7 Health Myths You Need to Stop Believing Now

Get the truth on the health world's most popular falsehoods.

Medically reviewed in January 2020

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Some Greek myths were first written down nearly 3,000 years ago, and some health myths feel like they’ve been around for almost as long. Health and wellness is a complicated subject, so it’s no surprise that many faulty or outdated beliefs still abound. Here are seven common health myths it’s best to put aside once and for all.

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Vaccines cause autism

This belief was popularized by a small 1998 study that has been thoroughly discredited and later retracted. The researcher—Andrew Wakefield of the UK—lost his medical license in 2010 for ethics violations related to the study, including performing invasive tests on children without approval, falsifying medical records and receiving funding from a lawyer hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers. Later studies, including a 2015 JAMA study of nearly 96,000 children, have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

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GMO foods are unhealthy

Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) sound like science fiction and have been something of a boogeyman since the first genetically modified crop (a tobacco plant) was produced in 1983. Detractors cite studies done on animals that suggest GMOs are unhealthy, possibly affecting fertility, the gastrointestinal tract, the liver, the kidneys and other systems. However, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reviewed 900 pieces of scientific literature and heard from 80 experts, and determined in 2016 that GMOs are no more dangerous than other foods. Sharecare’s chief medical officer Keith Roach, MD, notes that genetic engineering is more precise and less dangerous than the selective breeding humans have been using to manipulate plants and animals for thousands of years.

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Eating fat or carbs makes you fat

Dietary fat was the whipping boy for fitness gurus for years. “Eat fat and you’ll get fat,” they said. But more recent research suggests that it’s not dietary fat that’s causing weight gain. Next it was carbohydrates and with it the explosion of low-carb diets like Atkins. So which is it? The answer is both, and neither. Gaining and losing weight is based on a simple math formula: If the number of calories you eat is greater than the number you burn, you’ll gain weight. If it’s less than the calories you burn, you’ll lose weight. If you want to lose weight, eat less. It’s that simple (but not always that easy).

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Avoid gluten for better health

Gluten-free donuts, gluten-free pizza, even gluten-free bread: is there anything that’s not gluten-free these days? People go gluten-free for a variety of health reasons, but the truth is that most people are fine eating gluten, the proteins found primarily in wheat, barley and rye . People with celiac disease—an autoimmune disease where gluten causes inflammation of the small intestine—and people with a wheat allergy or a difficult-to-diagnose gluten sensitivity should avoid gluten. For everyone else there’s no real reason to go gluten free.

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You need exercise to see your abs

You could do sit-ups and other abs exercises all day every day, but you’d still never see your abs if your diet is not in check. Exercises like sit-ups and planks will just strengthen the muscle, not get rid of the fat covering your stomach. In fact, even when you’re eating less, moving more and losing weight, you can’t pick and choose where the fat comes off. That’s called spot reduction, and it doesn’t work. If you want to see your abs, you’ll have to lose fat all over.

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You need to detox

Don’t be fooled by crash diets or strange brews promising to wring the toxins from your body and promote weight loss. Cabbage soup for a week? No thanks. A 2015 review of studies determined there’s little scientific evidence behind the claims made by detox diets and cleansing kits. Besides, you already have the best detox kit you can get: Your liver. One of the liver’s jobs is to absorb toxic substances—either those produced by the body, like ammonia, or those you take in, like alcohol—render them harmless, and get rid of them, either into the bloodstream or the bowels. Follow a nutritious diet and control portion sizes if you want to lose weight.

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You’ll want less sex as you get older

You’ve probably heard of that stereotype of the middle-aged couple who’s never intimate anymore. That happens to some people for a variety of reasons, but it’s not inevitable. Changing hormone levels, depression, medication and a number of other reasons—not to mention issues like relationship troubles, lack of a partner and stress—can put a damper on desire, especially as people get older. But the truth is you can have satisfying sex at any age. A 2015 study of 7,000 people, conducted by University of Manchester in the UK, found that more than half of men and nearly a third of women over the age of 70 reported being sexually active.

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