5 Ridiculous Superstitions That Science Says Are True
If you hear the word “superstition,” chances are it’s not far removed from the word “bullshit.” No offense to the black cats and spilled salt shakers of the world, but it’s not exactly something that feels as powerful in a modern, science-based world. Of course, there’s still plenty of people who follow their spooky rules because, hey, why not do everything you can not to live a life full of cursed energy, but most people aren’t turning sheet-white when they step on a crack, fearing for the well-being of their mother’s back.
But some superstitions, even though they might sound patently insane, have turned out to been more than just ancient confirmation bias. A couple of them were genuine discoveries by the humans of old, though they didn’t really understand why they were right. For every bunch of weird witchy nonsense, there’s a couple that, somehow, a ton of old midwives somehow beat scientists to the punch on.
Here are five superstitions that, astonishingly, were proven scientifically factual…
Egyptian Pregnancy Tests
If someone wants to know if they’re pregnant nowadays, it’s off to the bathroom with a scientific little stick and a whole lot of suspense waiting to see a certain combination of lines. Obviously, without the assistance of a really unsettling time traveler, those sticks weren’t accessible in ancient Egypt. Weirdly enough, though, they did have their own variant of the ol’ spray and pray method. Instead of a small medical device, this one involved two sacks of grain that the maybe-mom would pee into, one filled with wheat and the other with barley. If the grain in either bag sprouted, it meant there was a little Egyptian on the way.
So far, this all sounds like borderline sexual alchemy, but shockingly, according to a 1963 study, this method is accurate 70 percent of the time. A little more inaccurate than modern humans would tolerate, but pretty good for ancient times. The theory is that increased estrogen in pregnant pee would have accelerated the seed growth. The test was also meant to predict the sex of the baby — barley for boys, wheat for girls — but that part doesn’t hold up. Still, at least they knew somebody was coming.
Feeling Weather in Your Bones
It’s a classic trope of old-timey meteorology: a grumpy septuagenarian, rocking in their porch chair, muttering that “rain’s a comin.” Specifically, we’re talking about people who claim to feel incoming weather changes “in their bones.” Maybe due to the fact that the type of people who usually make these claims are decidedly old-fashioned, it’s easy to brush off as just classic weird old people behavior. But just like the Egyptians, these ancients are also in for a win. Scientists have found that what likely causes this predictive sort of pain is changes in barometric pressure, which can aggravate the fluid in people’s joints, especially those, like the arthritic and the elderly, already predisposed to pain in their bendy bits.
Peanut Butter Gets Gum Out of Hair
Getting gum in your hair makes for a pretty unpleasant day. There’s not many hairstyles that are enhanced by a good-sized clump of Dubble Bubble. So when you’re already suffering through a deeply unwelcome guest in your ‘do, someone suggesting that you double down on the unusual substances by adding peanut butter to the mix, you’re unlikely to feel too positive about it. Especially when the source is the same old motherly superstition that might recommend things like cod-liver oil for any ailment.
If you let the dispenser of this advice go through with it though, you might be surprised to see the gum come right out and confirm this cure. It’s because the superstition somehow stumbled on entirely sound chemical tendencies. The reason the peanut butter works so well for getting gum out, versus something like a shower, is that gum is hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water. The oil in peanut butter, on the other hand, handles it perfectly.
Sugar Cures Hiccups
Another surprisingly effective medical find by moms the world over is the effectiveness of a spoonful of sugar for curing hiccups. The same way it’s touted for helping the medicine go down (which, of course it is, it’s just a shit-ton of sugar), there’s some evidence that it works as a cure for hiccups, too.
Funnily enough, the reason it’s effective is almost directly connected to how weird slamming a spoonful of sugar is: It’s a strange enough sensation that it stimulates your vagus nerve, a nerve that communicates information about your organs to the brain. A heaping helping of pure sugar is enough to overwrite anything else it was thinking about, including the hiccups.
Heartburn Makes Hairy Babies
Some of these superstitions so far might have been a little surprising, but this last one tops them all in terms of sounding deeply and completely made up. It’s a lot less anything like “home medicine,” and more like something the creepiest kind of fortune teller might tell you. The not-quite myth is that, if someone who’s pregnant has frequent heartburn, it means that her baby is going to be unusually hairy. Yeah. The answer to a question that I can’t even imagine many people are asking.
This has to be bullshit, right? Well, it gives me great displeasure to inform you that… it kind of isn’t. Though it’s not exactly the link they used to think, in that one causes the other, it’s instead that they’re both the result of high levels of the same hormones. High estrogen or other hormone levels can cause hair growth in a fetus, and at the same time, can relax the esophagus, allowing stomach acid to leak up there and cause all sorts of digestive unpleasantness. So if you’re pregnant and popping Tums like there’s no tomorrow, at least take solace in the fact you’ve got a little baby Fabio in there.