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Cindy Fox Aisen
IU School of Medicine

Last modified: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

IU doctors explore myths, half-truths and outright lies about health

May 26, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- Fact or fiction? Chewing gum stays in your stomach for seven years. Cold weather makes you sick. You should never wake a sleepwalker. A dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's.

Riley Hospital for Children physicians Dr. Aaron Carroll, associate professor of pediatrics, and Dr. Rachel Vreeman, assistant professor of pediatrics, both at the Indiana University School of Medicine, tackle these and other commonly held medical beliefs in a new book, laying out the science which proves or disproves them.

In their introduction to Don't Swallow Your Gum! Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health, Carroll and Vreeman encourage their readers to keep an open mind as they examine the science behind the beliefs that they, and quite possibly other physicians, have accepted without question.

"Our book should make your life, and the lives of your family and friends, easier because you will know which of these hypotheses science affirms and which it doesn't," said Carroll, director of the IU Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research and a Regenstrief Institute affiliated scientist.

He and Vreeman previously authored two studies on medical myths published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal.

"We were shocked at how many people had strong reactions to the beliefs we debunked in the BMJ studies. These myths may be things people have heard since childhood, like 'you lose most of your body heat through your head.' Some people have a hard time letting these beliefs go," said Vreeman, a Regenstrief Institute affiliated scientist.

"The really fun part of writing this book was that we had believed so many of these myths -- but upon reflection, we weren't sure whether they were true or not. As health services researchers, we couldn't resist the temptation to be myth busters," said Carroll.

The new book is divided into six sections:

  • "Look at the size of his feet!" Myths about your body
  • "Do you want to catch pneumonia out there?" Myths about how we contract and treat diseases
  • "But I was on the pill!" Myths about sex and pregnancy
  • "He won't get into Harvard without Baby Einstein." Myths about babies and children
  • "Don't swallow your gum!" Myths about what we eat and drink
  • "Shots made my baby autistic." Myths that spark controversy and debate

Don't Swallow Your Gum!: Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health is published by St. Martin's Press and is available online ( and at book stores across the country.

So, if you get stung by a jellyfish, should you have someone urinate on the sting? You will have to read the book to find out.

Note to editor: Review copies of "Don't Swallow Your Gum! Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health" are available from the publisher upon request.