Yeah, we know—WebMD is your best friend. But there's a lot of misinformation out there on the wide, wide web. There's something really empowering about living in an age where near-endless resources help you have a two-way relationship with your doctor, not to mention a fuller understanding of your own body and mind. Unfortunately, though, the Internet doesn't (yet) have a dedicated team of robots to appropriately label the true, the false, and the as-yet-unproven information for your benefit. Until it does, it's up to us humans to sift through the masses of new health and wellness research, and to take everything we read with a grain—nay, a pile—of salt.
With that in mind, we donned our best Mythbusters cosplay to take on a couple of common lies about your health—and what did we find? Nothing but the truth.
The myth: Teenagers need insane amounts of sleep, but once you hit 20, six hours is enough.
The truth: There's no magical switch that turns when you go from 19-and-364-days to 20. Sleep behaviors, like just about anything else, change gradually. If you find you're not sleeping as deeply as you did back in high school, don't assume it's just because you're getting older and that's normal. The general consensus is that sleep more often matches changes in overall health than age—so, just because you're 30 doesn't mean you're sleeping better than a 40-year-old, and just because you're 28 doesn't mean you have to sleep worse than you did when you were 15.
Sleep needs vary a lot from person to person, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it's perfectly normal for adults to need seven to eight hours, and for some individuals, as much as nine hours a night (a number usually—and incorrectly—reserved for teenagers).
The myth: Vaginal odors are a sign that something is wrong and you are gross.
The truth: Not only are most vaginal odors totally normal, they change throughout your menstrual cycle. So, the idea that a clean or desirable vagina has a particular smell is just unreasonable, because two weeks later, that same vagina might be giving off completely different vibes. Douching might seem like a good option, but aside from being potentially dangerous, it's not going to change anything in the long term. A healthy vagina will return to normal and produce the same odor as before.
Normal smells generally come from vaginal flora (a bacterial population, not flowers) that fluctuates with sweat, changes in hormones caused by birth control, or even sex. Sometimes a particularly strong or unusual odor can be a sign of something like bacterial vaginosis or vaginitis, but many other infections don't cause any odor, so it's really not a good indicator of anything. If you suspect something's wrong, check with your gynecologist before you follow your nose.
The myth: You need to take approximately one million multivitamins a day or else you will die.
The truth: Okay, that was a bit dramatic, but Americans spend millions on vitamins and supplements every year—and that number is only getting bigger, having jumped 39 percent between 2003 and 2006. So clearly we think they're pretty important. However, in between your rabid vitamin feedings, you may have noticed a much-cited study popping up around the Internet of late. It broke the news in a big way, stating flat-out that "most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided." That includes everything from antioxidants to vitamins A, B, and E.
Eliseo Guallar, M.D., one of the study's authors, says that "a good part of the marketing has been done on these supplements is misleading...a healthy and varied diet according to recommendations is much better than taking supplements." While vitamins are demonstrably beneficial in certain specific cases (particularly prenatal vitamins such as folic acid), no studies have been able to show conclusive benefits towards preventing cancer or chronic illnesses, and Guallar says some may even be potentially harmful because "a single supplement can have many, many times the amount [of a vitamin that] you would ever get through a normal diet."