There’s an old wives’ tale that, should you be suffering from a cold, you should cut an onion in half and put one piece in each sock. Fortunately, thanks to science and medicine, we know that this is categorically daft. You will have incredibly smelly feet if you do this, and you’ll still have phlegm leaking from your nose, as if Shrek met Fargo and was thrown into a woodcutter.
It’s incredibly unlikely that doing this will cause you any significant physical pain or endanger your health. There are, however, a handful of medical myths like this that can prove to be quite dangerous, and potentially very painful – and because we’re lovely, we took a look and found some for you.
Live long and prosper. Don’t do any of these.
1 – Don’t Pee On A Jellyfish Sting
So you’re swimming out there in the beautiful blue ocean, dipping in and out of the azure waves. Then, out of nowhere, pain shoots up your leg. A pesky jellyfish has wrapped its tentacles around you, or just accidentally brushed up against you, and its bard-shaped stingers – its nematocysts – have penetrated your skin on a microscopic scale.
Alkaline venom rushes into your body. It burns, and assuming it’s not a wibbly wobbly deathbringer and you aren’t going to die, you paddle awkwardly to the shore and beg someone to urinate on your brand-new, boil-covered linear striations. The idea is that your urine is mildly acidic, and its liberal spraying on said wounds will help to neutralize the alkaline sting, and you’ll be right as rain.
Stop. Hold back this golden shower, for it is not medicinal. Pop culture may have convinced you that it is, but there’s no compelling evidence out there that this will do anything other than embarrass all involved.
A study, published in the journal Toxins, explains that warm vinegar – which is far more acidic than your piss – will help, but only in the sense that it’ll stop any nematocysts from unleashing any fresh venom. You’ll need to see a medical professional soon afterwards. Urination won’t do much, but the more sodium-rich it is, the more likely it’ll trigger those barbs to fire more venom. So hold it in, have-a-go heroes.
2 – Don’t Suck Venom From A Wound Using Your Mouth
Thanks to the prevalence and accessibility of anti-venom, you’d have to be incredibly unlucky to die of a venomous bite from any sort of critter. While waiting for medical help though, you may be tempted to ask a nearby human to suck the venom out of the wound and spit it elsewhere. Again, don’t do this.
Opening up the wound in any way will induce pain, causing the victim’s heart rate to rise, which may increase their absorption of venom into their bloodstream. This action of cutting or sucking will likely damage nerves and blood vessels, as will applying a tourniquet that’s too tight and that’ll cut off blood supply.
Just get yourself to a hospital. The venom’s already in your body.
3 – Don’t Try To Cauterize A Wound
Cauterization is an effective way of quickly sealing wounds and stopping you dying from exsanguination. A common trope in action movies, we have to admit that this one – although incredibly painful – can work. However, unless you’re about to die from extreme blood loss, we’d suggest not giving this a go.
As spotted by Sploid a few years back, a video, courtesy of The Medicine Journal, explains how it works. Whether it’s using a heated metal rod or some sort of lightsaber, the rapid cooking of proteins in your blood does cause them to become insoluble, as well as cause certain water-fearing (hydrophobic) proteins to bind together.
This improvised clot prevents you from bleeding out, sure. However, the burns you give your gaping wound open it up to infection, which could get worse over time. Assuming death isn’t imminent, just get to a hospital.
Whatever you do, don’t cauterize your wound with the flammable powder extracted from a bullet. Do you know how much to use without blowing your whole leg off? Honestly, Rambo set a bad example.
4 – Don’t Drink An Excess Amount of Water
This may not sound that dangerous but bear with us for a moment.
Back in 2007, a BMJ paper called out a few medical myths that simply had no scientific backing. The idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains, or that hair and fingernails continue to grow after death, for example, are popular notions that simply aren’t true.
Drinking eight glasses of water per day is also a myth, whose origins are ambiguous. It’s good to keep hydrated, but as the study notes, “drinking excess amounts of water can be dangerous, resulting in water intoxication, hyponatremia (low sodium concentrations) and death,” particularly if all that water enters your cells and causes them to swell. If this happens to your brain, it can trigger “seizures, coma, respiratory arrest, brain stem herniation and death.”
It’ll likely take a lot more than eight glasses, but don’t force yourself to overdo it. There’s plenty of water in food and other things, like orange juice and milk, remember.
5 – Don’t Drink Raw Water, Damn It
We don’t need to go into much detail here, but in case you missed it, you can now buy “raw water”, which is unfiltered, unsterilized, untreated spring water. This will at best cost you $37 a bottle and make you feel ludicrous, but at worst, you may get incredibly sick. Untreated water can sometimes contain a plethora of microbes that will give you anything from tooth decay to typhoid fever.
6 – Don’t Drink Your Own Urine Either
This is probably not a common medical myth, but urophagia, as it’s known, is still sometimes touted as a bizarre form of medicinal therapy. As pointed out by Gizmodo, urine isn’t actually sterile; apart from ingesting a mixture of bacteria that you almost certainly don’t need, you’ll also be ingesting plenty of sodium. If you’re stranded somewhere arid, then, this could simply cause your dehydration to accelerate, according to the Army Field Manual.
7 – With Very Few Exceptions, Don’t Take Dietary Supplements
Unless a clinical practitioner prescribes you any, don’t waste your money or endanger your health by buying over-the-counter vitamin supplements. Plenty of research has shown that at best they are ineffective, and at worst, they can increase your risk of getting certain diseases, including some cancers and heart disease.
In the US alone, around 23,000 emergency hospital visits per year are down to the adverse effects of such supplements.
Longitudinal studies and meta-analyses frequently conclude that those who took them were often more likely to suffer from adverse health effects later in life. One review found that some supplements actually have the opposite effect to the one they advertise.
Writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine, an editorial by prominent medical experts concluded that “sobering evidence” reveals that the use of multivitamin supplements leads to “no benefit or possible harm”.
“We believe that the case is closed – supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention,” they added. “Enough is enough.”