Busting common health myths
CONSUMERLINE - Ching M. Alano () - September 9, 2008 - 12:00am

Believe it or not, the world will always be full of myths, old wives’ tales, folklore, superstitions, or whatever you call ’em. Fact is, we grew up with some of them, a lot of them mere figments of the imagination. As small children who loved chewing gum (and loved sticking it anywhere and everywhere our sticky fingers would take us), we were warned — nay, scared out of our wits — by our elders that if we swallowed chewing gum (which we often accidentally did), the gooey culprit would remain inside our body for years and years. Talk about sticking around! We were mortally afraid of swallowing santol seeds because we were told that if we did, a santol tree would grow inside our stomach. With all the seeds we had swallowed, we would have grown an orchard! Whenever we played in the backyard or out in the streets, we were warned against stepping on a rusty nail lest we get infected with tetanus and have lockjaw. We refrained from any physical activity (including jumping for joy) after eating because we were warned that doing so would cause appendicitis. As we grew up (and started growing pimples), we were made to believe that eating chocolates, which we loved more than anything in the world, caused acne, which we dreaded more than anything in the world in our pubescent years. We were encouraged to eat carrots because they were said to improve our night vision. But like Ellen Degeneres said, “If carrots were really good for the eyes, how come there are many dead rabbits on the road?”

And now, Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief of Prevention, shares — and junks — some more health myths in the hope of helping everybody “get small, smart decisions about health every day that add up to a lifetime of well-being.”

According to Liz, she asked the experts “to reveal the truth behind some of the most common health rumors still making their way ’round the watercooler (and the Internet).”

So, says Liz, “here’s what you need to worry about, what you don’t, and what’s just plain gross”:

• Myth: It’s safe to follow the five-second food-dropped-on-the-floor rule.

Fact: It’s nothing but fiction.

Says Liz: “It’s probably not safe to eat anything that’s been on the floor for even one second. In a recent experiment, food scientists contaminated several surfaces with salmonella. They then dropped pieces of bologna and slices of bread on the floor for as little as five seconds (and as long as 60). In five seconds, both the bread and the bologna picked up an alarming 1,800 types of bacteria. So unless you sterilize your floors on an hourly basis, don’t eat anything your shoes have touched, too. Hint: The critters living on your kitchen floor can’t tell time.”

Myth: Double-dipping spreads germs from one chip to another.

Fact: How disgustingly true!

Says Liz: “This is, in fact, a very effective way to spread germs. Having settled the five-second rule debate, those same intrepid food scientists, using Wheat Thins and various dips, found that a double-dip deposited thousands of saliva bacteria into the dip. Of those, 50 to 100 were later transferred through the dip to a clean cracker, presumably destined for another guest’s mouth. In short: Eating from a dip after someone has dipped twice is basically the same as kissing that person.”

Germs aside, according to Liz, it’s rude to double-dip a chip — just take another one.

Myth: Cell phones can interfere with medical equipment,

Fact: Jury’s out.

Says Liz: “There’s a chance that a cell phone call made in the wrong spot in a hospital can cause ventilators, syringe pumps, or even pacemakers to pulse incorrectly, according to a 2007 Dutch study. The researchers tested cell phones, including PDAs that use wireless Internet signals, just a few centimeters from devices; 43 percent caused electromagnetic interference with critical care equipment — and a third of those instances could be potentially life-threatening to patients. Though a similar study didn’t yield these same results, if you want a clear conscience, use a designated cell phone area.”

While on this ringing topic, here’s something to sleep on. According to a research study, cell phones give out radiation that can hamper people’s ability to sink into the deep stages of sleep. In a study conducted by scientists from Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University in Sweden, and Wayne State University in Michigan and using 35 men and 36 women, aged 18 to 45, half of the subjects were exposed to 884-megaherz wireless signals similar to those emitted by cell phones while the other half got no radiation. Here’s what they found: Those subjected to the radiation took longer to enter the refreshing deep stage of sleep and spent less time there than those who were not exposed to radiation.

The study was funded by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, which represented the biggest cell phone companies in Europe. Of course, when the results were published, the embarrassed cell phone makers tried to play them down by saying the findings were “inconclusive.” But the main man in the study, Swedish professor Bengt Arnetz stoutly declared that cell phones undoubtedly “have measurable effects on the brain.” According to Arnetz, “the radiation from phones activates the brain’s stress system, making people feel more alert and decreasing their ability to wind down and snooze.”

He hastened to add, “And bear in mind, when you’re talking on the phone, there is a mental stimulus from the conversation itself, in addition to the radiation. The combination makes it doubly hard to relax into deep sleep.”

Now, you know why you’re not getting enough zzzs.

Hello! Want more proof? Other European studies support Arnetz. For instance, a landmark study spied on 1,656 Belgian teenagers for a whole year and found that most of them talked on their cell phones in bed at night before going to sleep (don’t you?). Hear this: The teens who spent the night talking on their cell before going to sleep just once a week were more than three times as likely as non-phone users to describe themselves as “very tired” during the day, while those who used their cell more than one night a week were five times as likely to report tiredness.

And what about Wi-Fi computer signals? Do they interfere with sleep, too?

The scientific jury is still out, but listen to what Kevin Koym, owner of a software engineering firm in Austin, Texas and a certified insomniac, has to say of his nocturnal battles: “I never had sleep problems until I started using Wi-Fi. So now, I am careful to shut off my computer at home in the evening.”

Whatever the verdict is — guilty or not guilty — it probably won’t hurt to take a break, shut down our computer, turn off our cell phone, shut up, and get some shut-eye.

Sleep tight, everyone!

* * *

We’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at ching_alano@yahoo.com.

ARNETZ BENGT ARNETZ CELL ELLEN DEGENERES LIZ MDASH SAYS LIZ SLEEP
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