Health Myths and Facts

Have you heard the one about antiperspirants causing breast cancer? It's not true, but at least believing that widespread health myth can't hurt you, although it might keep you from some perfectly safe products.

"There are, however, a number other health myths where knowing the facts can make a world of difference to your health," says Daniel McCarter, M.D., a family medicine specialist in Charlottesville, Va.

Here he helps debunk a few of long-standing myths.

Myth: Eating too much sugar can cause diabetes.

Fact: By itself, eating sugary foods is unlikely to cause healthy people to develop diabetes. But eating too much of anything high in calories or fat—whether fast-food burgers, cream-filled donuts or sugary soft drinks—can contribute to becoming overweight, and being overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes.

"For people who already are overweight and have genetic predisposition to diabetes, consuming a lot of sugar can cause a surge in their blood sugar levels that could hasten the disease's development," says Dr. McCarter.

Myth: You can't get pregnant while breast-feeding.

Fact: That's an old wives' (or mothers') tale. "Breast-feeding tends to depress ovulation, so it does decrease the fertility rate," says Dr. McCarter. "But it's definitely not a sure thing."

Myth: You're more likely to survive a crash if you don't wear a safety belt.

Fact: The odds of survival are much better when you have a seat belt on because it's far better being restrained than being thrown out of the car in a crash. Even in a simple fender bender, wearing a safety belt can help prevent serious injury.

Myth: Eating spicy food causes ulcers.

Fact: A type of bacteria causes ulcers. Helicobacter pylori causes almost two-thirds of all peptic ulcer cases. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, causes most of the other cases. Using tobacco and drinking alcohol also increase the risk for ulcers.

Spicy foods can only worsen the effects of existing ulcers, as can stress.

If you have symptoms of dyspepsia or ulcer disease, such as a burning pain in the gut that comes and goes for days or weeks, you should see a doctor to be tested for the bacteria. Current medication treatments that include antibiotics have an 80 to 90 percent success rate in treating ulcers.

Myth: Eating high-cholesterol foods is the main cause of high blood cholesterol.

Fact: Foods can contain two substances that make cholesterol levels go up: cholesterol (found only in foods that come from animals) and saturated fat (found mostly in foods that come from animals). "To lower cholesterol, it's more important to limit your intake of trans fat and saturated fat," says Dr. McCarter. Trans fat is produced when vegetable oil is hardened by "hydrogenating" it. Trans fat and saturated fat both raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Even a food product labeled "No Cholesterol" can be high in these fats.

Myth: Migraines are "all in your head."

Fact: While it's true mental stress can trigger a migraine headache, migraines are a medical condition and cause people significant suffering and impaired lives at home and work. The headaches can be effectively treated and often prevented.

Myth: Incontinence is a natural part of aging.

Fact: Recurring bladder leakage is not a function of age. Incontinence sometimes is caused by an underlying condition, such as a chronic urinary infection. It often can be successfully treated with medications, simple exercises or surgery.

The bottom line: When it comes to your health, get the facts.

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