Keeping up with the most current information in medicine is always challenging. It is a rapidly changing landscape and as our knowledge expands, standards of care change and recommendations are adapted. However, there have also always been pervasive yet unfounded “medical myths” that are often quoted and can even be perpetuated by those of us in the profession. In recognition of April Fool’s Day here are just a few medical myths and some actual facts.
- Sugar causes hyperactivity in children – many well accepted studies have shown no impact of diets containing various levels of sugar on children’s behavior. However, when parents were told that their children had received a high sugar treat they perceived their child as being more active, whether the child had received sugar or not. This belief is deeply engrained in our society and the many parents and healthcare providers believe this myth. On the other hand, if it results in a decrease in simple sugars in childrens’ diets perhaps we should leave well enough alone!
- You should drink 8 glasses of water a day – There is no science to suggest that there is a health benefit from this practice. You should drink as thirst dictates.
- Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis – It does not. If you are relentless it can loosen the joint, but the practice is otherwise harmless. The cracking sound is actually the sound that results from the formation of a small gas bubble in the joint as the joint space is slightly expanded by the movement torsion applied during the activity.
- Teething causes fever in babies – It does not cause either fever or diarrhea. Fever should be evaluated if it is high or persistent. Teething does cause pain and pain relievers like acetaminophen can help.
- If you normally run a below average body temperature, a temp of 98.6 is a fever – It is not a fever and does not indicate illness, no matter where you may think your normal temp runs. In fact, temperatures under 100 F in adults don’t mean much.
- Back pain should be treated with rest – Most back pain will resolve on its own and it typically gets better sooner if you stay active. XRays are usually not necessary either.
- Tryptophan in Turkey causes drowsiness – It doesn’t, but overeating does.
- Coffee helps you to become sober faster – although caffeine may modestly affect the drowsiness caused by alcohol intoxication, it does not lower alcohol levels in the blood. The best advice is to avoid drinking to the point of inebriation in the first place.
- You should wait 30 minutes after eating before going swimming – My mother enforced this with great fervor, much to my (and my siblings’) dismay. In fact, unless you are swimming vigorously for exercise (when a full stomach can make any exercise more difficult) there is no problem with going swimming right after eating. The fear is that the exertion diverts blood away from the stomach and slows digestion, which can cause cramping. In fact that does not happen with recreational swimming.
- A full moon makes people act crazy – This is a long held belief with no foundation in reality (and reflects the origin of the word “lunatic” as in “lunar” as in moon). Studies have shown no increase in unusual behavior or psychotic episodes or use of ERs at the time of a full moon. This myth persists among many medical personnel and is an example of recall bias (giving more weight in your memory to incidents that reinforce your pre-existing beliefs). I’ve had this good natured debate with other healthcare providers more than once!
Here is a link where you can learn more about medical myths: http://www.uamshealth.com/medicalmyths