We’ve all heard that a glass of wine a day is healthy or that spinach is a good source of iron. But what is true and what is a myth?
There are many misconceptions about what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Insight is a constant process: what was accepted as true yesterday could be scientifically refuted today. But how do myths become embedded, even in the scientific community? Why can’t we simply replace old insights with new ones? Everything from methodological errors to manipulation can play a role. New myths aren’t just created in spite of science, but sometimes even with its help. One example: detoxing is a very popular myth at the moment. Removing toxins from the body is based on an understanding of medicine dating back to the early 20th Century. But modern medical experts say this notion of a build-up of toxins is nonsense. So why is it so hard to debunk the detox myth when it has no scientific basis? Dr. Lilian Krist, an epidemiologist at the Charité Hospital in Berlin says: “People want to believe in something. For many, these diet hypes and lifestyle trends have become a substitute religion.” New studies often throw up more questions than answers and more room for wrong interpretations – or even deliberately false conclusions. Once wrong information has become embedded in our brains, it’s difficult to get rid of again. Cognitive psychologist Ullrich Ecker has discovered that established myths people have believed in for generations are incredibly resilient. There’s even a boomerang effect: the more we try to destroy a myth, the more people believe in it.
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