Debunking Flu Cures and Toothbrush Myths

We've all heard them — feed a cold, starve a fever; if a pregnant woman's carrying low, it's a boy; if she's carrying high, it's a girl; chocolate causes acne.

Myths about health and healing have cascaded from the mouths of overbearing mothers and well-meaning aunts for centuries.

But now, thanks to New York Times reporter Anahad O'Connor, the truth behind these old wives' tales and urban legends is finally being revealed.

Fascinated by the idea of debunking these myths, O'Connor began a column for the newspaper's weekly Science Times section called Really? [Insert Urban Legend/Old Wives' Tale Here].

After years of investigating such topics as "green tea can help you lose weight," "standing too close to the microwave is dangerous" and "duct tape can remove warts," he transformed his popular column into a new book entitled "Never Shower in a Thunderstorm: Surprising Facts and Misleading Myths About Our Health and the World We Live In."

"We thought, 'What if we took the Science Times concept and applied it to these quirky, more fun old wives' tales, medical rumors and claims that we all hear about, but never actually get addressed," he explained in an interview with ABC News.

"So, I started doing this column and started finding that many of the stories behind how the claims came about were actually just as interesting as the answers to them, and so the column snowballed into this book."

Interestingly, O'Connor says all of the topics tackled in his column and in the book are backed by real scientific data. Yup, that means that there are scientists out there who get paid to have people drink gallons of green tea, stick their foreheads against microwaves or rip duct tape off their skin, all in the name of "research."

"Doing the column and the book was actually lot of fun," he said. "A lot of people don't realize that there are a lot of scientists out there investigating old wives' tales and these medical rumors. There are scientists scouring nursing homes trying to find out if lifelong knuckle crackers really have higher rates of arthritis in their hands. So, part of my job, is to go out there and find these studies and talk to these scientists and get answers."

And no, O'Connor says, cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis.

Finding Real Dangers in the Myths

Inquisitive by nature, O'Connor admits that his own fascination with these myths was what drove him to investigate in the first place.

"One of the most surprising questions for me is the one that actually gave the book its title," he said. "When I was growing up, my mother would always tell me, 'Get out of the shower,' or 'Don't talk on the phone. There's a thunderstorm outside.' And I thought this was just her way of getting me out of the shower or keeping me from racking up the phone bill, but I actually decided to address this question because so many people were asking me about it."

"I was shocked to find out that it was actually true. Every year in the United States, something like 10 to 20 people are electrocuted indoors while showering or talking on the phone or handling an appliance [during a thunderstorm]."

In fact, "Never Shower in a Thunderstorm" even cites an example of a woman who was brushing her teeth during a storm, got electrocuted and narrowly escaped death thanks to her slippers.

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