At some point, the internet started saying “hacks” when it meant “tips,” and “health hacks” suddenly became a popular trend. We have no problem with that. We’re always grateful for some helpful advice.
However, some of those health hacks are misleading, silly, or downright dangerous. We’re talking about tips like…
1. Feeling stressed? Eat some fish.
One popular life hack claims that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids could help you deal with stress. Science backs some of that up to a degree; people who eat a lot of fish tend to be better equipped for dealing with some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
But it’s quite a leap to say that you should eat fish to eliminate stress, since there are far more effective coping methods available. Meditation seems to be the most effective, but there’s also value in exercising and spending time with friends. Really, “chow down on some salmon” is pretty far down the list of effective stress therapies.
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t eat more fish, but it’s not an effective short-term solution for stress or mental health disorders. It is, however, delicious.
2. Try shaving your face with peanut butter.
Proponents claim that it works “just as well” as shaving gel, and that it’s much cheaper. They claim that the oils in peanut butter nourish your skin—that explains why we’ve never seen an ugly peanut.
First of all, we’ll set aside the obvious issue, which is that you’ll have to explain to all of your friends and family why you’re keeping a jar of peanut butter in your shower. The main issue with this hack is that if you’ve sworn off shaving cream, there are so many other options.
Any oil will work fairly well, for starters. So will standard soap. Really, you just need a shaving lotion that holds your hair in place without drying out your skin; anything slightly more viscous than water should do the trick.
Olive oil is our choice, since the oil acts as an effective hydration barrier (without making us smell like we’re going on a date with a jar of grape jelly).
3. Smell an orange to make yourself feel better.
According to this hack, you can become more alert, less anxious, and generally happier by smelling an orange rind. There’s even science to back it up!
Well, sort of. It’s true that one study indicated that citrus oil is a natural mood booster. However, the scientists behind that study never asked participants to sniff fruit.
Researchers actually piped the “ambient odor of orange” into a dental waiting room while patients waited for treatment. They then interviewed the patients about the experience and found that the orange odor reduced anxiety, but they also found that lavender produced similar results.
It’s possible that the patients simply preferred a waiting room that smelled like something other than a dentist’s office. It’s quite a stretch to say that you should walk around with some orange peel in your pocket in case you need a natural antidepressant.
4. Eat probiotic supplements to “reseed” the good bacteria in your gut.
Probiotic supplements contain limited amounts of bacteria—maybe a few species, not counting the dozens that latch onto the outside of the pill. That’s not nearly enough diversity to “reseed” the bacteria that live in a healthy digestive tract.
What’s more, they’re often the wrong types of bacteria; in fact, thinking of bacteria as “good” or “bad” is problematic, since some species are helpful in one context, but harmful in another.
Escherichia coli (E. coli), for instance, play an important role in breaking down your food, but the bacterium is quite dangerous when ingested. Plus, everyone’s gut is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here.
In short, there’s a lot we don’t know about the bacteria in our guts, and scientists aren’t sure how to use probiotics effectively yet. Those probiotic supplements—along with probiotic drinks and other products—probably don’t do much of anything, at least for the time being.
5. Chew gum to burn calories and tone your chin.
It makes sense, right? If you’re constantly engaging your jaw muscles, that’s got to be doing something for you.
Well, yes and no. It’s true that chewing sugar-free gum burns some calories—about 11 an hour, according to Livestrong.com—but you’d burn many more calories simply by walking around for a few minutes. Plus, many people miss the “sugar-free” part of that last sentence and end up adding more calories to their diet than they subtract.
If you’re really committed, we suppose you could chew really hard. Your best bet is to watch your intake and try to walk around for about 3 to 10 minutes an hour.
As for toning the jaw, that’s not really a thing; your body will lose fat from the last place it gained it, so when you’re losing weight, you’re not going to end up with a big belly and a super-defined chin line.
6. Yell expletives to deal with pain.
We really, really wanted this to be true, and lo and behold, it is. Sort of. We’re writing that a lot in this article.
Research wonderfully titled “Swearing as a Response to Pain” showed that pain tolerance increased when participants yelled out a few choice words. There were some caveats; the effect diminished among frequent swearers, so the researchers recommended moderation for dirty-mouthed individuals looking to take advantage of this science.
But again, the question is whether this is really good life advice, and this just doesn’t qualify. Yelling expletives can actually add to your stress by annoying the people around you—something that this research didn’t take into account. And the fact remains that you can deal with stress more effectively through meditation.
If you really want to manage your stress efficiently, we suppose you could meditate while yelling expletives, but we’re guessing you’d get kicked out of your local Zen center pretty quickly.
7. Draw out the toxins in your mouth by swishing around some coconut oil.
This is a trend called “oil pulling,” since you pull the oil through your teeth for about 10 to 15 minutes. Proponents claim that it treats a host of conditions while whitening your teeth. Dentists actually don’t mind the practice, but there are a few important caveats.
First of all, oil does nothing to pull “toxins” from your teeth. It doesn’t replace the need to brush and floss. It’s also unsafe for children, since kids can accidentally inhale the oil, risking pneumonia.
Adults interested in oil pulling should use high-quality, organic oils. Although coconut oil is fine, you’ll get the same results from olive oil. In fact, you’ll get similar results from plain water.
The major benefit of the practice is that it clears the gunk from between your teeth, so you can use pretty much any sugar-free liquid you’d like. Just be sure to brush afterward.
8. Need to lose weight? Reset your system with intermittent fasting.
If you’re completely healthy, fasting probably won’t put your body in serious danger, but it certainly won’t help you lose weight in the long term. Fasting puts your body in starvation mode, because—duh—you’re starving yourself.
Your body’s not sure when it’s going to be able to eat again or if another starvation period’s coming. When you start eating, it’ll store excess energy as fat reserves, just as a squirrel saves a supply of the fattiest nuts for winter.
Oh, and if you’re not otherwise healthy, fasting is extremely dangerous. It can cause liver or kidney damage, and any medications will be much more powerful, which can wreak havoc on your weakened system. Even over-the-counter pain relievers can put your body at serious risk.
It might not be flashy, but doctors recommend that you lose weight the old-fashioned way: diet and exercise. Leave the fasting to Beyoncé.