More Myths and Misconceptions About the Human Body

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The human body is by far one of the most mysterious things in the entire universe. As far as we know, of the billions and stars and planets out there, nothing like us exists anywhere. Nothing capable of creating language and technology like humankind has, and nothing that has evolved to be as intelligent or as sophisticated. But for all we know and all we can do, there’s still so much we don’t understand even about how our own bodies work. Not only that, we continually fall prey to myths and misinformation.

10. You Don’t Have 10 Times More Bacteria Than Cells

If you receive enough email forwards from older relatives or peruse enough websites that traffic in bite-sized factoids, you’ve probably come across the notion that humans are made up of bacteria on a scale that outnumbers our own cells ten to one. You can find the story shared on some pretty noteworthy websites, in fact.

As it turns out, while we do have a good deal of bacteria inside of us, it’s not to the epic scale that some people have assumed in the past. Researchers from Israel and Canada came to the conclusion that your bacteria to cell ratio is closer to one to one. In some cases, a person may get all the way up to a two to one ratio of bacteria to human cells. But 10 to one is just right off the mark and would be the hallmark of a human in a seriously bad state of health.

The numbers are so close for some people that the researchers have said that human cells may end up beating out bacteria right after you go to the bathroom. 

As for the 10 times myth, that came from a 1972 estimation by a microbiologist who didn’t base it in sound science, but just a spitball of an idea. 

9. MSG is not Harmful to the Human Body

Chinese delivery food is a big business in America. People spend billions on it each and every year. For as long as it’s been popular, it’s also been under the thumb of the myth that it’s loaded with monosodium glutamate. MSG, as it’s better known, is a flavor enhancer that has been about as demonized as any ingredient in food history.

As far back as the 1970s there were stories about MSG causing everything from headaches to diarrhea to cancer. The New York Times in 1978 wrote about how it caused brain damage in animals and something called “Chinese Food Syndrome.” An article from 1984 referred to the “Menace of Chinese food” and blamed hyperactivity and cancer on the additive.

With so many years of articles heaping scorn on it you’d think there would be plenty of scientific evidence to back it up. Turns out, that’s just not true. 

Monosodium glutamate is a stabilized form of a substance called glutamate. Glutamate is found naturally in many foods, including tomatoes and cheese. It’s also something the human body produces and works as a neurotransmitter. Monosodium glutamate is that same substance that is stabilized by salt. So there’s nothing included in it that could cause any major health concerns. 

Some people think they have allergies to it, but that’s not true either. You may have a sensitivity to it, but it is chemically not possible to have an MSG allergy. Allergies involve a protein called IgE which is an antibody. MSG cannot trigger this kind of reaction. 

The origins of the MSG myth date back to the late 1960s when an American scientist, suffering unexplained headaches and dizziness, concluded it was all the Chinese food he’d been eating. The story stuck and the myth never went away. 

Since then, study after study has been unable to link MSG to any major health concerns. 

8. You Body is Not 70% Water

If you want confirmation that humans are mostly water, look no further than the 1988 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the crew of the Enterprise discover a new life form that refers to humans as “ugly bags of mostly water.” For years now, even non-Trekkies have been under the belief that the human body is made of about 70% water. But that’s not true. At least, not always.

The human body goes through a lot of changes from day one until day however many you have. When you start out in life, you’re actually closer to 78% water. From a year onward, you’re down at about 65% until your teens.

Your sex has an effect on water content as, in general, men are a little more watery than women. Teen boys are around 60% and girls at 55%. Women lose another 5% by the time they hit adulthood, falling a whole 20% short of that 70% we all heard about. 

By the time a woman hits 50 she may actually drop below 50%, coming in at around 47%. At this point even those Trek aliens were wrong as you are no longer “mostly” water by definition. 

7. You Don’t Need 8 Hours of Sleep

After a long day of work, or just sitting around avoiding work, nothing feels quite as good as getting into bed for a good night’s sleep. The standard rule of thumb here is that you need an uninterrupted eight hours a day in order to be properly rested and ready to face a new day.

The eight hour night is a relatively new invention in the grand scheme of human history. Biologically, humans seem to have been better adapted to sleep cycles. A first sleep followed by a period of wakefulness, and then a second sleep. 

History shows that this method of rest was pretty well spread all around the world. It was only with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the idea that we could be up and doing other things at night that it became a more widespread belief that we needed uninterrupted sleep. Clocks became taskmasters and people were more concerned with schedules and what they did, and when. That translated into wanting a solid, definite sleep period, even if it was unnatural. 

6. Fat Cannot Turn to Muscle

The diet and exercise industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars per year. From supplements to gyms to diet plans and more, people are willing to pay big for the chance at a better, healthier life. That means eating better, working out, and converting all that fat into muscle. Except, in a very real sense, that’s impossible. Despite the catchphrase nature of the statement, fat cannot turn to muscle.

You’ll also often hear that if you get lazy, if you don’t keep working out, your muscles will turn to fat. That’s not true, either. They’re two completely different kinds of tissue in our body and there is no way one can simply become another. It’s like a dog becoming a cat. 

Muscle and fat can both be gained and lost depending on your diet and level of physical activity. However, fat is adipose tissue and muscle requires protein.


5. There is No Way To Prove Your Fingerprints Are Unique

When law enforcement discovered fingerprinting, the entire world of criminology changed forever. No longer was a witness crucial to identifying the perpetrator of a crime. They left invisible evidence at the scene that could firmly point the finger of blame well after a crime had been committed.

Early researchers realized that every fingerprint had a distinctive pattern of what they call loops and whorls. These do not change over time, and if a finger sustains injury, the fingerprint grows back exactly as it once looked. It was a unique and incredible identifier, and everyone on Earth has their own unique set. Or at least that’s what they say. But how does anyone know?

It’s definitely true that fingerprints are very unique. But it’s also impossible to say that no two people have the same fingerprints unless you literally fingerprint every human on Earth and compare them. It’s effectively impossible to make the statement definitively. It’s just been a really good guess for all these years. 

The science of fingerprinting is solid, and reliable, but not infallible. There have been a handful of cases, about two dozen in the US, in which people have been found to be wrongly tied to crimes because of fingerprint mistakes.

4. There’s No Reason to Not Wake a Sleepwalker

It’s been a longstanding belief among many people that waking a sleepwalker will spell certain doom. Of course, the reason why is a little less easy to figure out. The old superstition was that their soul had left their body and if they were awoken, they’d be doomed to wander that way for all time.

In later years the belief was that if you wake a sleepwalker, you’d just kill them. The jolt to their system would be so intense they’d have a heart attack and it’d be all over. So what really happens to your body when you’re sleepwalking and someone wakes you up?

Waking from sleepwalking is the same as waking from any sleep as far as your physiology is concerned. While it’s typically harder to wake a sleepwalker than someone sleeping in their bed, that’s simply due to the fact you’re in a very deep sleep while sleepwalking. 

Physically, you should have almost no need to worry about a heart attack risk beyond what you’d worry about waking from any other sleep state. 

3. Milk Doesn’t Strengthen Bones

In the 1980s, the dairy industry rolled out a campaign that many people to this day will still immediately recognize. The slogan “Milk: it does a body good” became so widespread it became part of the zeitgeist and was rolled into other parts of pop culture as a punch line.

Kids have been told for ages that you need to drink milk if you want to have strong bones. You need that calcium and vitamin D to strengthen your skeleton and your teeth and to stave off osteoporosis in your old age. 

Harvard University sought to determine whether there was a link between consuming milk and bone density. They studied 77,000 women over a decade. When comparing the results of those who drank one glass of milk per week or less with those who drank two or more, there was no significant difference in the number of arm or hip fractures. 

A later study followed 330,000 male participants and the results were the same. Data showed that bone density did change in the short term, but after a couple of years, drinking milk or taking calcium supplements seemed to have no effect at all. 

So while milk may have some short term effects on bone density, the long term benefits may not be there. Which isn’t to say drinking milk is bad for you, but it may not be as beneficial to your body as we once thought. 

2. Honey is Not Better For You Than Sugar

Sugar is bad. We’re told that over and over again by doctors and dieticians. There’s a cottage industry on YouTube of showing people just how much sugar is in Cadbury eggs or soft drinks, as though the realization will shock people into cutting it from their diets. And of course we need some amount of sweetness in our lives; everything in moderation, and all that. So what’s the alternative? Honey! 

Honey has long been touted as superior to refined white sugar and other processed sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. It’s all natural and therefore better for you, is the way it’s often presented. 

The truth of the situation is that honey is almost exactly the same as sugar as far as your body is concerned. There are very limited nutrients included, a negligible amount, in fact, and your body processes it the same as it processes any sugar. 

The biggest difference between honey and sugar is how it affects blood sugar levels. Honey is lower in the glycemic index, so it won’t cause spikes like sugar does. But it also has more calories. 

That means that it’s not necessarily bad for you, but to say it’s better than sugar is misleading. It’s the same, and you should enjoy either or both in moderation. 

1. Multivitamins Do Nothing For You

Hulk Hogan used to tell kids they needed to take their vitamins. Flintstones vitamins are still a thing, trying to entice children to stay healthy with fun shapes. It’s predicted that the global market will be worth $300 billion by 2024

While it’s true the human body needs a host of vitamins and minerals to function, what is far less certain is that you need to get them in fun shapes with a fruit flavor from a bottle. Research has shown that taking multivitamins has no discernible effect on your odds of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, or a host of other conditions. On the other hand, too much of some vitamins may actually have negative health effects

Pregnant women do show benefits from supplements like iron and folic acid. But everyone else in the world would likely be better off just eating a balanced diet that gives them the required nutrients in a natural way.


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