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Top 5 Medical Myths

Chris Davlantes, MD (A Second Opinion)

In this day and age, where so much information is disseminated via social media and the internet, I thought I’d take some time to dispel some of the medical myths which have been circulating for years and/or which were drilled into us by our grandmothers, without any scientific basis. Here are my “Top 5 Medical Myths”:

"You need to “Detox” or “cleanse your body”:  Although there are certainly many toxins we are exposed to in our environment, both in the food we eat, as well as the air we breathe or the water we drink, your body is pretty amazing and already knows how to detoxify itself (that’s one of the many functions of our liver). There are many “detox regimens” out there, some of which involve certain supplements, herbs, pills, powders, or enemas to “cleanse the colon” (the latter of which has never been scientifically proven to be helpful and can sometimes be dangerous). Your best bet is to simply adhere to a “cleaner”, more paleo diet, eliminate alcohol consumption, and focus on eating whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, instead of processed, high-fat, or sugary foods.

“You need to take multivitamins & supplements to stay healthy”:  I will admit that, with my 50th birthday around the corner, I personally use certain supplements like Krill Oil, Coenzyme Q-10, glucosamine & chondroitin (although evidence for some of those is sketchy at best). However, the general recommendation that everyone should take a daily multivitamin is not necessarily true. Other than making very expensive and weird-smelling urine (our kidneys filter out/excrete what our bodies don’t use or need), most people – with the exception of pregnant females and the elderly – do not need them, as long as you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.

“Not wearing a coat or prolonged exposure to the cold weather will make you sick”:  Sorry, Mom, but if you get sick with an upper or lower respiratory tract infection, it is usually due to a viral or bacterial infection, which can occur during any season of the year. In fact, you are much more likely to get sick indoors (or even in the hospital) where germs are more easily passed from person-to-person. Frequent hand washing will protect you more than that Patagonia coat will. Furthermore, if you DO get sick, it does not always mean you need an antibiotic right away (even if you are blowing nasty yellow/green stuff out of your nose). The color of the sputum has not really been proven to always indicate a bacterial vs. viral infection.  See your doctor and let him/her decide if you really need that “Z-pack”. Antibiotics are often over-prescribed for the common cold (which is usually viral), and this has contributed to the increasing incidence of antibiotic-resistant organisms.

“You can contract communicable diseases from toilet seats”:  OK, I will admit that some lazy men who fail to raise the toilet seat also seem to have bad aim, and this can lead to some pretty gross toilet seats in public restrooms.  However, the myth that you can contract a serious disease from sitting on a toilet seat has no scientific basis.  You are more likely to contract an illness from common things like E. Coli or Norovirus (which can cause a “stomach flu”-like illness) just from touching door handles or even the shopping cart at your local grocery store.  Wash your hands thoroughly and even cover your hands with paper towel when grabbing door handles and/or use a hand sanitizer when available.

“Antiperspirants cause breast cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and kidney failure”:  This is a long-standing myth which has sent flocks of people searching for organic alternatives to keeping us from having “B.O.”, and it was primarily fueled by the fear that the aluminum in these products is getting absorbed by our bodies through our underarms and deposited into the breast tissue, causing DNA changes which would lead to cancer, or that the aluminum absorbed could lead to Alzheimer’s dementia and/or kidney problems.  There is no convincing medical evidence that antiperspirant or deodorant use increases cancer risk.  Many of the earlier studies conducted were flawed.  In fact, one well-designed study comparing hundreds of breast cancer survivors with healthy women, as well as a large meta-analysis of previously available studies on this topic, found NO evidence that antiperspirants increase the risk of breast cancer.  Women (especially if there is a family history of cancer) should really focus on REAL breast cancer prevention strategies, like frequent screening, eating healthy, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol intake.  With regard to Alzheimers’ Disease or kidney disease, unless you’re eating your deodorant as a post-workout snack or spraying it directly into your mouth, the amount of aluminum truly absorbed by your body into your bloodstream is negligible.  However, the FDA still requires antiperspirant labels to carry a warning for people with severe kidney disease (less than 30% function) to “ask a doctor before use”, even though nephrologists don’t believe it is a serious risk.

The bottom line is, don’t always believe what you read on Facebook or Twitter.  The Internet can be a great resource for finding medical information, as is simply consulting with your primary care physician.  However, it is also a source of many myths or “urban legends”, which don’t always have scientific evidence behind them.  So, continue to do your due diligence, be fit, and be well