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Ever since the coronavirus reared its ugly head in Wuhan, China, the world hasn’t been the same. Panic ensued as hand sanitizer and face masks flew off the shelves and people ran to stores to stock up on water and canned goods.  Countries shut down, nonessential businesses closed, and schools ran virtual classrooms as people scrambled to curb the growth of this widespread epidemic. 

It didn’t take long for the media to flame the public’s panic with what the World Health Organization dubbed an “infodemic.” Soon, everyone claimed to be an expert and social media ran wild with supposed “cures” for COVID-19. Some touted silver colloid, vitamins, teas, and essential oils, while others swore by swallowing cloves of garlic, ingesting bleach, and even drinking aquarium tank cleaner. Sadly, there have been reports of deaths due to people attempting some of these medical myths. 

Health-related myths existed well before Google and WebMD.   Throughout history, people have looked for unconventional ways to cure ailments, extend life, and improve their looks. Sometimes news of the idea spread even if there was little evidence for its success, while other times the medical arena touted an idea to be effective only to retract it later on after new research suggested otherwise. 

Here are some popular medical myths that are still circulating despite being outed by the medical community. 

Cold Weather Makes You Sick

Growing up there was always that one kid on the block who walked around looking like a winter mummy or astronaut. Some parents think that all those layers will shield the child from contracting any type of virus. But the chill of Old Man Winter is not to blame for the increase in sickness during the season. While it is true that people tend to get sick more often during the colder months, cold weather itself is not the main culprit leading to the illness. Rather, it is the fact that we are spending more time indoors near others that make common viruses like influenza spread so easily.

 “Based on clinical studies it is true that inhaling cold air, cooling of the body surface, and cold stress can lower the core body temperature,” says Rashmi Byakodi, a physician who also writes on health and wellness subjects and who is the editor of bestofnutrition.com. She goes on to explain that “this causes vasoconstriction in the respiratory tract mucosa and suppression of immune responses, which are responsible for increased susceptibility to infections.”

Parents may feel that the coat and mittens provide extra layers of viral protection, but the truth of the matter is that majority of upper respiratory infections are caused by exposure to germs and the inability of your immune system to fight them, not the number of degrees it is outside. 

Gluten-Free is Healthier

The g-word. For some people it’s like being served poison. “This doesn’t have gluten in it, does it?” they ask inquisitively, as they eye you with suspicion. Others proudly announce that their food is gluten-free as if that propels the dish to a higher standard of quality. Poor gluten has been blamed for everything from weight gain, acne, low energy, and behavioral problems in kids.  Of course, advertisers picked up on this trend and used it as a marketing tool to boost sales of various products. Researchers have found no association between a gluten-free diet and better health. In fact, a gluten-free diet may be detrimental for your health, putting you at risk for developing nutrient deficiencies. According to Dr. Byakodi, “Many studies reveal that gluten can initiate autoimmune diseases and show that avoiding it may also benefit other conditions like irritated bowel syndrome.”  Gluten.org claims that eating gluten- free foods is only beneficial for those people who have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or other gluten-related disorders.  Their website states that for the general population, the presence or absence of gluten alone is not related to diet quality. What is important however are the overall food choices made within a diet, whether it is gluten-free or not.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

The last thing you want to do when battling a cold is devour a feast, but that is what some caretakers insist their patients do to heal faster. Many tout a passed down family recipe that they claim will surely cure the common cold. Sometimes, they include immune-boosting foods such as oranges, which are packed with vitamin C, or chicken soup, praised for its slow cooked  nutrients and warmth which can temporarily alleviate symptoms. Other times, they are odd choices such as onion, tea, or black licorice.  The age-old adage about feeding a cold and starving a fever has been traced to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, who noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever.” The assumption behind this is that eating will help the body generate warmth during a cold while avoiding food may help it cool down when overheated. 

Colds and fevers dehydrate the body, so starving is never a good idea. Dr. Jon S. Abramson, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Medical School, explained to CNN.com that when we are sick, whether we have a fever or not, our metabolic rates skyrocket, and our bodies need more calories to support that high metabolic rate. The hotter a fever becomes, the more energy the body uses. Not replenishing this energy with sugar and electrolytes is extremely dangerous, especially for children, who have less reserved energy than adults. Sickness dramatically elevates the amount of liquids our bodies require. Abramson sets guidelines of 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees F) and 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees F): If a child has a temperature at or colder than 96, Abramson recommends his patients upping fluid intake by 20 percent. If the thermometer reads 104 or greater, fluids should be increased by 30 percent.

Cracking Knuckles Leads to Arthritis

Snap, crackle, and pop! While it may be soothing to the individual doing the cracking, I can think of only a few other sounds that are equally as cringe-inducing as the sound of joints being pulled apart. The cracking noise you are hearing is actually the sound of the sudden drop of pressure in the joints. The knuckles are filled with a lubricant called synovial fluid and when one cracks their joints this causes the dissolved gases in the fluid (mostly carbon dioxide) to form bubbles making a popping sound, explains Raymond Brodeur of the Ergonomics Research Laboratory at Michigan State University to Scientific American magazine. Despite threats of causing early-onset arthritis, cracking your knuckles is relatively harmless. 

Dr. Kevin DeWeber, a sports and family medicine physician from Vancouver, and a lifelong knuckle cracker himself, sought to disprove the myth that cracking knuckles causes arthritis. In 2010 he published his findings in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Dr. DeWeber examined x-rays of the right hands of over 200 people. About 20 percent of those people reported that they cracked their knuckles routinely, but they were not any more likely to have arthritis in their hands than the people who did not crack their knuckles. Beware though: excessive knuckle cracking for some may cause hand swelling and reduced grip strength.

Bottle Water is Safer to Drink than Tap

Our ancestors must be shaking their heads in disbelief that we are shelling out $100 per person each year for a commodity that is technically free. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, bottled water is an $18.5 billion industry in the United States.  Many carry bottled water around with them like a security blanket as they go about their daily errands. Most would never consider drinking water out of the faucet because marketing companies have convinced us that tap water is dirty and filled with toxins. The reality is that states check their water regularly and most municipal water is perfectly safe. In fact, it even contains useful minerals such as magnesium and calcium. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water, while the Environmental Protection Agency regulates tap water. What most people do not realize is that they both use similar standards for ensuring safety. If you have any doubts, you can contact your local water company to request a copy of the Annual Water Quality Report, also known as the Consumer Confidence Report. 

Stress Will Give You an Ulcer

“Stop! You’re giving me an ulcer!” is a phrase many parents have surely yelled at their kids, but as it turns out, stress does not induce ulcers. Stress might  exacerbate an existing ulcer, but the two main culprits of stomach ulcers are overuse of NSAID painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and infection from the bacteria  helicobacter pylori, says Dr. Patricia Celan, a resident at Dalhousie University in Canada. If stress does indeed cause ulcers, then it would only make sense that relaxation would rid the body of the painful stomach sores, but it doesn’t. “Relaxation won’t treat the ulcer once you have it,” says Dr. Celan, “you need a specific combination of three antibiotics to kill the bacterium.” 

Sugar Makes Kids Hyper

The idea of a link between sugar and hyperactivity in children dates to the 1970s, when the Feingold diet was prescribed by a pediatrician with the same name as an eating plan to alleviate symptoms of ADHD. But studies have shown time and time again that there really is no correlation between sweets and hyperactivity. The reason parents believe sugar makes kids overly jumpy is because it is usually consumed in large quantities during fun times like birthdays, holidays, and parties when they are already in a state of excitement. In a study documented by the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, mothers rated their sons as more hyperactive when told that the boys had ingested sugar, even when the children hadn’t done so. In the study, 35 boys ages five to seven were given a drink containing an artificial sweetener made of amino acids. Half the mothers were told that their boys had received sugar. When the researchers asked the moms about their sons’ behavior, the women who were told their sons were given sugar rated their children as more hyperactive. 

When it comes to acquiring valid medical advice, always turn to the CDC and a trusted medical professional, especially one who practices in the field of medicine you are inquiring about. Most medical advice and warnings are true and should be followed as instructed, but some are just plain old wives’ tales. 


Strange Medical Practices of Yesteryear

  1. Leeches

The ancient Egyptians and later Romans and Greeks believed that sickness was caused by bad or extra blood in the body. Therefore, when someone got sick, they would cut open a vein or apply leeches on the body to suck  out the extra blood. The practice, known as bloodletting or phlebotomy, continued to be practiced well into the 19th century. It is said that George Washington died from this practice when leeches were used on him to cure a case of laryngitis. 

  1. Lobotomy

To treat schizophrenia, manic depression and bipolar disorder, among other mental illnesses, doctors would take an ice pick like instrument  to a person’s skull and sever nerve connections between the prefrontal lobe and the brain. Although there has been some reported success to performing lobotomies, patients’ negative outcomes far outweighed the positives with most losing intellectual function as well as presenting personality abnormalities. The practice subsided in the 1950s as physicians began treating mental illness with medication and other therapies, but lobotomies continued to be performed on a limited scale in the United States, Britain, Scandinavia and several western European countries well into the 1980s.  

  1. Cutting Teeth

Today this usage implies more than the emergence of a baby’s first tooth. It has become a metaphoric idiom referencing  when a person acquires their first experience of  learning something by doing it early in their life.  Back in the 1600’s, a French doctor introduced the concept of teeth cutting.  The procedure included taking a scalpel to the baby’s gum and slicing it open to allow for easier protrusion of the new teeth.  During this time, many infants died before the age of one (from a variety of unexplained  reasons).  Doctors erroneously concluded that teething was the cause since both occurrences happened around the same time. In an attempt to curb the high mortality rate,  doctors lanced babies’ gums as a way to ease the discomfort and stress on the young body. 

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