Myths, misconceptions and reality

Myths, misconceptions and reality

Myths are beliefs that are held to be true even though there is substantial evidence disproving them. Misconception is an incorrect view or opinion that is based on faulty thinking or understanding.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of this out there when it comes to some of the most common public health concerns. For instance, many people wrongly believe that…

Antibiotics are helpful against the flu

Especially the parents of young children who are often very concerned whenever a fever shows up. It is understandable, but it can lead to overreactions that are bad for their child and society as a whole. Often, parents take them straight to the doctor, hoping for some antibiotic as the miraculous, immediate cure for anything that produces fever.
This includes the flu where antibiotics, as in many other illnesses, will not be of any help at all. When antibiotics are taken but are not needed, resistance to them can build up. This is a very bad, dangerous thing for everybody, as it will help create “superbugs”.
Antibiotics are used to fight certain bacteria, not to treat most common colds or flu-like illnesses, which are caused by viruses.

Antibacterial soap protects you from germs

Many people have started using antibacterial soaps religiously, so that they make sure germs never have a chance with them. Antibacterial soaps kill everything, even the good bacteria that naturally must live on your skin.
Not nice to kill the good guys together with the bad guys… we really need the good guys.
To make matters worse, it is scientific belief that antibacterial soaps may be co-responsible for the formation of more superbugs, which make it harder for doctors to treat the people who actually require antibiotics.

You cannot get chickenpox twice

Many parents have long believed that if a child gets chickenpox when they are young it will protect them from having shingles in the future, because they can only have it once. There are even parents who arrange chickenpox parties…
Unfortunately, these people are more likely hurting their kids much more than helping them. The infectious agent causing chickenpox is actually a herpes virus. As you may know, herpes likes to keep coming back. This means that not only can those who have had chickenpox as a child get shingles as an adult, but they are actually more likely to.
At present, a vaccine for chickenpox has been invented. It is believed to not only help prevent chickenpox, but also make shingles less likely later in life. But parents still think it is good for their child to get chickenpox at a young age.

Face masks protect you from disease

During the height of any real or threatened epidemic, we all see some pretty strange things. There are people who decide to be extra prepared, and go everywhere in public wearing a surgical mask.
Those masks are not really created to save you from germs and will not stop you from getting sick. The good news for everybody else is that they will contain your germs, which will prevent you from getting others sick. The most appropriate use for a surgical mask is not to give everyone else the flu you already contracted.

You should not swim or have a bath after you eat

One of the most commonly held beliefs is that you should not swim for a certain period after you eat, or you might get a serious cramp and drown. In olden days, the digestion period was from two to three hours! It turns out that this bit of common wisdom is nothing more than nonsense. This old wives’ tale has been told to children around the world and has become more or less a popular rule of swimming safety.
Similar to when exercising, the body requires greater blood flow to the limbs. Food digestion requires greater blood flow to the stomach and this is why it is believed that digestion would divert the circulation of blood toward the gut and, to some extent, away from the muscles, which could cause cramping.
The truth is that experts doubt that a full stomach could be the cause of cramps should they occur while swimming. Cramps are of course not that uncommon due sometimes to the low temperature of the water, whether you eat or not before swimming.
Swimming, as any exercise, after a big meal might not be the most comfortable of things to do, particularly for out-of-shape adults, but there is zero evidence that it is inherently dangerous.

Multivitamins are great for your health

As part of the road towards healthier living, people consume multivitamins or other supplements on a regular basis, but the truth is that they probably are not doing anything beneficial.
Studies have concluded that multivitamins are not more effective at preventing heart disease or cancer than a placebo.
Many doctors are against the idea of people with a generally healthy diet taking multivitamins. The problem is that if you are already getting enough nutrients, the multivitamin may lead to you having too much of some nutrients, which can lead to health complications.

Mobile phones are dangerous in hospitals

In many hospitals you are forbidden to use mobile phones or devices in patient areas; in some hospitals, they’re banned completely. The reason for this is because your phone signals can cause all sorts of electromagnetic disturbance and wreak havoc on life-saving hospital equipment. However, government representatives in the UK recently made it clear that the blanket ban is totally not necessary.
Many studies have been done on the possible interference between phones and medical equipment, and the results are not nearly as bad as it might have been expected. The studies showed that very slight interference could be caused only at extremely close range. For this reason, many health experts still think that they should at least be kept away from operating areas and the most important equipment.

Going out with wet hair will give you a cold

You will feel cold but will be just fine health wise. Feeling cold does not affect the immune system.

Warm milk helps to fall asleep

Milk contains small amounts of tryptophan but gallons would be needed to get any soporific effect. No doubt it can have a placebo effect, regardless of science.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

This was left to last … on purpose! Sorry to knock tradition on the head but a handful of blueberries a day will keep the doctor away more effectively. The fact is that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important to prevent many chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
So keep eating the traditional apple, give it a good bite first thing in the morning and then … add some blueberries to your yoghurt. Nice!
Best healthy wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice
By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve