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Medical myths that need a second visit
June 8, 2016, 1:54 pm

Many old wives' tales, superstitions and stock answers have over the years been weaved into the fabric of human understanding of health matters that we regard many of them as facts. Despite the endless information on the internet and the widespread prevalence of ‘Googling’ for anything and everything, we still tend to accept many of these medical misinformations without question.

Most people are too busy to fact-check details that do not concern them directly and so the medical myths live on, glibly passed from one generation to the next. Here, we aim to break some of these oft repeated myths for good.

Reading in poor light or sitting too close to the TV will ruin your eye

This myth may have started in the 1960s, and at that time it may have been true. Some early color TV sets emitted high amounts of radiation that could have caused eye damage, but this problem has long been remedied, and today's TV and computer monitors are relatively safe.

Though it may be more comfortable to read with more lighting or sit further from the television, doing the opposite does not affect the health of your eyes. Your eyes comprise of muscles. Like any other muscle, your eyes can get strained or tired, but bad lighting or close proximity to objects will not permanently affect them. The only lighting that can damage your eyes is looking directly at sunlight or laser light. 

Eating chocolate and fried foods will give you acne.

It would be nice if we could control our blemishes just by watching what we eat; unfortunately, skipping chocolate, chips and other fried foods will not stop that pimple from breaking out. Current medical knowledge gives no support for a relationship between food and acne. Therefore, while it may be healthier for you to avoid sweets and fried foods, it will not improve your skin. Certain cosmetics, sweating and high humidity may aggravate your acne. If you have serious acne concerns, your best bet is to visit a dermatologist.

Vitamin supplements always make you healthier

More and more studies are showing that vitamin supplements may not only be ineffectual but may even be dangerous. For example, people taking large amounts of vitamins C and E may be predisposing themselves to cancer, as high doses of these antioxidants can cause genetic abnormalities. Similarly fish oil supplements have been linked with cancer in mice. However, there is no need to worry about overdosing if your vitamins are coming from real food, rather than a pill. Eating more healthily in general is the answer.

We use only 10 percent of our brains.

This myth has been promoted since the early 1900s by motivational speakers and quacks selling snake-oil, mainly as a means of selling remedies that claim to release the latent capacity of the brain. However, modern scanning technology that measures the brain’s activity at given time has laid bare their claims. Brain scans reveal that much of the brain is activated during any activity and the physiology of brain mapping suggests that all areas of the brain have a function. While it is true that a large number of questions regarding the brain and its functioning remain unanswered, sadly there are no large areas in the brain that are dormant waiting to be activated by some brain enhancing techniques or medicines.

You need to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

Most people consume the amount of water their body needs during the day through food intake and liquids, including water. If you eat properly, drink when you feel thirsty and generally feel well, you can safely disregard the eight-glass rule. If you are lacking the water your body needs, it will let you know through symptoms of dehydration, like thirst, dizziness, fatigue and headache. Also, it is possible to drink too much water. While it is very hard to drink enough water to cause harm, the results can include brain swelling, nausea, fatigue, confusion, seizures or coma and excess urination that could deplete the body of nutrients.

Sugar and hyperactivity in kids

If children attend a birthday party and consume copious amounts of sugary drinks and snacks, their energy levels sky rocket, and they bounce off of every available wall.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no scientific evidence that sugar increases children's energy levels. The theory has been put to the test by several trials where the children, researchers, and parents were unaware of the conditions. None of these studies have shown a change in behavior after a sugary banquet.

Even studies carried out using children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or who were deemed ‘sensitive’ to sugar, came to the same conclusion. It seems that the parent's perception of their child's behavior is partly to blame; added to that is the fact that the children have been at a party where they have had lots of fun.

Waking a sleepwalker is dangerous

Sleepwalking can be an unsettling event for the person doing the walking and anyone who happens to witness the event. Somnambulism, as it is also called, occurs in the deepest part of sleep, normally a few hours after the onset of sleep.

There is a common perception that waking a sleepwalker can give them a heart attack or put them in a coma. However, experts say that the reverse is in fact true; not waking a sleepwalker could be dangerous.

While waking a sleepwalker might confuse them, not waking them might leave them free to fall down the stairs, smash a glass, or go out into the street (worse things have happened). That said, waking a sleepwalker can occasionally be dangerous for the person doing the waking, as somnambulists have been known to act violently when woken up suddenly. The best option is to simply guide the ‘walker’ back to bed, or if that is not possible to wake them up with a loud noise, which might leave them confused, disoriented and scared, but nevertheless, safe.

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