Sunday, February 4, 2007
Top 10 health myths
#1: Eating carrots improves your eyesight.
Truth: Though carrots contain a high concentration of vitamin A, essential for healthy eyesight (vitamin A defficiency can cause blindness), an extra helping on your plate won't give you X-ray vision. In fact the origin of the various sight-improving attributes of the humble carrot is generally credited to a campaign of misinformation carried out by the British Government during the World War II. British intelligence didn't want the Germans to know that they were using radar to detect bombing raids so they spread the rumour that they were feeding their pilots carrots in order to improve their vision. Trouble is the campaign was so successful people still believe it even today! Of course all things are relative - if you start off with a vitamin A deficiency, eating more carrots will of course improve your vision.
#2: Eating bread crusts makes your hair go curly.
Truth: Is having curly hair a good thing? Rumour-mongering parents certainly think so - generations have attempted to persuade their children eating crusts will encourage a healthy-looking mop. In fact there's no medical evidence to suggest eating bread crusts makes your hair go curly, though there may be other health benefits that aren't so well known. The browning of the crust may produce more healthy antioxidants, which in turn help prevent the body absorbing harmful oxidising agents in the atmosphere such as ozone.
#3: Using sun lotion protects you from skin cancer.
Truth: The problem with using suntan lotions is that it can lull you into a false sense of security. The fact is whether you are wearing sun lotion or not, you should still ration the amount of time you spend relaxing by the pool. Remember - suntan lotions are not total blocks: They still allow some UV through. And though you are protected from burning, the genetic changes in your skin that occur after exposure to the sun will still be there. Don't forget to cover up and wear a hat. You should also wear sunscreen in the UK between April and October, not just when you are somewhere hot on holiday.
#4: You can get cancer from barbecued food.
Truth: There's a persistent feeling these days that anything enjoyable must be bad for our health. So many things seem to be banned that we don't know where to turn, so when someone tells us that the burnt crust of barbecued food contains carcinogens, who are we to argue? But while it's true that the heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) contained in the blackened edges of barbecue food are carcinogenic, there has been no evidence produced which links barbecued food to cancer. Perhaps this is because you would never eat enough charred food to cause the DNA damage that is central to cancer development. Also, you can reduce the carcinogens by 99 per cent by marinating the food before you grill it. It is thought this might be because typical marinade ingredients - tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and citrus juice - are high in cancer-fighting compounds. Interestingly, grilled vegetables have no cancer risk.
#5: A lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.
Truth: About 80 per cent of breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). Sometimes there can be cysts, nipple discharges and calcification (calcium salt deposits in breast tissues) resulting from injury or bruising, hormonal changes or infection. However, should you find a lump you must contact a health professional straight away - catching cancer early significantly increases the chances of recovery.
#6: Low fat diets are a healthy way of losing weight.
Truth: Adoption of low-fat diets is widespread among those keen to lose weight and look great but unilaterally cutting out all fat from your diet can actually damage your health. Very low fat or no fat diets don't provide enough energy for healthy growth and some research suggests that the rash of low fat, high carbohydrate regimes pursued by many weight watchers over the past few years may actually be responsible for an increase in insulin resistance. Exercise combined with a balanced diet is more likely to reap rewards in the long run.
#7: Bananas are fattening.
Truth: They are actually low in fat. There is only half a gram of fat and 95 calories in a banana. Not only that but they are packed with potassium, come in their own packaging, are clean and very handy as a snack!
#8: It's OK to skip breakfast.
Truth: Breakfast is a very important meal. When we're sleeping, we are also 'fasting' for an average of about eight hours, so it's essential to 'break' this fast. Although people who skip breakfast catch up on their energy requirements later in the day, they're unlikely to get all the vitamins and minerals that a simple breakfast can provide. Try porridge with honey for a wholesome but filling meal.
#9: Cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis.
Truth: It's irritating and sounds excrutiating, but unfortunately you can no longer rely on the story that too much cracking causes arthritis to stop the person sitting next to you from doing it. No medical studies have been conducted that confirm a link between cracking your knuckles and the crippling pain induced by arthritis, but there are other scare stories you can rely on. According to one study the ligament stretching that occurs among regular knuckle-crackers can cause swollen hands and weaken the grip.
#10: People are overweight because they have slow metabolisms.
Truth: It's a common complaint among the clinicially obese but studies show you can't use a slow metabolism as an explanation for weight gain. Of course, there may be other physical reasons for weighing in over the odds, but recent studies revealed fat people have faster metabolisms and burn off more energy than slimmer people simply to keep their bodies going.