35 “Facts” You Always Believed Were True, But Actually Aren’t

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We take some things for granted as indisputable common knowledge, so it can be shocking to find out our family, friends, and teachers, who may simply have repeated hearsay, passed on some “facts” to us that are actually false!

Read on to see the untrue myths many people believe. This is the stuff urban legends are made of, meaning you’ve been misled all along.

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1. Humans Only Use 10% Of Their Brains

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Many of us have been told that we only use 10 percent of our brains. Neurologist Barry Gordon dispels this myth. He explained to Scientific American, “We use virtually every part of the brain, and… [most of] the brain is active almost all the time. Let’s put it this way: The brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

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Of course, we don’t use every part of our brains simultaneously at all times, but researchers using brain-imaging technology have found that most areas of the brain are active throughout the day.

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2. Alcohol Kills Brain Cells

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Good news for those who consume lots of alcohol: drinking an excessive amount of booze won’t kill your brain cells. According to Scientific American, indulging in alcohol, even heavy drinking, cannot kill brain cells.

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Ready for the bad news? Drinking alcohol can damage dendrites and make it difficult for neurons to relay messages to one another. If this happens, essentially the wiring in your brain doesn’t function as it’s meant to. Hmm…food (or drink) for thought.

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3. Alcohol Warms You Up

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You may be under the impression that alcohol raises your body temperature because it makes you feel warm, tingly feeling as the liquor passes through your body. In reality, alcohol makes us feel hot because it causes our blood vessels to dilate. The blood comes closer to the surface of our skin, making us feel warm. However, this also pulls our body heat away from our core and closer to the surface, causing heat to evaporate from the skin faster. The result is a cooler body temperature in the long run.

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More importantly, alcohol actually slows down circulation, which prevents oxygen from getting to the brain, so it’s no surprise doctors and scientists warn that drinking alcohol isn’t a safe way to get warm.

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4. Carrots Help You See Better

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It’s a fact that carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which can convert to vitamin A, and this is the right vitamin to help improve your vision. But it’s not that simple.

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The reality is that once your body has enough beta-carotene, it no longer converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, according to Scientific American. The sad truth, therefore, is that your eyesight can still worsen even if you eat a ton of carrots.

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5. You’ll Get Sick If You Go Out With Wet Hair

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Let’s start with the real facts: many people catch a common cold and flu when temperatures drop during the fall and winter in most states in the U.S. This has nothing to do with wet hair.

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There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that the dampness of your hair makes you more likely to get sick. The cold and flu are caused by viruses, not by cold temperatures.

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6. Half Your Body Heat Escapes Through Your Head

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Scientists have found little proof that your head releases more heat compared to other parts of your body when exposed to the same cold conditions. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that our head is the part of our body from which most of our body heat escapes.

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This myth seems to be supported by the observation that when you put on a hat on a cold day, you feel warmer. Apparently, the truth is it seems like your body loses heat through your head because that’s usually the area that’s not covered with clothing.

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7. Knuckle Cracking Causes Arthritis

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According to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, a study found that cracking one’s knuckles from time to time did not cause arthritis.

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Knuckle cracking involves manipulation of the finger joints that results in an audible crack. Many people do it out of habit. During an attempt to crack a knuckle, gases form bubbles, which coalesce. As the bubbles suddenly collapse into each other, we hear the characteristic cracking sound.  Cases of acute joint damage, even from unusually vigorous knuckle cracking, are rare.

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8. Sharks Don’t Suffer from Cancer

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Sales of shark cartilage have been helped partly by the misconception that sharks don’t get cancer, but scientists have known for over 150 years that the animals really do suffer from the disease.

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Researchers in Australia noticed a large tumor protruding from the mouth of a great white shark, as well as another mass on the head of a bronze whaler shark. According to a study describing the tumors published online in November in the Journal of Fish Diseases, the great white’s tumor measured 1 foot (30 centimeters) long and 1 foot wide.

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9. You Can’t Get Cancer If No One In Your Family Had It

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According to Cancer.Net, only 5% to 10% of cancers are passed down from parents to children. Most cancers are caused by “genetic changes that occur throughout a person’s lifetime.” Lifestyle choices usually trigger these changes, or mutations. The choices include not wearing sunscreen to protect the skin, using tobacco, or consistently having an unhealthy weight.

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Exposure to specific chemicals in our workplaces and/or homes can also cause mutations. The scary scientific reality is that sometimes, there is no clear reason why these mutations occur.

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10. Ostriches Bury Their Heads In The Sand

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If you’re accused of burying your head in the sand, you know you’re being likened to a “cowardly” ostrich. The problem is we’re being unfair to this big bird. When an ostrich sticks its head in the sand, it’s not frightened. Ostriches keep their eggs in holes in the sand instead of nests, and they use their beaks to move them around.

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When an ostrich gets scared it actually lays on the ground and keeps still, getting its neck as flat to the ground as possible, which may look from a distance as if it’s buried.

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11. Your Tongue Has Different Taste Sections

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When we were children, many of us would have been taught that our tongue has separate sections for tasting sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. We would even have been shown the tongue map. Sweet in the front, salty and sour on the sides and bitter at the back.

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However, the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste has revealed this is a myth. They’re not the only ones who have known for a while that the various receptors to pick up all the different tastes are spread all over the tongue.

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12. Only Four Types of Taste Exist

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Over the past two decades, scientists have challenged the theory of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter as the four basic taste qualities. They have made the case for the inclusion of a fifth category of taste, the savory flavor known as umami.

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Umami has been described as savory and is characteristic of broths and cooked meats. It has become a conventional concept in restaurants, cookbooks, and even fast food meals.

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13. We Have Only Five Senses

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Few people would dispute the idea that we have five senses, not counting the fictional sixth sense portrayed in the movies. The notion we are limited to just five senses has been a commonly held belief for eons.

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Would you be surprised to learn that researchers have said we have at least a couple more? Proprioception (sense of pain) and nociception (sense of space) are two lesser-known senses, and some scientists have identified a few more specific ones as well.

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14. If You Swallow Gum, It Takes 7 Years to Digest It

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You actually cannot digest gum at all. It’s indigestible so like fiber in popcorn kernels, it passes through your body without being digested.

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It’s the gum base that’s indigestible. The gum was traditionally made using chicle, a sap from the sapodilla tree. As the demand for gum increased, manufacturers started using synthetic polymers as a gum base. Don’t worry, if you swallow it, in a few days it’s out of your body.

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15. Camels Store Water In Their Humps

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Practically everyone believes it’s an indisputable fact camels store water in their humps. After all, that’s what we’ve always been told. Guess what’s really stored on those mounds on a camel’s back. Nothing! The hump is simply a mound of fat.

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It is indeed true these desert animals can go without drinking water for a week or more. This is because their red blood cells and organs retain water efficiently.

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16. There Is Zero Gravity In Space

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We’ve all seen footage of astronauts floating in space so it’s easy to believe that there’s zero gravity in the air up there. Astronauts actually feel weightless because their shuttle is in a state of continuous free fall to the earth.

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According to Yale Scientific’s Chidi Akusobi, “It is important to distinguish ‘weightlessness’ from ‘zero-gravity.’ However, the space shuttle never falls to the earth because it is traveling horizontally at about 18,000 km/hr, opposing the force of gravity. If the spacecraft was not moving quickly enough, it would fall prey to the effects of earth’s gravitational field and fall to the earth.”

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17. You Can See The Great Wall Of China From Space

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Contrary to popular belief, no one can see Great Wall of China from outer space. NASA took a photo from the International Space Station in 2004 and concluded that the wall is invisible “to the unaided eye in low Earth orbit.”

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Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut, has also set the record straight: “The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow, and every once in a while some green vegetation.”

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18. Pluto Is A Planet

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We’ve sung songs and rhymes to help us memorize how far Pluto was from the sun and how much smaller it was than the other planets. We honestly thought Pluto was among the planets in our solar system.

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Then along came the International Astronomical Union 2006 to burst our bubble, declaring that Pluto was not a planet at all. Instead, it’s a dwarf planet. Children today know this, so parents please don’t argue with them when they correct you on this one.

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19. The Planet Closest To The Sun Is The Hottest

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It stands to reason that the planet closest to the sun – Mercury – should be the hottest, or so anyone would think. Think again. The hottest planet is actually Venus.

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Researchers have found that Venus can reach temperatures of 863 degrees Fahrenheit (Mercury only gets up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit). This is possible because Venus is covered by a thick layer of clouds made up of carbon dioxide and other gases. This layer makes it difficult for the heat to escape back into outer space, trapping it in Venus’ atmosphere.

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20. Mount Everest Is The World’s Tallest Mountain

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Few people realize there’s a mountain that’s taller than from base to peak than Mount Everest, which, to be precise, is the tallest mountain above sea level. The tallest mountain in the world is actually the island Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is nearly a mile taller than Everest when you factor in the 19,700 feet of it that exist in the Pacific Ocean.

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Measuring from the ocean floor to the peak, Mauna Kea is over 32,808 feet (10,000 meters) tall compared to Mount Everest’s 29,035 feet (8,850 meters)!

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21. Shaved Hair Grows Back Thicker And Darker

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Most of us have been warned that when we shave, the hair will grow back thicker and darker. According to the Mayo Clinic, we actually don’t need to worry about our hair thickening.

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They reassure us the only result we may see from shaving is that unwanted hair grows with a blunt tip, which can make it feel coarse or stubbly. This may be the reason we assume the hair is thicker. Hair might be more noticeable as it grows back and may appear darker, but it really isn’t.

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22. Bats Are Blind

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“Blind as a bat” is a familiar saying but would you believe bats can see quite well? They don’t rely only on sonar to guide them and to avoid bumping into things. In fact, Rob Mies, executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation, points out that some of the bigger species “can see three times better than humans.”

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The widely-believed myth that bats are blind may have arisen because they prefer to move around using their enhanced hearing through echolocation. However, they sometimes look for food using their sight rather than sonar.

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23. Applying Urine To A Jellyfish Sting Neutralizes It

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We’ve always been told, in the event a jellyfish stings you, urinating on the sting will soothe the agony. Researchers have debunked this old wives’ tale by telling us applying urine, ammonia or alcohol on a sting creates an effect that’s the opposite of what you want when you’re in pain. Any of these “remedies” will irritate the active cells and make the reaction to the sting worse.

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What should you do instead? Scientists say household vinegar gives the best relief if you’ve been unfortunate enough to have been stung by a jellyfish.

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24. In The Middle Ages, Everyone Died Young

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The fact that infant mortality was rampant during the Middle Ages might distort our perception of the average life expectancy in that era. It may seem like many people died young. However, in reality, it wasn’t uncommon to live to be anywhere from 60 to 80 years old as long as a person made it to adulthood.

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A more accurate method of estimating what the average lifespan was back then is to look at life expectancy only at adulthood, taking infant mortality out of the equation.

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25. Einstein Failed Math

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Okay, so Einstein really did fail a college entrance exam for a polytechnic school in Zurich, but the part of the test he passed was the math section. Did you really think the relativity genius would be bad at math? The evidence speaks for itself. His grades in Algebra and Geometry were even better than in Physics. The false claims originate from an incorrect interpretation of the grading scales.

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In his memoirs, Einstein recounts his passion for Euclid’s Elements, one of the works most admired by mathematicians. However, he eventually decided to focus on physics, as he was not sure whether math was essential for physics.

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26. Lightning Never Strikes Twice In The Same Place

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The theory that lightning won’t strike the same spot twice has been disproven on many occasions. Take your pick from numerous notable examples. The Trump Tower has been struck by lightning 8 times, and John Hancock Center took four hits.

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A massive lightning storm hit Chicago on June 30, 2014 and the Willis Tower took 10 strikes. This tower seems to have a target on its back because it is estimated to have been hit by lightning as many as 100 times.

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27. Some People Are Right-Brained, While Other Are Left-Brained

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The idea that people are either left-brained or right-brained has fascinated us for ages. If we’re to believe this theory, one side of the brain is dominant. Individuals who are mainly analytical and methodical in their thinking are assumed to be left-brained. Those who are inclined to be creative or artistic are said to be right-brained.

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The most reliable assessments have come from brain studies. It was found there are patches of activity in certain parts of the brain, for example speech emanates from the left side of the brain for right-handed people, but typically people use both sides of their brain equally.

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28. Avoid All Forms Of Sugar

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Sugar is bad. That’s a common mantra reinforced by the United States Department of Agriculture with the introduction of the “Food Guide Pyramid” in 1992 to give people guidance on the proportion of fats, veggies, carbs, and sugars they should be eating. The little triangle at the top of the pyramid indicated we should consume a limited amount of “sugar.”

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This problem was that all sugars were lumped together. Candy and fruits were in the same category so there was no differentiation between the sugar that’s bad for you and the type that’s not.

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29. Fruit Juice Is Good For You

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While we’re on the subject of the Food Pyramid, let’s talk about the fact that it promoted the idea that “fruit” included fruit juice. Some people figure this must mean that drinking fruit juice is an important step in the journey towards better health. But you’d better read the labels. Look out for high sugar content in most of the juices you’ll find on supermarket shelves.

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You should also know these juices are usually processed, which means they’re of little benefit to your body. You’re better off eating raw fruit.

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30. Cut Out Carbs

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It seems many have forgotten that carbs were once known as a great source of energy. Nowadays carbs are seen as enemy #1 when the goal is good health.  The truth is not so cut and dry, though.

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Susan Bowerman, director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition, told NBC News, “The main reason [carbs get a bad rap] is that when people think ‘carbs’ they think ‘starch’, like white rice, pasta, potatoes or white bread. While many refined carbs don’t offer up much nutritionally, there are lots of ‘good carbs’ — healthy foods that provide carbohydrates your body absolutely needs every day to function properly.”

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31. Avoid Fat

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For decades, we’ve been urged to cut fat from our foods. We were warned that eating fatty foods increased our risk of heart attacks. Many tried to follow the advice to cut out fat from their everyday foods. In reality, it is incredibly difficult to remove fat from all the food we consume. It has also been found that a diet high in healthy fats is a safe method of preventing weight gain and helping with weight loss.

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Rather than demonize fat, various health experts are now telling us to incorporate into our diet fats found in vegetables like olives, in fruits like avocados and in fish like salmon, which can actually protect against heart disease.

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32. All Protein Is Made Equal

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The nutritional value of protein has been touted for a while, and the popular keto diet, for example, encourages those following the diet to eat meat and fish. This pleases the carnivores and pescatarians among us but the preparation component is often overlooked.

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All protein is not of equal value to our bodies. Eating buffalo wings is very different from consuming skinless chicken breast. In recent years, the U.S. government has made preparation a key element of dietary recommendations, encouraging consumers to avoid frying foods.

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33. Stay Away From High-Cholesterol Foods

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You may have stopped eating eggs and other high-cholesterol foods after hearing they’re bad for you. The thinking in earlier years was that waxy, fat-like cholesterol, increases our risk of heart attacks and stroke. High cholesterol occurs when we have too much of this substance in our blood.

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It has since been discovered that cholesterol relates more to the types of fat we consume. Saturated and trans fats are the ones most likely to raise cholesterol levels.

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34. Edison Invented The Lightbulb

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The great inventor Thomas Edison typically gets all the credit for inventing the lightbulb but he certainly was not the only person to create this new technology. Other inventors, including Warren de la Rue, William Staite, and Joseph Swan developed their own versions of the lightbulb before Edison did.

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He had 1,093 patents to his name and was good at self-promotion, but it is unlikely Edison could have devised his groundbreaking design without insight gained from the work of those who went before him.

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35. Napoleon Was A Short Man

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Napoleon Bonaparte is rumored to have been only 5′ 2″, but according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, he was measured in French inches, which were longer than English inches.

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The term Napoleon complex is so named because most people believe the French military leader was an angry, little man who took out his frustration on other nations simply because he was vertically-challenged. Our image of Napoleon may be far from the truth because when we convert the French measurement to our inches, he was actually closer to 5’ 7”.

Sandra Murphy

Sandra Murphy

Holds a master's degree in professional writing and has more than 15 years of experience writing for national and international entities.