12 old wives’ tales that are actually true

Those old wives tales your grandmother used to tell you aren’t actually all that far off the mark, according to some scientific studies.

First published by kidspot.com.au on December 30, 2014.

The wisdom of old wives has developed over centuries of life and human experience – and while many of these have now been proven by modern science to be mere superstition, some of them do have some surprising scientific merit!

Here we present 12 old wives tales that science has proven have merit and may surprise you:


1. Chicken soup as medicine

We’ve all heard the ye olde wisdom that when you have a cold you should eat chicken soup, no? Well, turns out it has some truth to it. While chicken soup won’t go so far as curing you of the common cold, it will go some way towards relieving the symptoms.

Scientists have discovered that chicken soup can actually reduce inflammation by slowing down the white blood cell activity responsible for causing said inflammation. So go forth – and eat soup, snotty ones!

2. A long, arduous labour = baby boy

It’s true – science has proven that boys give their mothers more grief during labour than girls. A 2003 Irish study found that women who give birth to baby boys are more likely to run into complications during labour, resulting in a higher number of emergency caesareans.

Why? The study suggests that this is because boys are generally larger and heavier at birth than girls – and they have bigger heads.

3. An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Yeah, yeah – we all know eating fruit and veggies every day is important for our overall health. But an ‘apple’? A ‘day’?  Turns out those old wives weren’t just nagging … they were actually spot on.

A 2013 study found that if all people aged over 50 in the UK ate just one apple per day, they would actually prevent – or delay – 8500 heart attacks and strokes every year. So let them eat apples!

4. Chocolate helps to relieve premenstrual cramps

Turns out those chocolate cravings you get just before you get your period don’t just rock up to undermine your healthy eating regime. They actually happen for physiological reasons.

Studies suggest that chocolate contains nutrients and antioxidants such as anandamide, which can have a calming effect, and keep anxiety and moods in balance. So you don’t need to feel guilty about inhaling that extra piece of chocolate – but don’t overdo it!

5. A hot bath decreases chance of conception for blokes

If you and your partner are trying to conceive, make sure the man in the equation avoids a hot bath prior to the ‘act’. While old wives have known it for eons, science has proven it to be so.

A 2007 scientific study found that ‘wet heat exposure’ in a hot tub, bath or jacuzzi, is in fact a real risk factor for male fertility. So skip the hot bath before bed, fellas.

6. Heartburn in pregnancy means you’re going to have a hairy baby

Yep, that’s right. Ancient wisdom predicts that if you’re pregnant and suffering from hardcore heartburn, chances are you’re going to give birth to a hairy one …

And science now backs this theory up! A 2007 study at John Hopkins University discovered, much to their surprise, that a sample of women who endured horrible heartburn did in fact give birth to babies that had more than the average amount of hair for a newborn bubba.


7. Full moon

No, you’re not imagining it when your kids go a bit bonkers when there’s a full moon on display. Those old wives have been hinting for centuries that a full moon can make for some weird-ass behaviour – from both animals and humans alike.

Generally, researchers have yet to prove categorically that our behaviour, fertility and birth rate, etc. are affected by lunar patterns (are you are LUNAtic?). But one study in particular has found that we find it more difficult to sleep around the time of a full moon, despite black-out blinds, etc.

8. Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight

Is the old adage “Red sky at night, sailor’s/shepherd’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s/shepherd’s warning” true, or is it just one of those silly old wives’ tale?

According to the Library of Congress there’s certainly a scientific explanation for it:

“When there’s a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles, indicating high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Meaning good weather will follow … A red sunrise can mean that a high pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east. A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.”


9.  Hair of the dog

Did you overdo it last night and drink more champagne than you should have? Feeling a bit crook as a result? Ye ol’ wives would tell you to get straight back on that horse and have another drink to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover.

Do they speak the truth? Science says yes. Research has shown that consuming small doses of alcohol can actually relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms. But a word of caution – easing the effects can increase dependency on alcohol creating a vicious cycle. So best way to avoid a pounding hangover? Drink a big glass of water before going to bed. Or even better … just don’t drink alcohol to excess!

10. Count sheep to fall asleep

Those old wives have been telling wakeful kids for centuries to close their eyes and count sheep to fall asleep. And it turns out they’re right about that as well … Well, sort of.

You see, while there hasn’t been a specific scientific study proving that counting actual ‘sheep’ will work to put you to slumber, the use of visualisation or mental imagery can certainly assist in getting you to the land of nod. How? It can help to distract you from thinking stressful or anxious thoughts – commonly associated with insomnia – which will make you fall asleep sooner. So baa.


11. Not-so-sweet dreams are made of cheese

Have you experienced the phenomenon of eating a cheesy pizza for dinner and then having a sometimes scary, lucid dream that night? Well, this is so common that the old wives have been at it again, giving it a place in folklore.

But it also has a place in science too, apparently. There are some scientific theories that suggest it’s the bacterial and fungal elements of cheese that are the culprits. These contain psychoactive ingredients, which have the potential to affect dreams. BUT … not all cheese-induced dreams will be scary.

12. Fish is brain food

“Eat your fish, it’s good for you,” says every mother to every child, like, ever. It’s old wisdom that fish is good for the brain. But does this hold true in science? Why, yes. Yes it does.

A recent Harvard study found that the more fish mothers ate during their second trimester of pregnancy, the better their babies did on tests when they were six months old. But mums need to be mindful of the kind of fish they’re eating when pregnant to avoid the mercury-laden ones, such as swordfish.