suffer open sores, blindness, dementia, and hair loss.
Back then, going bald at an early age would arouse suspicion. Louis XIV started going bald at the tender age of 17 (he probably had syphilis). To save himself the embarrassment, Louis hired 48 wig makers to make him a stylish toupee. Five years later, his cousin King Charles II followed suit (he probably also had syphilis). Aristocrats imitated the style, which began spreading as fast as…well, you get it.
6. Women used Lysol as birth control and for feminine hygiene
If women didn’t have access to birth control in the early 20th century, they often took some unhealthy approaches. One of the preferred methods was treating their private areas with Lysol. Yes, that Lysol. They also used it simply to freshen the area — it was believed to be safe and gentle. In truth, it was neither.
For what it’s worth, it didn’t work either. A 1933 study concluded that close to half of the 507 women surveyed that used this birth control method got pregnant.
Women who tried it were constantly being treated after suffering inflammation and burning sensations. There were even several reports of death.
7. Dentures made from real human teeth
Nothing beats the real thing, right? Back in the 18th century, when people lost their teeth or they rotted out of their heads, their pearly whites had to be replaced — just like now. People back then can’t be blamed for wanting their false teeth to look as real as possible, however they may have taken realism a step too far.
The first porcelain dentures were made by Alexis Duchâteau in 1774, but these often appeared too white, and were especially prone to discoloration. Ivory was commonly used in dentures, but it wasn’t the only rare, expensive material used.
Dentures made from human teeth were dubbed “Waterloo teeth” after the battle in 1815, when teeth were plucked from the corpses of soldiers lying on the battlefield. The practice had been in place for many years before that, however. In fact, George Washington’s dentures were not made from wood as is commonly believed, but from a combination of hippopotamus ivory, horse teeth, donkey teeth, and yes, human teeth. They were considered the finest false teeth of the time.
8. Women dilated their pupils with a poisonous plant for fashion
“Belladonna” is Italian for “beautiful lady,” and that’s what women in the 16th and 17th centuries hoped to become by eating the plant. But you may know it by another name: “nightshade.” One effect of poisoning from the Belladonna plant is dilated pupils — a highly desirable trait back in the good ol’ days.
Women would risk congestive heart failure, hallucinations, stomach ulcers, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), and gastrointestinal tract infections (among other awful symptoms) all for beauty.
Women would not only consume the plant, they’d also rub it on their cheeks to make them rosy. It’s not like people were ignorant of its harmful effects, either. In fact, nightshade had been used as a hallucinogen for centuries prior — medieval women would often rub it on their thighs and get the sensation of flying, which is a theory as to why witches are often depicted flying on broomsticks.
9. Irradiating yourself for the hair loss
One of the most recognizable effects of the difficult process of radiation treatment for cancer patients is hair loss. It’s an unwanted symptom that patients are forced to endure as part of a painful process of chemotherapy. But people used to irradiate themselves just to lose their hair.
People in the early 1900s would spend up to 20 hours under X-rays to make their hair fall out. As you’re no doubt aware, prolonged exposure to radiation causes general malaise, cancer, and increased risk of birth defects for pregnant women. If you feel the need to zap off hair, consider laser hair removal treatment instead.
10. Women bleached their hair with urine
We’ve already mentioned how urine was used as a laundry detergent, but this takes it a step further. Queen Elizabeth was considered very stylish during her reign. Her wide-set eyes, pale skin, and red hair, were things of beauty — so much so, that women sought to imitate her red, curly locks of hair.
Hair dye and bleach has come a long way since the Elizabethan era. Back then, if you wanted to lighten your hair you would have to subject yourself to a host of toxic chemicals. Urine was often added to the mixture. The lengths people went for beauty boggles the mind.
11. Women used eagle’s dung during childbirth
Childbirth during the Middle Ages was horrific. It was not uncommon for women to die during the process, and there was little nurses and midwives could do to ease their pain. Sometimes noblewomen wore holy girdles when they were having difficult pregnancies. Much of what women relied on for a successful birth was prayer.
Another solution was eagle dung. Nurses often applied a concoction of eagle’s dung and rosewater on the woman’s thighs to relieve labor pains. Usually the women wore all sorts of charms and amulets that were supposed to speed up contractions as well. Of course, it’s doubtful that any of these methods actually worked the way they were intended, but if they eased the expectant mother’s mind perhaps they served a purpose.
12. Exploding combs
If there’s one task you probably feel safe doing every morning, it’s combing your hair. But it wasn’t always so.
Celluloid is a plastic compound that was found in a variety of innocuous items in the late 1800s — its mold-able qualities made it a cheap alternative to ivory. There was one big drawback however, it was highly combustible when hot.
Celluloid didn’t even have to be touched by flame to catch fire, it was enough for it just to be near a heat source. A few unfortunate groomers even lost their lives while combing their beards or hair. Despite the danger, celluloid was still used in these products for many years until it was finally phased out of production in the 1930s with the advent of safer plastic materials, though it’s still being used to manufacture tennis balls and guitar picks.
13. Servants were dipped in honey in Ancient Egypt
Everyone that’s tried to enjoy a picnic on a summer day can attest to the annoyance of flies. Egyptian pharaohs were wise to the problem too, apparently. To keep flies and other bugs from annoying the Pharaoh, servants would slather themselves in honey to attract them away from their esteemed ruler.
The sticky solution was popularized by Pepi II Neferkare who ruled from age nine to 100. His honey-dipped and controversial practice was quite the noteworthy hygiene invention.
Try convincing one of your friends into doing this next time you plan some outside fun. Supposedly, it’s good for the skin, too.
14. Mouse skins for eyebrows
As we’ve established by now, women in the 1700s were concerned with their appearance — enough to poison themselves and put lard in their hair. Eyebrows were no exception, but according to some historical evidence, women had a particularly strange way of keeping them perfectly shaped.
Women would shave their natural eyebrows off and replace them with perfectly shaped substitutes made from the skin of a dead mouse.
There’s some debate as to whether this practice was real or a myth — most of the evidence comes from satirical poems, but based on some of the other beauty practices of the time it seems entirely plausible.
15. Chalk diet
Powdered chalk is still used as a setting powder in makeup today — it’s a natural mineral that’s generally harmless when it comes in contact with skin. You may however, have noticed the warning on the box that says “for external use only.” This is because ingesting more than a small amount of limestone is hazardous to your health.
For many women in the 1700s and 1800s poisoning yourself was part of looking beautiful. Put chalk on your face and you’ll look pale, but why not eat a bunch of it too, so you’ll turn even more pale? The practice eventually died out by the 20th century — perhaps people just got sick of getting sick — though the trend of consuming chalk seems to be making a comeback in recent years, albeit for other reasons.
16. Men “cured” baldness with chicken droppings
Even today, people come up with some dubious solutions for male pattern baldness. In the 16th century, if you weren’t a fan of wearing a wig, you might consider a “natural” remedy. One of such remedies involved a trip to the chicken coop.
The idea was that mixing chicken droppings and potassium together and applying said lotion to your head would stimulate the hair follicles into growing. It’s tempting to think this all started as a prank someone played on a poor, desperate man.
Regardless of its origin, the practice was outlined in a medical guide published in 1654, proving that old cliché: “Don’t believe everything you read.”
17. Birth control made from beaver genitals
Oddly, this method wasn’t covered in health class. Native Canadian women in the 1500s believed that drinking a potion made from a male beaver’s private parts was an effective way to ward off pregnancy. Like many hygine practices of the past, you have to wonder what the thinking was behind them. Does it actually work? Well, maybe.
In theory, the concoction could induce a hormonal imbalance that would decrease a woman’s fertility, but there’s more effective, easier, and safer options available these days (in case you didn’t know). While you may be tempted to test the theory, it’s much better to use a more modern method — the beavers will thank you.
18. Mouthwash made from urine
When you’ve got coffee breath, what do you do? Brush your teeth, pop a mint, rinse your mouth out? It’s a safe bet to say you’ve never tried this method: Ancient Greeks and Romans would gargle with urine to fight off halitosis and whiten teeth.
For whatever reason, Romans had a special affinity for Portuguese urine — so much so that Emperor Nero taxed the import of bottles.
Urine contains ammonia, which is a cleaning agent, so perhaps there’s some method to the madness.
Thankfully, we’ve got plenty of options available today to freshen your breath without calling your Portuguese buddy for a favor.
19. Lard in the hair
Tall hairstyles were very much in vogue throughout the 1700s. To get their hair to stand up and stay up, lots of women would use lard, and forego washing their hair for weeks at a time. The animal fat would often be mixed with some type of fragrance before applied to the hair.
Lard in unwashed hair can have some disturbing consequences — namely, it attracts insects and vermin. Apparently it must have been worth it, since women were willing to risk a few nibbles from the creepy crawly creatures for beauty. We advise against the ol’ lard shampooing technique.
20. People brushed their teeth with all kinds of things
Brushing your teeth today is a fairly pleasant experience — largely due to the fact that toothpaste freshens your breath and leaves you with a nice taste in your mouth (provided you don’t drink orange juice right after). But it wasn’t always so.
Ancient Egyptians would brush their teeth with ash from ox hooves and eggshells. Greeks and Romans would crush up bones, oyster shells, bark, charcoal, and MOUSE BRAINS into powder for their dental hygiene. The Chinese at least thought about taste, mixing in salt, ginger, and herbs to the formula.
Persians finally got hip to the fact that abrasive powders would scrape away tooth enamel around 1,000 A.D. — their preferred toothpaste was made from herbs, honey, and burnt snail shells. Yum.
21. Romans used Silphium as birth control
We’ll never know for certain whether Silphium worked as birth control because Ancient Romans consumed so much of it they made it extinct. The plant was so popular among promiscuous ancient civilizations that they printed it on coins. When your nation’s favored birth control method ends up on currency, you know it’s a big deal.
The plant also had many other medicinal uses, such as the treatment for madness. It was so valuable, Romans considered it worth its weight in gold.
It’s been theorized that the shape of the ancient plant’s seed was the inspiration for the heart symbol. Whether this is because of its connection to sexuality or to the “madness of love” is debated.
22. Dying teeth black
For centuries, many people in Southeast Asia were in the habit of dying their teeth black as a sign of beauty and maturity. The process was called “ohaguro” in Japan and survived there until it was banned in the late 19th century. Shiny pitch black items were seen as beautiful.
The tradition has all but ended in most corners of the world, but the practice continues in some isolated Southeast Asian and Oceanic ethnic groups.
While it may disturb western aesthetic notions of beauty, there’s actually a utilitarian purpose behind the tradition: Coating teeth in the lacquer protects them from decay, much like sealants and fillings work in modern dentistry.
23. Moss was used like pads and tampons
Famed English philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously referred to life in the Middle Ages as “nasty, brutish, and short.” Perhaps he should have added “uncomfortable” to the list of adjectives.
Since pads and tampons weren’t invented yet, women had to improvise a solution.
Sphagnum cymbifolium, a bog moss commonly found in England was dubbed “blood moss” for its absorbent qualities. Of course, many say it got its name from its use on the battlefield — but plenty of historians have another theory. Medieval women didn’t have the luxury of going to the drug store to solve their monthly problem, so they used the moss to fashion their own pads. Reason number 54,738,953 why it’s good to be alive today.
24. Gum disease for the rich
Many people like to flaunt their wealth — usually through conspicuous consumption. A fancy car, a luxurious home, flashy jewelry, even gold teeth, are just some of the ways one might signal their wealth to others. One method we can confidently say has fallen out of favor is the process of rotting one’s teeth to show off their elevated socioeconomic standing.
The logic (though it’s odd to refer to it as such) is simple. Sugar was expensive, and sugar rots your teeth. Therefore, people with rotten teeth and gum disease must be rich. Lower class people in the Elizabethan era even began trying to fake gingivitis by staining their gums and teeth. Mention that next time your dentist tries to guilt you into flossing more often (just kidding, please brush and floss your teeth everyday).
25. People washed their clothes with urine
American pioneers didn’t have washing machines or stain removal sprays, so they had to get creative when doing the laundry. They did have a way of making their own soap, which they often made by running lye made from animal fat through the ashes of a wood fire. But what do you do about those deep stains that you can’t scrub out?
Well, often you soaked it in urine. Chamber lye, as it was called, was the preferred detergent for dissolving grease, loosening dirt, and bleaching dingy fabric. You’d lay your favorite clothes in urine over night, scrub the stains, lay it in urine another night, scrub it again and voila! Good as new.
26. People treated sickness by bleeding
Bloodletting was a common practice to treat all kinds of sicknesses up until the end of the 19th century. If you could afford it, leeches would be brought in to suck your blood. If you were too broke to bring in the leeches, they’d simply slice open a vein and let your blood drip out.
Doctors believed that blood was stagnant and held most ailments inside it — if part of your body was inflamed, doctors would often prescribe attaching leeches to the spot, or making an incision to let blood flow out of the area. Nowadays, doctors understand that this mostly did more harm than good. In fact, bloodletting likely contributed to George Washington’s death, when physicians drained substantial amounts of his blood to treat a fever.
27. No crocodiles in the moat, but you still wouldn’t want to swim in it
You’ve probably heard about crocodiles in the moats of the great castles of Medieval England. This is a myth, as there haven’t been crocs in Europe since the Cretaceous period — the truth about moats is actually much grosser. Remember the chamber pot from earlier? Well, it had to get dumped out somewhere.
Servants would often dump out discarded food and other waste in the moats surrounding the castles in which they worked. In fact, scientists found evidence that the moat of the Saranda Kolones castle in Cyprus still contains parasite eggs from Crusader’s waste.
Honestly, that might keep people out better than crocodiles.
28. People used lead makeup
Once again, Queen Elizabeth I might be to blame for inspiring this trend. Her pale skin was envious to women of the era. They wanted to duplicate it any way they could. One such method was to smear lead on their faces.
The lead would give them the desired color, and also smooth their faces. Considering this was pre-sunscreen and during the smallpox epidemic women may have had many blemishes to hide. Of course, the lead treatment slowly made them very sick. Constipation, gray hair, dry skin, and stomach pain were just some of the symptoms.
Unfortunately, many lipstick brands were found to contain lead as recently as 2007. Perhaps we haven’t come as far as we’d like to believe.
29. Communal bathing
Would you want to jump in bath water right after scores of your smelly friends did? Of course not, because you weren’t alive in the Middle Ages. What’s more — these bathhouses were considered fun places to be, you’d be served food and hang out while you cleaned yourself.
They mostly fell out of favor during the Black Plague — people believed a healthy coating of dirt would keep you safe from the disease. On top of this the church began painting the bathhouses as a den of sin and debauchery. People didn’t realize most of the health benefits of hygiene until the 19th century.
30. Floors were so dirty people caught diseases
Rush floors were popular through the Middle Ages all the way up through the 16th century. They provided insulation, soft-footing for hosts and guests, and filled homes with a pleasing, sweet fragrance. Unfortunately, they were also a breeding ground for bacteria and disease. Even if the vacuum was around 500 years ago, this wouldn’t be the ideal flooring choice.
The top layer would be changed semi-regularly, but the bottom layer would remain undisturbed, often for decades. If you’ve ever been disturbed by what you’ve seen when you lifted a couch or table while moving, then you may have a faint idea of what may have been lying underneath layers of dead grass.