True or false - old wives' tales about health

By Jane Garton

Do eggs cause constipation? Does counting sheep work? Does swallowed chewing gum take seven years to digest? Jane Garton checks out the facts behind some old wives' tales

Herbs and spicesDoes eating spicy food give you an ulcer?
Sleeping on your back encourages snoring


"Gravity pulls your tongue to the back of your throat and blocks the airways. As the air struggles to get down into the lungs your tongue vibrates up and down, which can result in a cacophony of grunts," explains Marianne Davey, co-founder of the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association. It is far better to sleep on your side. Of course, there is no guarantee you will stay in this position but it can help to start off the night lying on your side with your arms wrapped round a pillow.

Copper bracelets help soothe arthritis


Although many people with arthritis wear copper bracelets, there is no scientific evidence to support this one. "Research shows people with arthritis do have enough copper in their bodies, so it is difficult to understand what effects these bangles can have," says Jane Tadman, spokesperson for the Arthritis Research Campaign. "It could be the placebo affect at work in people who report that their pain has lessened when wearing a copper bracelet," she adds.

Toothpaste can send spots packing


"Toothpaste is a great emergency measure for dabbing on a spot overnight if you've nothing else," says beauty expert Vicci Bentley. Many toothpastes contain menthol, which cools and soothes inflammation; antibacterial agents, which can fight infection; and detergents, which can dry out spots. These ingredients are bad for skin in the long term, however. "So if your skin starts to feel irritated, leave the toothpaste - and the spot - alone," warns Vicci.

Pull a grey hair out and you can expect two in its place


"You can expect to get one back but not two," says Marilyn Sherlock of the Institute of Tricologists. "It takes about three months for a new hair to grow and another three before you notice it, so if you are going grey, by the time the one you pulled out grows back a few more will have appeared nearby, making it look as if two have grown in its place."

Eating spicy foods can give you an ulcer


"They may give you indigestion or acid reflux but spicy foods won’t give you an ulcer, although they may irritate one you already have," explains GP Rob Hicks. Most stomach ulcers are caused by an infection from the bacterium helicobacter pylori or by an overuse of anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

Sitting too close to the TV can damage your eyesight


"Getting up close and personal with the TV screen may give you a headache or make your eyes tired, but it won't cause permanent damage to your sight," says Dr Susan Blakeney, optometric adviser to the College of Optometrists. She also recommends watching TV with the lights on, rather than off, as watching in the dark is more likely to cause headaches and tired eye symptoms.

Do eggs make you constipated? Read the next page for more common health myths...

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