Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. “

Let’s have a romp through some beliefs that have NO science to back them up.

Burping babies- If you’ve ever been a parent or a babysitter, you’ve learned how to burp babies. Halfway through, and again at the end of a feeding, hold the little one up against your chest, gently tapping or rubbing the back until that satisfying burp pops out, right? Because if you don’t, the baby will be gassy, colicky and will spit up more, right? Wrong! Despite what we have all been taught, there is no correlation between burping and spitting, colic, or gassiness. In fact, a couple of well-done studies showed no difference in colic, and perhaps increased spitting among babies who were burped! Burping appears to be more common in Western cultures and isn’t done in many African and Eastern cultures, especially countries where breastfeeding is predominant. So, feel free to stop participating in this time-honored but useless tradition.

Sugar winds children up- We all know parents who don’t let their children have ice cream/birthday cake/cupcakes/candy at birthday parties, because they don’t want them to get overly excited. Well, this theory has been tested in over a dozen double-blind, randomized trials. In these tests, the parents, children, and researchers didn’t know if the children had gotten real sugar or not, and the results showed NO DIFFERENCE in behavior between the children who had gotten sugar and those who had not. Amazing! Even if you do this test with children with ADHD, or children who were deemed by their parents to be “sensitive to sugar”, there was no difference in behavior, whether sugar had been eaten or not. So, feel free to let your child indulge in the birthday cake, and chalk up the wild behavior to running around with lots of other children. Sadly, I will tell you from experience, NO ONE will believe you when you tell them this. All parents will be sure, “My child is different”.

Cracking knuckles causes arthritis later- Pulling on a joint creates a tiny vacuum within the joint. The noise you hear is nitrogen gas being pulled into the joint when pressure is put on it. Does it hurt the joint? Nope. And cracking knuckles will not make them bigger, either. It will make other people in the room want to throw a book at you, though!

Turkey makes you sleepy- Yes, turkey contains tryptophan, and yes, tryptophan can make people sleepy. Turkey contains 250 mg of tryptophan in a 3 oz serving. How does that compare to other foods? The same amount of chicken has 340 mg, steak 315 mg, lobster 315mg, lamb 340 mg. Why, a tuna sandwich has 250 mg of tryptophan and we don’t all take naps after a tuna sandwich! You need over 1000mg of tryptophan to become sleepy; that’s a piece of turkey the size of 4 decks of cards. So, why the sleepiness? Blame it on the wine, the three plates of food, the heavy dessert, the ball game, and the fact that you stayed up late last night, but don’t blame it on the bird!

People shouldn’t sleep after a head injury- We’ve all seen the TV shows with dramatic scenes of the injury victim nodding off, and the diligent friend shouting, “Stay with me! Stay awake!”. Nope, you don’t have to keep that person with the head injury awake. In fact, brains do a lot of healing during sleep, and increased sleep after head injuries is common. It used to be that waking up a concussed person every few hours was the only way to gauge their level of consciousness and assess how they were doing. We now have CT scans and MRIs and can see how the brain itself is. So, let that tired concussed person sleep!

You can’t swim for an hour after you eat- Or you’ll cramp and sink to the bottom, right? Wrong! People used to believe that after you ate, your body used so much energy digesting food there wasn’t enough left over for the arms and legs. Not so. Now, it is true blood is preferentially shunted to the digestive organs after a meal, but there is plenty left over for the rest of the body. The incidence of muscle cramps is no higher after a meal than on an empty stomach. I think your mom just needed you to take a nap after lunch for her own sanity.

You can neutralize a jellyfish sting by peeing on it- We all saw that episode of “Friends” didn’t we? Well, there’s no evidence it works. And don’t try meat tenderizer either. Do rinse the area with salt water. Don’t use fresh water; that can re-activate the stinging cells. Once you’ve deactivated the stinging cells, you can use shaving cream or a slurry of sand and sea water and try to remove the stinging cells with something like a credit card or a razor. Remember that in North America, jellyfish stings hurt but are rarely dangerous. Most of the pain is in the first five minutes and steadily decreases after that. So, even if you do nothing much, the pain will get better.

The five second rule- If you drop food on the floor and pick it up within five seconds, it is safe to eat. This has actually been tested, and the results are disappointing. Food, especially moist food like an apple slice or meat, picks up bacteria from the floor immediately. Now, it is true that the longer it sits on the floor, the more bacteria sticks to the food, but only a second or two is long enough for thousands of germs to stick to your food. Is that important? That’s where the experts are divided. One camp says there’s no such thing as a clean floor, and you never want to risk it, so don’t eat food that has touched a germy floor. The other camp says we don’t live in a germ-free world, and we have great immune systems, so if it’s not a terribly filthy floor (the bathroom or the floor near the garbage can, for instance) it’s probably no big deal. Personally, I think it depends on how hungry you are, how delicious that morsel was, and if you can get it before the dog does.

I hope I’ve equipped you to deal more scientifically with some of life’s most pressing problems!