Is hot water and lemon good for you? Six health myths busted
We ask the experts which of our common health habits are really helping us, and which ones might be doing us more harm than good…
Whether it’s a result of urban myth or popular wellness trends, many of us are guilty of picking up health habits that aren’t as beneficial as they first appear.
After all, who doesn’t love a shortcut, whether that’s a tot of whisky before bed or a glass of supermarket juice to ‘cure’ a urinary tract infection? Dig a little deeper, however, and it’s clear that our home cures aren’t actually as effective as we first thought.
From the best time to brush your teeth to how to really treat a hangover, we lay the biggest misconceptions to rest – and reveal what to do instead.
1 MYTH: It’s better to start the day with hot water and lemon than with tea
This so-called healthy drink, loved by the wellness set, could be doing more harm than good.
“Lemon is particularly acidic, and if you drink lemon and water for many years it can wear the enamel down,” says London dentist Vikas Prinja.“This can expose the dentine underneath, giving teeth a yellowish appearance. In comparison, sugar-free tea may stain your teeth, but it can be removed – it doesn’t cause structural damage.”
And as for claims that it can help the body detox? “The kidneys and liver play an important role in removing waste products from the body and consuming lemon water is not going to ‘detox’ the body,” says registered nutritionist Jenna Hope. “However, lemon water can be a great caffeine-free way to rehydrate in the morning.”
Dr Prinja advises: “Just drink it all in one go or use a straw to reduce your teeth’s exposure to the acid in the lemon.”
Find out more in our article: Is it healthy to detox?
2 MYTH: Natural sugars such as agave syrup are healthier than table sugar
Many of us have swapped to trendy natural sweeteners such as agave and maple syrup and coconut sugar in a bid to improve our diets but are those 'healthy' alternatives actually better for us?
“Table sugar is sucrose – it’s made up of two sugars bound together: glucose and fructose – and so are natural alternatives. They’re biochemically the same or very similar,” says registered nutritionist Karen Newby, author of The Natural Menopause Method.
“They are both broken down into glucose and fructose. Glucose is transported in the blood, hence the term ‘blood sugar’, and fructose is transported directly to the liver and converted to glucose, and when consumed in high amounts, into fat.”
Honey may have extra micronutrients in “negligible amounts” but she says that “many natural sugar alternatives are just as processed as sugar.”
Learn more in our article: How much sugar should I eat?
3 MYTH: Drinking cranberry juice will treat cystitis
Generations of women have reached for a glass of cranberry juice at the first sign that they have the common urinary tract infection (UTI), cystitis, but is there any truth to it?
“It’s an old wives’ tale,” says Dr Zak Uddin, a GP based in Chorley, Lancashire. “It’s never held up in trials, it’s not part of NICE (the body that advises the NHS) guidelines and a GP would never recommend it. Cranberry juice is very sweet so you’re filling your system with sugar. The best thing you can do, if you’re not unwell, is to double your intake of clear fluid, such as water, to wash out any bacteria.”
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Find out more about the health benefits of cranberries
4 MYTH: An alcoholic ‘nightcap’ will help you sleep better
Many people rely on a stiff drink to help them drop off but it’s making their sleep worse.
“People think that alcohol is good for sleep because it can help you fall asleep quickly, but actually the alcohol will disrupt the quality of your sleep through the night and you might find yourself waking up several times in the latter part of the night as a result,” says sleep expert Dr Lindsay Browning, author of Navigating Sleeplessness.
“Alcohol specifically reduces the amount of REM sleep that you get,” she says. This means you’ll feel more groggy and tired the next day. While a varied balanced diet is the best approach for overall health, she notes, “Protein rich foods like turkey contain tryptophan, which the body uses to make melatonin, our sleep hormone. It’s also found in milk, poultry, salmon, oats, tofu and eggs.
“Tart cherries, such as Montmorency cherries, also contain a lot of melatonin and some studies have found that drinking tart cherry juice before bed helped with sleep duration and quality.”
Learn more about diet and sleep with our article: How to sleep better
5 MYTH It’s better to brush your teeth after breakfast rather than before
Most people enjoy the fresh feeling of brushing their teeth after breakfast but this habit can actually weaken your dentition over time.
“After you’ve had something to eat or drink your mouth will be slightly acidic because the saliva hasn’t had time to bring the pH back to neutral,” says Dr Prinja.
“If you’re brushing your teeth when there are residual acids in the mouth, the teeth will be more soft and you could be causing wear on the tooth.
“Official guidance is to wait 30 minutes after eating to brush. Or if you want to feel fresh after eating, use a zero alcohol mouthwash with fluoride. It will rinse away food particles but won’t scrub the enamel on your teeth.”
But the real gold standard for the first brush of the day? “After you wake up, floss or brush with interdental brushes, use a tongue scraper, mouthwash and then brush your teeth,” he says.
Read more on how to keep children’s teeth safe
6 MYTH: Taking paracetamol after drinking to excess will prevent a hangover
Knocking back a glass of water and a couple of paracetamol at the end of a big night could actually be harming your liver rather than helping it.“Paracetamol is metabolised by the liver and if you’re also metabolising alcohol, the painkiller will just sit there,” says Dr Uddin. “You’re essentially putting more strain on your organ that’s already trying to cope.”
Jenna Hope adds, “Hangovers can occur due to the build-up of chemical byproducts of drinking, dehydration, tiredness and low nutrient status.
“Rehydrating with water and consuming nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, good-quality proteins and complex carbohydrates is a healthier approach to managing a hangover.”
Read our article on how to cure a hangover