Dispelling some health myths

Myths, half-truths and wives’ tales persist in medicine. Sometimes doctors and nurses even believe things that aren’t true or at least are unproven. That’s the focus of a new book, “Don’t Swallow Your Gum! Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health” by Dr. Aaron E. Carroll and Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman.

Dr. Carroll and Dr. Vreeman, both from the Indiana University School of Medicine, have written a lot about medical myths and misunderstandings. Now, “Don’t Swallow Your Gum” offers a fun collection of numerous medical myths that are likely familiar to most of us. The book is organized to focus on various types of myths, including myths about your body (you should poop at least once a day), myths about disease and illness (cold weather makes you sick), myths about sex and pregnancy (twins skip a generation) and myths about what we eat and drink (gum stays in your stomach for seven years.)

It’s a fun read, and chances are you will stumble across several medical myths you’ve always believed. Here are a few medical myths that may surprise you:

1. Cold weather makes you sick. In studies of cold transmission, people who are chilled are no more likely to get sick than those who were not. It may be that cold weather keeps people indoors, where germs are more likely to catch up with you.

2. You lose most of your body heat through your head. There is nothing special about the head and heat loss. You will lose heat through any uncovered body part.

3. Milk makes you phlegmy. In a study of 330 patients, nearly two out of three believed milk increases phlegm production. But it’s not true. In one experiment, volunteers were infected with the cold virus, and some of them drank a lot of milk as well. The weight of the nasal secretions did not increase in those who drank more milk, nor was it associated with cough or congestion.

4. Cracking your knuckles will cause arthritis. Knuckle-crackers are no more likely to have arthritis than those who don’t make annoying popping sounds with their fingers.

5. Food quickly picked up from the floor is safe to eat. Scientists have put the commonly-cited five-second rule to the test. They found that food that comes into contact with a tile or wood floor does pick up large amounts of bacteria. Food doesn’t pick up many germs when it hits carpet, but it does pick up carpet fuzz.

Source: Adapted from New York Times Health Blog