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15 Old Wives' Tales And Myths About Women's Health Debunked

From risks to fertility to curing a hangover, misconceptions are cleared up.

Superstition. Urban Legend. White Lies. Whether it's eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away, or sitting too close to the TV making you go blind, we've all been told an old wives' tale that's skewed our view of how to prevent and cure an ailment.

Seriously, we've lost count of the amount of times we've downed a pint of full fat milk before a night out because it supposedly lines the stomach (wrong), or been terrified to take the morning after pill again because of the possibility of infertility (also wrong).

Let's face it, a lot of the health advice passed down from our parents and grandparents is based on simple folklore and unverified claims with exaggerated details (cheers, Nan). However, a quick discussion in the office has proved that we still can't seem to shift the niggling doubt that perhapsthere's some truth in their medical warnings, especially when it comes to serious subjects like our sexual health and, erm, hangovers. 

So, that's why we caught up with Dr Ciara Yeates, General Practitioner at London Doctors Clinic, to debunk some of the old wives' tales that continue to plague our health from puberty.

1. Can you only take the morning after pill three times?

No, you can take it more than three times in your lifetime if necessary. There are two different types of morning after pills available in the UK – Levonelle and ellaOne. The name ‘morning after’ pill is a bit misleading as they can be taken either up to three or up to five days after sex. The sooner they are taken after sex the more effective they are. 

You can repeat a dose of the morning after pill if needed in the same cycle but you should discuss this with your healthcare provider. It is important to remember that the most effective form of emergency contraception is an emergency IUD so if you are not ready to have a pregnancy this is the most reliable option. This will be available from your local sexual health clinic or some GPs.

2. Can you get a cold from going to bed with wet hair?

You can only get a cold from coming into contact with the cold virus. You may get a bit chilly sleeping with wet hair, but it won’t give you a viral illness.

3. Does greasy food and sugar 'soak up' a hangover?

Sorry to say it, but the only way to get over a hangover is to power through it! Most of the headache comes from a combination of dehydration and the loss of salts from passing more urine due to alcohol. 

Therefore, it is useful to replace these with a smoothie or a sports rehydration drink.

4. Is it ok to take Paracetamol or Ibuprofen on a hangover to cure a headache?

Yes, if you have a headache it is perfectly safe to take painkillers if you need them. A lot of the headache with hangovers is linked with dehydration caused by passing more urine when drunk and losing more salts in your urine. Due to this it is also good to make sure you drinks lots of fluids the next day.

5. Can being on the pill for too long make you infertile?

The pill is not known to have any long-term effects on your fertility and there is excellent data available to back this up, as it has been widely in use since the 1970s.

6. Is it ok to swim after eating?

You should never swim directly after eating a meal. Enjoy a light meal and wait between 30 minutes to an hour to help you digest before any type of exercise. After eating we divert blood to our gut to help us digest our food. If you then go swimming you will need to also send blood to your muscles. There is a risk that you can partially digest your meal which will make you feel nauseous and increases the risk of getting muscle cramps when swimming.

7. Should you tilt your head back to stop a nosebleed?

Tilting your head when you have a nosebleed will just make the blood trickle down your throat and then you will end up swallowing it, which I don’t recommend! 

If you have a nose bleed, sit up and pinch the soft part of your nose for 10-15 minutes. You can put an ice-pack on the back of your neck as this helps constrict the blood vessel which supply the nose.

8. Does eating chocolate have any effect on acne?

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There is some weak evidence that high sugar and high fat diets can worsen acne. In general, for your skin, make sure you are drinking lots of water (up to eight cups per day) and eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. 

There are lots of good acne treatments so if you aren’t happy with your acne control see a doctor sooner rather than letting it worsen.

9. Can you get pregnant if a man withdraws before he cums?

You absolutely can get pregnant from the withdrawal method! This is a common misconception and is not a reliable way of decreasing your pregnancy risk. 

There has even been a study looking into ‘pre-cum’ which looked at a group of healthy volunteers and confirmed sperm was present in in the fluid which comes out before ejaculation.

10. If your contraception means you have fewer or no periods, is that bad?

All hormonal contraceptives will have some impact on your periods because of how they are designed to work. Even the non-hormonal method, such as the copper coil, can change your menstrual patterns. With methods like the combined pill where you have a 7 days break this is not actually a regular period but is a withdrawal bleed caused by stopping the hormones.  

As long as it does not bother you, it is not harmful for your health or your long-term fertility to have less, or no, periods. Before the pill came along women were reliant on monitoring their period to know if they were pregnant or not. So, when the pill was first developed the scientists designing it built in a seven-day break to trigger a period-like bleed. The idea behind it was to reassure the women taking it that they had not become pregnant, but it is not biologically necessary. 

There are lots of choices available these days and everybody is different. Some people like to have periods, others don’t. Neither is right or wrong so find what suits you and if you have any worries or concerns have a chat with your GP or at your sexual health clinic

11. Does shaving make the hair grow back quicker?

This is one of the most common old wives’ tales – we start shaving our hair when it starts getting thicker during puberty. This is naturally a time when it starts to get thicker and darker so it gives the illusion that it is the shaving making it grow faster. Shaving also cuts the hair shaft at quite a blunt angle flat to the surface of the skin so when it grows back it looks thicker. 

To contrast, waxing will pull out the hair at the follicle, so it will need to grow an entirely new hair. 

12. Should you let an open wound ‘breathe’ or put a plaster on it immediately?

It depends how big the wound is! For an average cut, wash the area under a tap to clean it. if it is open then it is sensible to cover it up until it has dried or formed a scab to help prevent infection. 

Once it has a scab you don’t need to keep it under a plaster as your body has made its own natural plaster.

13. Does drinking a pint of water before bed after a night out stop a hangover?

Unfortunately drinking lots of water before bed won’t stop you getting a hangover, however, it may help you prevent the headache caused by being dehydrated.

14. Can you get pregnant on your period?

In short, yes, but it is less likely than at other times in your cycle. There are two factors which contribute to this. 

Firstly, sperm can go into a deep sleep or hibernation mode which can live for up to seven days inside you. 

Secondly, although we generally ovulate around the middle of the cycle (12-14 days before the first day of your period) you can also ovulate early by up to four days. In short, there is no safe time in your cycle to have unprotected sex if you are not ready for a baby.

15. Does drinking milk before a night out with alcohol line the stomach?

No, this is a myth. You shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach though so make sure you have had a dinner before drinking.

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