Sometimes, age-old wellness wisdom isn't very wise.
Over the years, myths and misinformation have given rise to a swath of "healthy" habits that are popular but not actually backed up by science. At best, these habits are an ineffective waste of money. At worst, they could actually backfire and harm your body.
Here are 17 that you may want to rethink:
1. Detox diets and cleanses
Detox and cleanse diets are BS. The entire premise of detoxing is BS. And yet, celebrities and food companies continue to push the idea that special juices or teas or powders can flush toxins out of your body.
When the allure of a cleanse feels strong, just remember that your liver and kidneys do all the detoxing work for you: You don't need to do anything additional to help them out. Any company that tries to convince you otherwise is likely trying to "cleanse" out the contents of your wallet.
2. Scrolling through fitspo on Instagram
Social media's nonstop stream of fitspiration— the clever blend of "fitness" and "inspiration" — is meant to help you get healthier. Some studies have even suggested that social media can motivate people to exercise more, albeit for a short time frame.
A small but growing body of evidence says it's backfiring. Some studies have found that viewing fitspiration images increases body dissatisfaction— a mental state that may lead to anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Fitspiration motivate you to hit the gym, but physical fitness shouldn't come at the expense of mental health.
June, dietitian Georgie Fear gave good advice for anyone on social media:
"I feel like the best thing a person can do when they're looking at their social media
feeds is monitor how it's making them feel," she said. "If it's making you feel lousy,
turn it off."
3. Cleaning your vagina
Yes, every drugstore has a section devoted to "intimate" washes, wipes, and powders, and douches that promise to keep your vagina and vulva "clean."
But the vagina is designed to clean itself— and interfering with that self-cleaning can actually make things worse.
"Too much 'cleaning' and seemingly helpful 'hygiene' products can actually cause itching, irritation, and even infection by disrupting our natural balance of bacteria," gynecologist Dr. Alyssa Dweck writes in her book "The Complete A to Z for Your V."
Additionally, these products hearken back to the sexist belief that women should eliminate the healthy, natural smell of their genitals in order to be desirable. That's just not cool.
4. Taking vitamin C for a cold
In 2007, researchers pooled the results of several previous studies and found that taking vitamin C won't make you feel better faster if you're already sick.
"After the cold is running its course, [vitamin C] doesn't have any effect," dietitian Andy Bellatti told INSIDER in July. "If you do have a cold, stay hydrated and get enough rest. Don't go to work and pound [vitamin C]."
5. Drinking lemon water every morning
Tons of Pinterest posts tout the "benefits" of lemon water — from detoxing to weight loss to "balancing" your body's pH levels. The only problem is that lemon water can't do most of these things.
It can't detox you: your liver and kidneys do that. It can't balance pH, either: The foods we eat have only a "brief and minimal" impact on our pH levels, according to Harvard Medical School's Dr. Anthony Komaroff. As for claims that it'll boost your metabolism and weight loss, nutrition pros agree that lemon water is really no better than regular water.
It also has one known downside. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), frequent exposure to citrus foods can wear down your tooth enamel over time, leading to decay.
It's not that lemon water is awful for you. It could be a great choice if it's replacing something like a daily soda, and it can give you some extra vitamin C. But it's just not a miracle beverage.
6. Cleaning out your ears with Q-tips (or anything)
As long as your earwax isn't blocking your ear canal or causing hearing problems, you should just leave it alone, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO).
In fact, earwax has a purpose. It's antifungal and antibacterial, and it helps move dead skin cells out of your ear. The AAO does say that about 5% of adults have excessive earwax that might require cleaning out, but most of us don't need to worry about it.
Whatever you do, don't try to clean out earwax with a Q-tip.
"The diameter of the Q-tip is greater than half the diameter of the ear canal," Dr. Mark Vaughan told INSIDER in August. "So any way you stick that in there, there's a portion of the wax that you can't get around. All you can do is push it in."
7. Restrictive "clean" diets
There's no specific definition for "clean" eating, but broadly, it's a dietary pattern that eliminates most processed foods. In theory, it's a sound and health-promoting diet. In reality, has a dark side, as INSIDER reported in July.
"When new clients say they eat clean, I know that what they are doing is elevating certain types of food as 'good' and 'clean' while demonizing all other food as 'bad,'" dietitian Brittany Markides told INSIDER. "Because the thought that the foods they are craving are 'bad' is deeply ingrained, eating these foods causes guilt and shame."
In some people, experts say, clean eating may spiral out of control and lead to disordered eating habits, or even an eating disorder called orthorexia— sometimes described as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.
Restrictive diets like clean eating may beget short-term results, but they're usually not sustainable. A registered dietitian can help you find an eating plan that keeps you physically and mentally healthy for the long term.
8. Taking biotin for your hair and nails
People take biotin supplements to improve their hair, skin, and nails, but the pills aren't doing much.
People who are deficient in biotin can experience hair loss, skin rashes, or brittle nails. But you're probably not deficient in biotin, according to Bellatti.
"Biotin deficiencies are really rare, mainly because it's found in so many foods, and also because you don't even need all that much," he told INSIDER in August.
And Bellatti said there's no strong evidence tha biotin supplements help the hair, skin, or nails of people who already have enough biotin in their systems. If you think you might be deficient, ask a doctor.
9. Giving up gluten
"For people that have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten is definitely a problem," Fear recently told INSIDER. "[But] for the population at large, do they need to avoid gluten? The answer is definitely no. And is it beneficial to avoid gluten? The answer also appears to be no."
In fact, avoiding gluten might have a nutritional cost. Fear said there's evidencethat gluten-free diets tend to be lower in fiber and whole grains— two things we know benefit health.
10. Cleaning out your colon
Proponents of colon cleaning say that your intestines are full of toxic gunk that must be removed. So they recommend a procedure in which as many as 15 gallons of water shoot up into the colon through a tube inserted into the rectum. (Fun!)
Experts say these cleanings are unnecessary. "Your digestive system and bowel already eliminate waste material and bacteria from your body," the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Michael Picco wrote.
They can also cause cramping, vomiting, bowel perforations, and kidney failure, according to a paper published the Journal of Family Practice. In some documented cases, people have died following such cleanings.
In cast that's not enough to convince you, the paper also said that there are "no scientifically robust studies" proving that they have any benefits
11. Using hand sanitizer
Good old soap, water, and scrubbing is still the best way to get germs off your hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hand sanitizer is better than nothing, but compared to hand washing, it isn't as good at killing certain bugs that can make you sick, like norovirus.
The CDC says you should wash your hands whenever you can. If there's no soap and water available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
12. Swapping out real ice cream for "healthier" brands
"Healthy" ice cream brands boast astonishingly low calorie counts — so low that you can eat the entire pint, some of the advertisements say. Some nutrition pros aren't fond of that eat-it-all message.
"One of my biggest concerns is that it encourages you not to listen to your internal cues of hunger and fullness," dietitian Rachael Hartley told INSIDER in September.
Plus, foods that are labeled as "healthy" tend to make people overeat — an effect that's been observed in the study, after study, after study.
Rather than wolfing down a whole pint of watery "healthy" ice cream, why not slow down and enjoy a single serving of the real thing? Odds are you'll end up feeling more satisfied.
13. Avoiding MSG
Over the years, scare stories from "wellness" websites have drummed up irrational fear over the safety of MSG. But that fear isn't backed up by actual science.
MSG is a savory flavor-boosting ingredient. People once thought it was behind "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" — a collection of symptoms that can include headaches, nausea, chest pain, and heart palpitations.
But in human studies, MSG has not consistently caused those negative symptoms, even in people who think they're sensitive to it. Scientists now acknowledge that a very small number of people may react to MSG, but most will have zero issues eating it in reasonable amounts.
14. Brushing your teeth right after eating
Brushing right after a meal seems like a good idea — why leave food particles all over your teeth for any longer than necessary? But the American Dental Association (ADA) says you should wait at least 30 minutes to brush after eating, especially if you had something acidic. Doing so accelerate the breakdown of your tooth enamel, the New York Times reported.
15. Taking a multivitamin
Roughly 40% of Americans take a daily multivitamin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, they don't appear to making us any healthier.
A trio of studies published in 2013 found no evidence that supplements could prevent or slow down chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer among people who are well-nourished (like most Americans).
In an editorial published alongside those studies, a group of doctors also addressed multivitamins specifically, writing that there's "no substantial health benefit" to taking them.
If you think that you might be deficient in any nutrients, talk to a doctor before you buy vitamins.
16. Taking antioxidant supplements
Food and supplement companies talk about antioxidants as if they're disease-fighting warriors that can do no wrong. That's not always the case.
Experts do agree that is great for your health. But antioxidants in pill form don't appear to be beneficial. They could even cause harm.
There's evidence that taking antioxidant supplements can increase the risk of death, for example, and one massive study even had to be stopped early because the participants taking antioxidant supplements were getting more lung cancer than the ones taking a placebo.
The bottom line: Get your antioxidants from foods.
17. Drinking juices (yes, even green ones)
Cold-pressed green drinks might be rich in vitamins and minerals, but juicing removes much of the fiber from fruits and vegetables. And fiber is not something that you want to be removing from your food. It helps increase fullness, lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, and regulate bowel movements, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some people justify the loss of fiber because they believe that juices are "detoxing" and that they help your body absorb nutrients better. Mayo Clinic dietitian Katherine Zeratsky wrote that there's simply no sound evidence to support these beliefs.
Fresh juices aren't necessarily bad, and they could be a good replacement for, say, a sweetened coffee drink. But juicing is no healthier than just eating whole fruits and veggies.
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