Fact or Fiction?

All of us are deeply interested in safeguarding our health, but is everything we hear about keeping our bodies healthy true? Take this brief quiz and see how well you fare in your beliefs about health:

True or False?

1. Only kids get the chickenpox.

2. Staying out in the chilly air will give you a cold.

3. Shaved body hair grows back faster and coarser.

Bursting the Bubble on Common Health Myths

By Judith P. Nembhard

All of the statements are false. Anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox can get it; you can’t get a cold unless you are exposed to a virus that causes illness; and shaving body hair doesn’t change its thickness or color. The false statements are myths, and health myths abound. Below are some of the most common health myths and the facts that dispel them.

MYTH: It’s OK to double dip the chip.

FACT: People share saliva – and more – when they double dip. In a university study, volunteers bit crackers and then dipped them into salsa, cheese dip, chocolate syrup, and water. Fresh unbitten crackers were also dipped into the same variety of dips. The researchers then measured bacteria in the dips and in the volunteers’ mouths. On average, three to six double dips transferred about 10,000 bacteria from the eater’s mouth to the dips. Salsa picked up the most germs from the double dipping.

MYTH: Food quickly picked up from the floor is safe to eat.

FACT: The so-called “five-second rule” says it’s OK to eat a piece of food you’ve accidentally dropped on the floor if you pick it up in five seconds or less. Scientists have tested the rule and found that food that comes in contact with a tile or wood floor actually picks up a large amount of bacteria, even when picked up extremely quickly. They say such food can contain enough bacteria to make you sick, so it’s best to dump it if it hits the floor. Remember, bacteria can live on even clean-looking floors. So forget the five-second rule, and toss out any food you drop on the floor.

MYTH: Chewing gum takes seven years to pass through your digestive system.

FACT: While gum will stick to your shoes, “it doesn’t curl up and stick to your stomach walls,” says gastroenterologist, Dr. Richard Sadowitz at Hutcheson Medical Center. He states that gum takes two hours to get through the stomach and follows the normal process that all food goes through in the digestive tract. “It is not digested,” says Dr. Sadowitz. “It simply travels the route of all foods, is excreted and won’t be obvious in the stool.” Dr. Sadowitz imparts more wisdom, noting that it’s OK if you swallow the occasional watermelon seed. “It doesn’t grow into a watermelon in your stomach.”

MYTH: Chocolate and greasy foods cause acne.

FACT: Eating too many sweets and high-fat foods is not healthful, but studies show that no specific food causes acne across the board. It depends on the individual. For some people, the breakouts are noticeable after they eat certain foods. Many will notice breakouts after they eat chocolate, for example, while others show no reaction from eating it. If a breakout happens to you, as a test, cut back on the suspected food and see what happens.

What really causes acne? According to medical experts, four major factors are responsible for acne. Together they cause the pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads associated with acne.

• Overactive oil glands: Hormones stimulate oil glands to produce oil. During times of stress, the adrenal glands produce increased levels of the hormones, which make the oil glands larger. Oil glands become overactive in response to hormonal changes during puberty.

• Blockage of skin pores: Acne can develop when some of the pores become blocked, resulting in trapped oil within the skin.

• Activity of normal skin bacteria: Acne is not caused by a bacterial infection. However, in reaction to trapped oil in hair follicles, normal skin bacteria do produce chemicals that change the composition of the oil, resulting in irritation to the skin.

• Inflammation: Inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to rid itself of a foreign substance. In acne, the substance may be bacteria or the irritating compounds they produce.

Adolescents are most commonly affected by acne because of the high level of hormonal activity during puberty. Heredity can also cause acne. A family history of acne can point to a probable genetic basis for the condition.

MYTH: If you don’t have any symptoms, you don’t have a sexually transmitted disease or a sexually transmitted infection (STD/STI).

FACT: “Many STDs are silent,” says OB/GYN specialist Dr. Stephen Kerley of Galen Medical Group. Frequently, STD’s can be present in the body but show no symptoms, especially in women (for example, chlamydia, genital herpes, or gonorrhea). And people can pass STDs to sexual partners even if they themselves do not have any symptoms. For example, many may not realize they are infected with the HIV virus because it is asymptomatic for the first five years. “You may be surprised,” says Dr. Kerley, “that a lot of people have herpes and don’t even know it.” Of the 70 million people who have herpes, Dr. Kerley says, “80 percent have no signs or cannot recognize it.” He advises that anyone who has concerns about STDs should contact his or her health provider for sound advice and avoid depending on “myths and urban legends.”

MYTH: Adults don’t need immunization unless they are traveling outside the country.

FACT: Doctors warn that the need for vaccines doesn’t end at adulthood. Many factors such as age, gender, type and location of travel, in combination with overall health, have a bearing on the specific shots you may need.

Each year the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, along with a number of other medical groups, recommends an adult immunization schedule. Your doctor will determine your need according to your medical and immunization history. One recommendation is that adults who are not already immune to the chickenpox virus need two doses, given at least four weeks apart. It is recommended that women who don’t show evidence of immunity and have recently given birth should also get the shots.

Flu immunization is recommended for adults 50 years of age and older and for anyone who wants to reduce his or her chances of becoming ill with the flu.

Everyone can benefit from vaccines, which help prevent infectious diseases and save lives.

MYTH: Low tar or “light” cigarettes are not as harmful as regular cigarettes.

FACT: “Light,” “mild,” and “low tar” are considered deceptive terms in the marketing of cigarettes. As Michael Czarnecki, M.D., of Kindred Hospital and Memorial Health Care System, notes, the labeling “is in reference to the flavor and taste of the cigarette and does not reflect any reduction in the harmful effects of cigarette smoking.” There is no safe tobacco product. “In fact, cigarettes packaged under [these brands] usually have an increase in toxic additives and less actual tobacco leaves,” says Dr. Czarnecki. He calls the labels “a marketing strategy” that encourages smokers to switch, not to quit. The “mild” brands of cigarette proliferated after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report connecting smoking with cancer and other serious diseases.

In addition to nicotine, tobacco products have the poisonous ingredients of lead, ammonia, DDT, and polonium 210, a cancer-causing radioactive element.

MYTH: Senior isn’t sexy.

FACT: A national survey of seniors’ sexual attitudes, behaviors, and problems in the U.S. found that although frequency of sexual activity declines slightly between 50 and 70 years of age, most people 57–85 years old believe sexuality is an important part of life. Data from the University of Chicago National Social Life, Health and Aging Project found that many men and women remain sexually active well into their 70s and 80s.

According to Dr. David Bosshardt of Parkridge Medical Center, testosterone has “a tremendous influence on male sexual functioning.” Testosterone levels decrease with time, Dr. Bosshardt says, “but not to the extent of estrogen decline in females.” However, the decline doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.

An important factor that impacts sexuality is lifestyle choices. Dr. Bosshardt observes that an unhealthy diet and cigarette smoking may lead to conditions that negatively impact sexuality. “Optimal health is needed for optimal functioning, and this includes sexual functioning,” says Dr. Bosshardt. Good health will remove barriers to sexuality in later years.

Misconceptions about health abound and can prevent us from enjoying an abundant life. Be a myth-buster and the use facts to help you live a happy and healthy life.

Judith P. Nembhard is a Chattanooga resident. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland where she received her Ph.D. in English education. Judith is a member of the Chattanooga Writers Guild and has two sons. Judith is a lifelong educator and a published writer.