This post is also available in Dutch.
Is spinach a great source of iron? Does vitamin C cure cold symptoms? Well, these are myths! Often, once people come across a piece of information, it’s hard for them to believe otherwise. Some scientific factoids are harmless,but others are dangerous! Let’s discuss some.
There are more bacteria on and in our bodies than cells
Bacteria are inside and outside our bodies and most of them are in the colon (the longest part of the large intestine). The community of microorganisms living in our bodies (the microbiome) is important for our health. This might be why some scientists and journalists often state that the bacteria in and outside our bodies outnumbers our cells by a factor of 10 or more. But that’s not true! A study from 2016 revealed that the number of bacteria approximately equals the number of cells in the human body. Where does this misconception come from? In a 1972 paper, the biochemist Thomas Lukey did a “back of the envelope” estimation saying that we have approximately 1013 bacteria in our bodies and 1014 cells in total.
Vitamin C improves cold symptoms
In 1970, Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, in which he stated that increased consumption of vitamin C reduces the chance of getting and shortens the duration of the common cold. He explained that humans’ diet might not provide sufficient vitamin C for optimal health. In 2013, Hemilä and Chalker examined all published studies on the risk ratio of developing a cold whilst taking vitamin C supplements during the testing period and concluded: vitamin C intake doesn’t influence the duration or severity of cold symptoms.
The spinach myth inception
In 1972, Professor A. Bender claimed, “German chemists reinvestigating the iron content of spinach had shown in the 1930s that the original workers had put the decimal point in the wrong place and made a tenfold overestimate of its value. Spinach is no better for you than cabbage, brussels sprouts, or broccoli. For a better source of iron, Popeye would have been better off chewing the cans.” Bender was right about the iron content of spinach; these vegetables contain a compound that prevents the absorption of it. But this myth started in 1892 because scientists erroneously measured the iron content of contaminated spinach, not because of a decimal point error. Moreover, Popeye eats spinach because it contains vitamin A.
Autism is caused by vaccine
This myth comes from a 1997 study published by the British surgeon Andrew Wakefield, which suggested that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) causes autism in British children. A few years later, the study was completely discredited due to intentional procedural errors and undisclosed financial interests; there is in fact no link between the vaccine and autism. Today, the underlying causes of autism are unclear, but the association between the MMR vaccine and autism persists in people’s mind. Avoiding vaccinations exposes the individual and the whole community to the risk of getting dangerous or long-forgotten diseases, which are worse than the vaccine itself—and this is one of the reasons why it’s crucial to debunk scientific myths.
Editor translation: Felix