Over the years, women have read plenty of “health tips” and “wise words” that don’t exactly check out. In fact, there are a number of women’s health myths out there that can be confusing and, yes, even dangerous.
So let’s clear up some fallacies surrounding women and what they eat, how they exercise and more. Being aware of these common misconceptions can help you to continue on your journey of optimal health with much fewer missteps.
1. Myth: Women are less at risk of heart disease than men.
Fact: The CDC reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. It’s responsible for one in every five female deaths. Women who have diabetes, are overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle and eat an unhealthy diet are at an even greater risk of heart disease.
2. Myth: Mammograms find all breast cancer.
Fact: In 2019, for the first time in more than 20 years, the FDA admitted that while mammography may be the best screening test to search for breast cancer, it does not find all breast cancer. This is especially true in women with high breast tissue density, which is more than half of all women over the age of 40.
The American Cancer Society also pointed out that mammograms are not perfect and sometimes more tests are needed to determine whether or not something found on a mammogram is cancer.
Another, and maybe even better, option over mammography is thermography, which is a non-invasive technology that measured infrared heat from the body and is able to track changes over time.
3. Myth: Eating fats will cause weight gain.
Fact: Despite the fact that fats have been vilified in America for the past few decades and women today still try to follow low-fat or non-fat diets, the idea that eating healthy fats will make you gain weight is just false. Fats are actually an important part of a healthy diet and research shows that eating healthy fats can support satiety, brain function and healthy weight maintenance.
It’s ideal to avoid trans fats, which are found in processed and packaged foods because they extend their shelf-life. Choose healthy fats like avocado, eggs, nuts and seeds, ghee, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and grass-fed beef.
4. Myth: Dyeing your hair is safe.
Fact: Recent research found that for women using permanent hair dyes every 5–8 weeks, the risk of breast cancer increases by about 45 percent in American black women and seven percent in white women. Using darker hair dyes may be of even greater concern because they typically contain more chemicals.
5. Myth: There’s a quick fix for cellulite.
Fact: Reports show that cellulite is present in 80–90 percent of women, but many still view it as an intolerable imperfection. Every year, over a million cosmetic surgeries are carried out to remove cellulite, but these procedures are not an effective quick fix.
Cellulite is natural and occurs in most women as they age. If it makes you uncomfortable, try natural ways to reduce the appearance of cellulite, like eating a healthy diet and increasing physical activity.
6. Myth: You can’t get pregnant when breastfeeding.
Fact: Although studies indicate that it’s normal to go through a time of delayed fertility in the early phases of breastfeeding, it’s not true that you can never get pregnant while nursing. Your risk of pregnancy while breastfeeding increases when your period has returned, and when your baby begins sleeping through the night, nursing less often and is more than 6 months old.
7. Myth: You shouldn’t exercise when pregnant.
Fact: For healthy women experiencing a normal pregnancy, it is completely safe (and beneficial) to exercise. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologies reports that physical activity does not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight or early delivery. A common recommendation is to stick to exercises that you engaged in before pregnancy.
8. Myth: Postpartum depression is a hormonal issue.
Fact: Although hormone fluctuations is one possible cause of postpartum depression, it’s not the only one. Research suggests that many psychological stressors have an impact on the development of postpartum depression and women with a preexisting risk of depression are more likely to experience symptoms after childbirth. Other risk factors include child care and life stress, a lack of support, prenatal anxiety and marital dissatisfaction.
9. Myth: Birth control pills are safe.
Facts: When used correctly, birth control pills are effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies, but the health risks may outweigh their benefits. The dangers of birth control pills have been found to include anxiety, depression and moodiness, weight gain, breast tenderness and cystic acne.
The FDA reports that continuously raised estrogen levels in the female body due to taking birth control pills may also increase the risk of breast cancer, blood clotting, heart attack, migraines, liver problems, weight gain, mood changes, nausea and cramping.
Safer birth control options include male condoms, female condoms, diaphragms, cervical cap, natural family planning, the calendar method and the mucus method.
10. Myth: Only bodybuilders should use protein powders.
Fact: Women can use protein powders for a variety of reasons, including muscle growth and recovery, joint health, weight control, bone health, and better skin, hairs and nails. Collagen protein powder, for instance, is commonly used by women to boost healthy aging. Whey protein is also popular and has been shown to benefit female body composition without influencing changes in fat mass.
11. Myth: Breakfast is the most important meal.
Fact: Are you forcing yourself to eat breakfast because you’ve been told that it’s the most important meal of the day? A big breakfast may work for some people, like those who exercise in the morning and need to refuel their bodies.
But research suggests that people who are intermittent fasting or wake up without the urge to eat right away can definitely go for a later or lighter breakfast and still maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.
The more important factor is what you are eating as your first meal, which will set the standard for the day and work to energize your body.
12. Myth: You must eat for two during pregnancy.
Fact: Pregnancy only requires a slight increase in caloric intake and “eating for two” can actually increase your risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Research suggests that moderately active pregnant women should eat an additional 70 calories in their first trimester, 260 calories in their second trimester and 300–400 additional calories in their third trimester.
13. Myth: Higher SPF is best.
Fact: Although higher SPF sunscreens are best in a lab setting to protect against UVA damage, in real life many people have a false sense of security when they wear them. Even with a high SPF, you still must reapply and limit your time in direct sun.
The best sunscreens, as indicated by the Environmental Working Group, are not necessarily highest in SPF, but aren’t made with chemicals that can enter the bloodstream, have the greatest UVA protection and fit a specific criteria for safety.
14. Myth: Women with darker skin don’t need as much sun exposure.
Fact: Studies prove that women with darker skin are actually at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency because the melanin (which causes skin pigmentation) reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D. For this reason, women (and men) with darker skin need more sunlight exposure to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.
15. Myth: Cardio is the best way to burn fat.
Fact: It’s been proven that physical activity plays a vital role in weight maintenance and overall health. While cardio is an excellent form of exercise for burning fat, it’s definitely not the only one.
In addition to running, jogging, cycling and swimming, other types of exercise that boost fat loss include weight training, high-intensity interval training (with short bursts of intense movement followed by a recovery period), swimming, yoga, pilates and hiking.
- It’s true that some women’s health myths that have been spread for years and years are actually completely false.
- With diet fads, beauty advise and pregnancy misconceptions being passed from generation to generation, it’s no wonder why these health misconceptions are still declared as fact.
- Being aware of the facts surrounding women’s health and best practices for optimal wellness may help you to avoid some missteps during your health journey.