Your Health: Separating the Myths from the Facts

Written by Amber Lanier Nagle

In the age of the Internet and social media, a misleading statement can go viral in just a few minutes, as both information and misinformation are posted and reposted on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. To make matters even more complicated, the more often an assertion is repeated, the more the general public believes it is true. When it comes to health and wellness, a lot of factual information is floating around while many myths are being propagated — all within clicking distance. To sort fact from fiction, we asked local medical professionals to review a handful of health-related declarations and deliver a verdict — myth or fact — for each. Their opinions may surprise you.

The Flu Shot Can Give You the Flu.
Verdict: Myth

“This statement is absolutely false,”said Brian Nadolne, M.D., chair ofthe Family Medicine Department at Northside Hospital and president electof the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians. “The influenza viruses used to make the flu vaccine are inactive and cannot cause the flu. The confusion stems from the fact that sometimes people develop the flu after they’ve received the flu vaccine, and they immediately jump to the conclusion that the shot caused the infection or did not protect them against the flu. The reality is that it can take up to two weeks after receiving the shot to develop protection, so if you are exposed to the flu virus just before being vaccinated or while your body is still producing specific antibodies that fight the flu infection, you can still end up with the flu.”

Nadolne adds that the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine is not the same as the shot. The mist, sometimes given to healthy children, is produced from live, weakened influenza viruses and can cause a mild flu-like syndrome.

Men Go Through Something Similar to Menopause.
Verdict: Fact

“It is true that men go through a process similar to female menopause, but it is termed andropause,” said Ken G. Knott, M.D., a practicing physician in Marietta and author of “Dangerous Medicine: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know Can Hurt You.”

“Menopause and andropause are similar from the standpoint that both are caused by the reduction in sex hormones, but they are distinctively different processes.” According to Knott, menopausal women lose their ability to ovulate and without ovulation, no egg is present to be fertilized; therefore, those women cannot get pregnant. Men who undergo the andropausal process can still father children as long as viable sperm exist.

“In women, estrogens, progesterone and testosterone all begin their decline typically in the mid-to late forties,” he continued. “This change can be rather abrupt or drag on for two to three years. Men experience a much more gradual decline in testosterone beginning in their mid-twenties and continuing for the remainder of their lives.”

Taking Antibiotics Will Help You Get Over a Common Cold.
Verdict: Myth

“Taking antibiotics will not help you get over a cold,” said Peter J. Kaplan, M.D., who is a hospitalist board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Gwinnett Medical Center. “Colds are caused by viral infections, and antibiotics treat bacterial infections, so antibiotics have no effect on the viruses that cause colds.”

“I think there is a common misconception that taking antibiotics will prevent a cold from turning into a sinus infection, bronchitis or pneumonia, but there is simply no evidence to draw that conclusion either.”

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Increases the Risk of Cancer in Menopausal Women.
Verdict: Not Enough Information to Rule

“Discussing this statement is a bit complicated,” remarked Ken G. Knott, M.D. “HRT is a term used across the board for replacing declining or lost hormones. But replacing them with what? If HRT means the replacement includes man-made synthetic substances made to act like and look like bio-identical hormones, then that sort of HRT does predispose women to cancer, heart attacks and stroke.”

Knott says that a government sponsored study from more than 10 years ago known as the Women’s Health Initiative is often misquoted by well-meaning doctors and writers. That particular study concluded that one particular HRT — Prempro, a combination of horse estrogens and a synthetic progesterone look-a-like, progestin— raised the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes among the participants in the study.

“The study was not about bio-identical hormones that are biologically identical to the hormones human bodies produce,” he said. “People have generalized the study to indicate that it was about all hormones when, in fact, it was about one particular product. There has never been a valid study about bio-identical hormones predisposing any woman to cancer.”

Spinal Misalignment is Not a Genuine Health Concern.
Verdict: Myth

“When the skull, spine, and pelvis are in alignment, the body is in its most optimal health state,” said Russell A. Friedman, B.S.M.E., D.C., owner and upper cervical specialist at AlternaHealth Solutions. “When we are off-center due to injury or stress, our bodies compensate for this by trying to push us back to a balanced state that causes compression of the cells and tissues. This can result in muscle spasms and pain, joint asymmetry and arthritis, and compression of our tissues that diminish blood supply and oxygen, which in turn causes toxin build up.”

For patients who may be uneasy about standard spinal adjustments, Friedman recommends upper cervical work, a measurable and predictable approach that uses extremely light touch — no more pressure than is needed to take a pulse. This approach may be successful in treating chronic conditions such as TMJD, migraines, vertigo, fi bromyalgia, sports injuries and unsuccessful spinal surgeries.

Menopausal Females Should Take a Calcium Supplement to Prevent Osteoporosis.
Verdict: Fact

“There’s truth to this statement,” remarked Ken G. Knott, M.D. “But the most important part of preventing osteoporosis is to maintain optimal levels of sex hormones because estrogens prevent bone loss while both progesterone and testosterone help bones to re-calcify. With that said, both vitamin D and calcium are important components of bone health and should be supplemented in all menopausal females.”

You Should Have a Bowel Movement Every Day.
Verdict: Myth

“You can be perfectly healthy and not go every day,” said Peter J. Kaplan, M.D. “Individuals have different body rhythms, and what’s normal varies from person to person. Some people have one or two bowel movements each day, and some people go every other day. But there’s nothing abnormal about a person who doesn’t go every day.”

Kaplan remarked that a more important concern is whether or not a person is eating a healthy diet with sufficient amounts of fiber, fruits and vegetables that keeps his or her bowel movements regular, without straining and constipation.

Tanning Beds Offer a Safe Alternative to Tanning in Natural Sunlight.
Verdict: Myth

“Tanning beds are not safer than natural sunlight, as overexposure to either can lead to certain types of skin cancer, namely melanoma,” said Mike Majmundar, M.D., a double board certified facial plastic surgeon with North Fulton Hospital and principal of Northside Facial Cosmetic Surgery.

“As a plastic surgeon, we encourage individuals to use a UVA sunblock to minimize UV radiation damage to the skin and to slow down early signs of aging … if a tan is desired, try using spray-on or rub-on tanning agents instead.”

Taking a Fish Oil Supplement is Beneficial and Helps Protect Against Heart Disease.
Verdict: Myth

“False,” said Rajesh Sachdeva, M.D., who is board certifi ed in general and interventional cardiology and is the medical director of the Cardiovascular Program at North Fulton Hospital. “Fish oils, derived from the tissues of oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, contain the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Several clinical trials have been performed to examine the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular disease, but these have had mixed reviews.”

Sachdeva noted that the American Heart Association guidelines published in 2011 recommend it is reasonable to consume 1 gram of fi sh oil daily, preferably by eating fish, for patients with coronary heart disease, although pregnant and nursing women are advised to limit intake of fish to minimize exposure to methylmercury.

“In my opinion, the evidence is not overtly persuasive in routine or pharmaceutical use of fish oil supplementation in prevention of cardiovascular disease,” he added.

Cracking Your Knuckles Will Cause Arthritis Later in Life.
Verdict: Myth

“No one has proven that cracking knuckles causes arthritis,” said Peter J. Kaplan, M.D. “When a person cracks his knuckles, he is simply stretching his joints, which causes the formation of tiny gas bubbles [in the synovial fluid],” he continued. “When the joint closes back up, the bubbles escape and make the cracking, snapping or popping sound we hear.”

According to Kaplan, Osteoarthritis (OA) is associated with the degeneration of cartilage in joints and occurs most commonly in weight-bearing joints like knees and hips. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune- mediated disease in which a person’s own immune system attacks the body’s own tissues that line the joints, causing swelling, stiffness and pain of particular joints.

“RA often affects the joints in the hand,” Kaplan said. “But developing RA has nothing to do with the cracking of one’s knuckles.”

Eyes Wide Open

Marc Greenberg, M.D., Section Chief of Ophthalmology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, weighs-in on three commonly held beliefs pertaining to children’s eye health.

Sitting Too Close to a Television Will Harm a Child’s Eyesight.
Verdict: Myth

“The visual work of looking at a television at close distance is no different than the visual task of looking at any other object at that distance, so this statement is a myth,” Greenberg said. “Many children with normal vision prefer to sit close to the television for the same reason their parents like big screen TVs—it’s a more enveloping experience.”

Greenberg adds that a child’s eyes may become temporarily red and irritated after watching TV or looking at a computer screen due to a decreased blink rate and a temporary drying of the eyes that occurs when people stare at screens.

Crossing Eyes Will Harm a Child’s Eyesight. In Fact, His Eyes Could Get Stuck Like That.
Verdict: Myth

“Purposeful crossing of the eyes is usually brief, difficult to maintain, and will not permanently damage the eyes or lead to permanent crossing,” he said. “However, uncontrolled eye crossing may cause visual damage in young children. Essential treatments for such children are often delayed because parents incorrectly assume their children are crossing their eyes on purpose. So purposeful eye crossing should probably be discouraged, and any eye crossing that occurs with any frequency should be evaluated by an eye care professional.”

Reading in Low Light Will Harm a Child’s Eyesight.
Verdict: Mostly Myth

“The level of light does not affect the health of the eye,” he said. “The notion that reading in the dark is bad for the eyes probably stems from the fact that kids who never put a book down—including sneaking a book in the dark after bedtime—seem to need glasses later in their lives. But it’s the act of reading itself that may actually lead to nearsightedness, as an adaptive change. While this may be worrisome news for some parents, there is really no way to change this, so we just have to let our kids read away. And while reading in dim light will not damage the eyes, good lighting is more comfortable and should be encouraged.”