Patterico's Pontifications


Seven Medical “Facts” that Fool Doctors, Too

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 8:08 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Medical researchers have identified seven medical myths or unknowns that even fool doctors:

“Doctors often fall for the same health myths that their patients do, Drs. Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll report in the Christmas-New Year’s issue of the British Medical Journal. Among seven myths they cite is the eight-glasses-of-water one. “There is no medical evidence to suggest that you need that much water,” Vreeman concluded after their intensive review of research.

She and Carroll trace the misperception to a 1945 recommendation by the Nutrition Council that Americans consume the equivalent of eight glasses of fluids daily. Lost over the years, they concluded, was the council’s note that the 64 ounces called for included water contained in coffee, soda, fruits and vegetables.Based on polls of their colleagues at the medical school, other widespread but unjustified convictions included:

People use only 10 percent of their brains. Lots of evidence refutes that common belief, they say. Most compelling is the finding that damage to almost any area of the brain has powerful effects on thinking, bodily functioning and behavior.

Hair and fingernails keep growing after death. According to forensic anthropologist William Maples, whom the researchers cite: “It’s a powerful, disturbing image, but it is pure moonshine.” What does happen, is dehydration after death sometimes causes skin around the hair or nails to shrink.

Vreeman and Carroll also take on claims, endorsed by some doctors they quizzed, that reading by dim light ruins eyesight; eating turkey makes you sleepy; shaved hair grows back faster, darker or coarser; and cell phones seriously disrupt with hospital electronics.

In each case, Carroll said, “we’re not saying that it’s a lie, but that at best nobody knows. At worst, it’s not true.” In the nobody-really-knows category, they said, are the effects of dim light on vision and the extent to which cell phones might interfere with medical devices.

The pair’s debunking research got started, Carroll said, after he heard a doctor caution in a pre-Halloween radio interview against strangers poisoning kids with candy. “I knew that there was no documented case of that, and I thought that a doctor shouldn’t be raising the fear,” Carroll said.”

The researchers plan to write a book debunking 100 medical myths including (they claim) these classics: chewing gum can get stuck in your digestive tract and sugar makes kids hyperactive.


22 Responses to “Seven Medical “Facts” that Fool Doctors, Too”

  1. That sugar-hyperactive one pisses me off, because it’s not a myth unless it depends on some insanely narrow definition of “hyperactive.”

    Sure as heck makes an awful lot of kids more excitable, impulsive, and emotional (especially upset) than normal. Repeatable, testable, proven fact, and I’m really sick of hearing kids say they saw on TV that sugar doesn’t make them hyperactive.

    Must be a bunch of childless doctors out there.

    Merovign (4744a2)

  2. Kids are hyper because they are kids, sugar has nothing to do with it. In fact, one of the primary symptoms of hyperglycemia (excessive blood glucose levels) is fatigue.

    Taltos (4dc0e8)

  3. I dunno. It seems like there is some hyperactivity in the time period between the eating of sugar and the fatigue once the insulin kicks in. At least when the kids were young.

    That’s just a subjective observation though.

    Kevin (4890ef)

  4. eating turkey makes you sleepy;

    Huh. I did not know that.

    It’s more likely due to the combination of drinking alcohol and overeating – not just turkey, but also mashed potatoes, ham, creamed onions, cranberries, sweet potatoes, peas, stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer), carrots, bread, pies, and whipped cream, (and how many beers did you have???) – all of which have the effect of pulling the blood away from your brain to help your digestive tract do it’s work, and the sugar/insulin effect.


    Pablo (99243e)

  5. I was present at a exploratory Laparotomy (Abdominal surgery to find a problem) where we discovered a gooey pink fruity mass of bubble gum in the small intestine of a habitual gum swallower. I guess it was an almost pathological behavior that led to this however, it did happen.

    paul from fl (47918a)

  6. Main one is that there is absolutely zero evidence that lower fat intake has any affect on chloresterol.

    Howard Veit (cc8b85)

  7. I saw the bullet-point version of the list in the local paper yesterday.
    The potential for cellphones (even in standby mode) to interfere with electronics in general is no myth; I’ve seen it happen a few times, though never with medical equipment.
    Since some of those electronic devices in hospitals have necessarily sensitive inputs that get wired up to patients, shielding them against general interference isn’t practical; since the frequencies used for mobile communications keep changing, there’s no way the medical-equipment manufacturers are going to certify that their equipment is immune to interference from the next generation of wireless gizmos.
    So, given the very real potential for interference, and the unlikely but plausible prospect of interference having fatal consequences, it makes good sense to exclude cellphones from some areas of hospitals.
    (This is notably unlike the belief that cellphones are a hazard around gas pumps. That one is most assuredly a myth.)

    Eric Wilner (3936fd)

  8. Kevin,
    There’s a basal insulinlevel at all times(except if you’re type I and your pancreas is exhausted)
    But I do agree with you about the carbs and fatigue.I was at the
    atkins center a few years ago and watched Dr. A slip and fall..Originally thought it was a commercial or something.Now,I tell. my type II patients to avoid starches/sugars .It’s tough around the holidays ,though.

    corwin (dd14d0)

  9. I’m sorry.I got sidetracked.i was going to comment onpeople who tell you,”Don’t feed the dog that CHOCOLATE.”I had that enjoyable experience at an expensive resort some years ago.A person with me(MD/Ph.D in biochem)asked in an innocent voice,”Why,are we in Europe?”.he then explained Euro choc has TheoBromine=bad,but American has TheoCaffeine=No Big Deal.
    The very flustered schoolmarmish womanreplied,”I was only trying to be helpful”.to which another in the group rejoined,”I bet you even believe in Global Warming.
    After all this cleverness,the wives/gfs in the group chasised us for our attitude.

    corwin (dd14d0)

  10. Well, hell, there goes all my reasons to keep the kids in line or my hubby or, even, myself. Back to the drawing board.

    Sue (8c2b5c)

  11. My stepson is HDAD and diet wasn’t/isn’t a factor – sugar/no sugar had little effect. My normal twin grandsons (read boy-normal high energy) ARE sensative enough to sugar that a high dose of it does stimulate them short-term (with a period of crankiness when the sugar level drops) Keeping their diets more protein driven, mild carbs, lots of fiber keeps them on a more even keel.

    So I’d like to see exactly what these myth-busters are really stating.

    Darleen (187edc)

  12. A person with me(MD/Ph.D in biochem)asked in an innocent voice,”Why,are we in Europe?”.he then explained Euro choc has TheoBromine=bad,but American has TheoCaffeine=No Big Deal.

    I’d tell him to go get his money back. All chocolate contains theobromine and smaller traces of caffeine. There is no such thing as Theocaffeine. Chocolate is chocolate, the only difference between chocolate in the US and Europe is a matter of recipe (Euros prefer dark chocolate by a wider margin than people in the US).

    In short, chocolate can and will harm you dogs, cats, horses, etc. regardless of where it comes from.

    Taltos (4dc0e8)

  13. I don’t know if these claims are correct but keep in mind that the authors are saying that, with most of these examples, the proof isn’t there. The “myths” may ultimately be proven true or they may be proven false, but the point is we don’t know for sure based on the research we have now.

    DRJ (09f144)

  14. The medical definition of terms such as “hyperactive” is not always the same as the colloquial one. Ditto for terms such as low (or high) blood sugar.

    ras (fc54bb)

  15. Sugar makes kids hyperactive what a load of horsie poop i mean thats a big time lie

    krazy kagu (7c8404)

  16. Remember, your body needs 6 to 8 glasses of fluid daily. Straight up or on the rocks.
    O’Rourke, P.J.

    redc1c4 (dcc4d4)

  17. I regularly drink 150+ oz of water/soda per day, and that’s not even on days with exercise. When hiking in hot weather can I go through water very quickly. In one case where I got a bit turned around and spent a few hours more than I expected in hot weather I drank almost a gallon afterwards to rehydrate myself. (Of course, in such cases plain water is bad; use a sports drink).

    And, I don’t know about gum, but I’ve been meaning to find an opportunity to link to this.

    TLB (08032f)

  18. TLB,

    I think this is a perfect thread to link that story, and what a story it is.

    DRJ (09f144)

  19. I DO need 6-8 large cups of coffee a day. It’s a myth when applied to other fluids.

    I’ve disbelieved these things for years but can’t say the same for my patients. Some have found fault with me over the water issue. Our hospital has signs banning cellphones in certain units (ICU etc.) but the nurses use cellphones routinely in their duties.

    The BMJ Christmas issue is always a hoot, full of the humorous, the strange and (sometimes) great satire.

    Teflon Dad (bd62a2)

  20. Remember, the poison is in the dosage.
    Anything in large quantities can be harmful.
    Anyone remember the woman in the Sacramento CA area who OD’ed on water during a radio promotion?
    Flushed all the salts out of her system and went into shock. Fatal!

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  21. If you have a narrow spot in the gut, as in adhesions or Crohn’s Disease, you can get high residue foods stuck about the narrow spot. The worst offenders are corn and celery. Also tomato skins. I’ve operated on a few people with obstructions from such things above a narrow spot. The Eisenhower story is an example. He had ileitis, now know as Crohns. He was told to avoid celery but, to try to keep his weight down, he would eat the celery at political dinners and avoid the chicken and mashed potatoes. He developed an obstruction and was operated on by Isadore Ravdin, chief of surgery at Penn. Ravdin used to tell the story. As Ike was wheeled into the OR, he told Ravdin, “If you find celery in there, don’t tell Mamie.” Then Mamie sought out Dr. Ravdin and said,”If there is celery in there, I want to know about it.” Ravdin told us that there was four feet of celery above the obstruction. He never said what he told Mamie.

    Chocolate is said to be bad for dogs but I don’t know how true that is. I don’t give dogs chocolate.

    Mike K (86bddb)

  22. When I was young I was scolded by my mom for swallowing a chewing gum; saying that it might get stuck in my intestines. What a piece of crap..those were the days of my childhood. But this part is totally factual if you’re looking for a complete diet info why don’t you try browsing over

    Franko Damian (c18e36)

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