Debunking Medical Myths

HEALTH

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The public wants a recipe for a simple way to find health, said Lynda Bergsma of the University of Arizona health office.

The sound-bite trend, she added, can leave consumers baffled, angry and discouraged.

"Consumers should say to themselves, before I make any decisions based on what I've heard (or read), and go much further, (I need) to find out the real scoop," Bergsma said.

Bergsma added many medical myths need further investigation to reveal the truth:

  • Cholesterol

Eating foods high in cholesterol will give you high cholesterol. False.

Even though eggs are packed with cholestrol, they aren't nearly as bad for you as the science community once thought. Eating trans fats, those found in red meat and butter, causes cholesterol. Shrimp is high in cholesterol, but low in fat. Butter is better for you than margarine because the hydrogenation process that stiffens the vegetable oil in margarine produces trans fatty acids.

"(Trans fatty acids) drive up bad cholesterol and the triglycerides and can cause clogged arteries. So plain vegetable oil is better for you than either butter or margarine," Bergsma said.

  • Fish

The benefit of eating three servings of fish each week depends on the type of fish.

"Fish is supposed to be high in protein, low in saturated fat and rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, and so on, but scientists have learned that large fish like shark and swordfish and mackerel contain really high levels of mercury," Bergsma said.

Mercury can cause a lot of harm in pregnant women as it can interfere with neural fetal development. Light tuna comes from smaller fish while the fancy white albacore comes from bigger fish, so two 12-ounce servings, not three, of white albacore per week is the current standard.

  • Coffee

A 10-year study of 46,000 men revealed their risk of developing gall stones was reduced 40 percent by drinking two to three cups of coffee a day.

"The benefit only comes from coffee," Bergsma said. "It doesn't come from the caffeine."

A study found that of the nearly 3,000 adults with no history of heart disease, those who drank more than one cup of coffee (versus no coffee) per day showed increased inflammation of the blood.

  • Salt

For many years, a low-salt diet was thought to help lower blood pressure.

"We've found out that lots of people have high blood pressure and are on very low-salt diets and it doesn't do anything. There are a few people who respond to a low-salt diet with reduced blood pressure," Bergsma said.

In this case, she said the health community was in error for not investigating the bigger picture. She said there are two preliminary studies, which found that a reduction of dietary sodium could be dangerous for many people.

  • Vitamin E

A study published in 1996 reported that a diet rich in Vitamin E helped 62 percent of post-menopausal women to stave off heart disease. The key is "a diet rich in Vitamin E." Not Vitamin E pills, however the media picked up on Vitamin E.

"The best way to get Vitamin E is the two meals of fish you can have a week or from green leafy vegetables," Bergsma said.

  • Exercise

The best exercise plan is minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous, continuous exercise three times a week. True or false?

The answer is true.

"Studies clearly show that people who get more exercise have fewer heart attacks," Bergsma said.

In the mid-1990s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report declaring that moderate exercise -- washing the car to gardening to going for a 45-minute walk around the block, or three, 15-minute walks per day -- was sufficient.

Bergsma said marketing often has more to do with conflicting messages in the media, than errors made by the health community.

"The experts realized that the marketing guidelines were so intimidating for a lot of people, that most people just gave up and didn't do anything," Bergsma said.

So they lightened up the message, since some exercise is better than none at all.

Uncovering relevant health information during a 30-second commercial from a newly released medical report is difficult.

Bergsma said understanding the health ramifications of studies, and digging deeper to find out how a particular medical breakthrough affects your health, is an important part of being a savvy consumer.

"Are gall stones going to kill me? No," she said. Cardiovascular disease has more potential to do that.

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