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The #1 Worst Health Advice You Should Never Follow

These health tips are not backed by science and can be dangerous.

With so much pseudoscience and quackery being spread these days (no, the flu shot will not give you the flu) it can be hard to figure out which health advice is trustworthy and what is just bogus. "Misinformation often arises when there are information gaps or unsettled science, as human nature seeks to reason, better understand, and fill in the gaps," says the CDC. Here are five health recommendations you should never follow—backed by science. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Starvation Diets

Sad woman in anticipation of an order.

Severely restricting calories (not to be confused with intermittent fasting) may seem like a fast way to lose weight, but it can actually have the opposite effect. "Let's review what happens when you go on a calorie restricted, high carbohydrate, low-fat diet of 1,560 calories/day — just like your doctor or dietician currently tells you to do," says Dr. Jason Fung. "You feel lousy, tired, cold, hungry, irritable, and depressed. That's not just because you are dieting, there are physiological reasons why you feel so crappy. Metabolic rate drops, hormones make you hungry, body temperature drops, and there are a multitude of psychological effects. The worst thing is that you lose a bit of weight but you gain it all back when the diet stops."

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Working Out Too Hard and Too Much, aka "Overtraining"

Man tired after excercise.

Working out is fantastic for your physical and mental health—but you absolutely can have too much of a good thing. "Overtraining occurs when a person partakes in too much physical training with too little rest and recovery after hard workouts," says certified personal trainer Stephanie Mansour. "The resulting stress placed on the muscles, joints and bones causes fatigue and soreness that ultimately affects performance. While over-training syndrome most often applies to serious athletes, that doesn't mean that recreational athletes or weekend warriors are free from the effects of pushing the body too hard. While it's normal to feel some level of fatigue after a tough workout, complete exhaustion, burnout or pain is not."

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Drinking a Ton of Water All Day Long to "Detox"

Dehydrated woman feeling thirsty holding glass drinking filtered pure mineral fresh water for body refreshment or energy recovery, dehydration problem, hydration

Hydration myths are pervasive, thanks to the enduring yet scientifically unsound advice that we need to drink at least eight glasses of water a day or risk keeling over from dehydration. In fact, excessive water ingestion can lead to hyponatremia, a condition where there is dangerously low blood sodium as a result of too much water. "Kidneys can excrete up to 28 liters of fluid in a day, but only one liter an hour," says Christina Lang, MD, internal medicine and pediatric physician at UCHealth in Fort Collins. "Drinking more than this can lead to water intoxication and electrolyte imbalances. This can lead to dangerous fluid shifts into the cells of the body, particularly the brain. With excessive water drinking, above what the kidney can excrete and/or without replacement of electrolytes (sodium, potassium), a person can have swelling of the brain (cerebral edema), which can be fatal." 

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Using Essential Oils to "Cure" Depression

Essential oils can be useful—but people with mental health conditions should always follow the advice of medical professionals. "I've recently seen a couple of posts suggesting essential oils and 'psychedelic medicine' as treatments for anxiety and depression," says Shiri Macri, MA. "While essential oils are wonderful and can be a great addition to a repertoire of self-care strategies, depression and anxiety are very real mental health conditions that often need more than simple self-care to heal."

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The #1 Worst Health Advice: Not Wearing a Mask or Getting Vaccinated

taking off mask

Despite mask mandates being lifted across the U.S., wearing a mask is still important to curb the spread of COVID-19—even if you are fully vaccinated. "Face masks and physical distancing will need to continue into the foreseeable future," explains infectious disease specialist Kristin Englund, MD. "Unfortunately, getting vaccinated does not instantly mean we can go back to how life was before. Until we have some level of herd immunity, the vaccine is now just another layer of protection against COVID-19."

The vaccine is also proven to be effective and safe. Unfortunately:

  • "Misinformation is false information shared by people who do not intend to mislead others.
  • Disinformation is false information deliberately created and disseminated with malicious intent.

Both types can affect vaccine confidence and vaccination rates. Most misinformation and disinformation that has circulated about COVID-19 vaccines has focused on vaccine development, safety, and effectiveness, as well as COVID-19 denialism," says the CDC.  "FACT: The COVID-19 vaccine will not make you sick with COVID-19."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman wearing face mask looking at camera showing thumbs up after getting the covid-19 vaccine.

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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