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The beginning of April always brings to mind the usual jokes and the relentless, unsuccessful attempts my family always made to pull off successful pranks in recognition of this unofficial holiday. I guess we were just not that imaginative. In healthcare there has always been great creativity applied in attempts to prevent disease and to cure common ailments, some of which require great imagining. So in our own celebration of April Fool’s Day here are some updated medical myths from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, a place which has committed great energy to lampooning unsubstantiated claims in healthcare.

  • “Base tans” protect you from sunburns – FALSE. This commonly practice preventive measure only offers the equivalent of SPF 1 to 4, essentially no protection at all. Add to that the fact that the base tanning is also damaging your skin and increasing the risk of skin cancer and it is totally impractical.
  • “The five second rule” protects you from contamination when you drop food – FALSE. If the surface which the food contacts is contaminated even rinsing the food may not help. Discarding it is the safest approach.
  • You can sweat toxins out of your body – FALSE. Although sweat lodges are sometimes parts of purification ceremonies in Native American culture, sweating actually removes no toxins. Toxins are removed by your kidneys, liver and GI system.
  • Flip Flops are bad for your feet – PARTIALLY TRUE. If you have normal feet with no deformities then wearing flip-flops is equivalent to walking barefoot. But if you have flat feet, poor balance, loss of sensation their lack of protection and the change in gait that they engender (shorter more shuffling steps) and their tendency to skid on wet surfaces can cause pain and injury.
  • Honey is helpful in treating allergies – FALSE. Because honey is natural many people feel that it has added benefit over other sweeteners. That is not true, and the pollen in honey is not the same as that which can cause allergies in adults. It tastes great but has no known therapeutic benefit. By the way, one of my favorite pieces of trivia is that honey is the only kosher food that comes from a non-kosher animal.
  • It is dangerous to wake a sleepwalker – FALSE. Waking a sleep walker will not put them in any danger or cause any harm. The best approach is simply to guide a sleepwalker back to their bed (adults rarely sleepwalk – it is mainly experienced by children).
  • Taking fish oil is good for your heart – FALSE. This is a big one and there is actually no evidence of benefit.
  • Wearing a copper bracelet can cure arthritis – FALSE. The whole premise of a copper deficiency (which is exceedingly rare) causing joint problems is problematic, very little copper is absorbed through the skin, and no studies have ever shown benefit.
  • And finally, cold, wet weather causes colds – FALSE. It is staying indoors more that causes colds to be spread. It is possibly that the drier air in winter allows viruses to survive longer on surfaces and this may contribute as well.

If you’re interested in medical myth busting much more is available at www.uamshealth.com/medicalmyths. Happy Springtime!

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Noah Nesin, MD

Dr. Nesin, Vice President of Medical Affairs for PCHC, is a family doctor with 30 years of experience.

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