Health Myths Debunked
In recent years, health and wellness have been hot conversation topics. With obesity on the rise and growing concerns about “Big Pharma,” Americans are starting to take a closer look at what we eat, and put in and on our bodies. Unfortunately, this growing awareness comes with a hotbed of misinformation and rumors, either put out by genuine ignorance, or quacks looking to make a profit. Below, I address four well-known health myths currently in circulation:
1. There is a link between autism and the vaccines children receive (such as the measles, mumps, and rubella [MMR] vaccine).
False. This rumor was started way back in 1998 by a British researcher who suggested that the MMR vaccine had a negative impact on a child’s developing system. This was then debunked numerous times, causing the researcher to be stripped of his medical license. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since confirmed that there is no link between vaccines and autism, but with the proliferation of public figures (such as Jenny McCarthy) asserting that the link exists, this rumor just won’t die! While there is no link between the two, there is a link between children who are intentionally not vaccinated and the rise of measles and whooping cough in the United States. Measles was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, but has since resurged (667 cases in 2014 and 189 cases in 2015), and there were 48,000 cases of whooping cough reported in 2012 (from fewer than 2,000 cases in the 70s and 80s).
2. Himalayan Crystal Salt is better for you than regular table salt.
False. Notorious quacks such as Dr. Joseph Mercola have touted the health benefits of Himalayan Crystal Salt over regular table salt, insisting that the former is, “…the purest salt available on earth and is uncontaminated with toxins or pollutants” (Mercola’s website), unlike table salt, which contains iodine and 2.5% other chemicals outside sodium chloride (making it bad for you, apparently). However, an analysis run on Himalayan Crystal Salt found trace amounts of mercury and arsenic, and even radioactive elements radium, uranium, and polonium! The amounts of these elements are too small to cause any real damage, but are enough to effectively debunk the claim that Himalayan Crystal Salt is healthier over table salt based on chemical makeup alone.
3. Sunscreen causes breast cancer.
False. Sunscreen has come under fire recently due to the various chemicals it contains, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll address the sunscreen/breast cancer link here. Most commercial sunscreens contain a compound called oxybenzone, and nonhuman studies suggest that it can mimic estrogen. Too much estrogen can up your risk for breast cancer, hence the start of the sunscreen/breast cancer rumor. But don’t go ditching your Coppertone just yet, as there is not enough data to verify this claim. If you’re leery of buying a brand of sunscreen with oxybenzone, look for one that contains either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
4. Microwaves kill the nutrients in your food.
False. Anti-microwave activists (who ever thought there would be such a thing?), such as Vani “The Food Babe” Hari, claim that microwaving food kills the food’s nutrients, and should be avoided. However, a study of various cooking methods that appeared in the Journal of Food Science found that microwaving food was actually one of the better methods of cooking to preserve nutrient loss. The study found that when water is added to the cooking process (such as when food is boiled), the water sucks out the nutrient contents. Since the microwave doesn’t require water to heat or cook food, it doesn’t suck out as many nutrients. It should be noted, however, that any type of cooking/heating can break down the nutrients in food – some methods result in more of a loss than others. Microwaves are one of the gentler methods, despite what the anti-microwave activists say.
We live in an age where finding the answer to any question we can dream of is just a click of the mousepad (or a tap of the smartphone) away. However, we have to be vigilant, as not everything that comes up on a Google query is true. Do your research, and find sources with actual, verifiable credentials, such as doctors, nutritionists, and food scientists. Otherwise, you’ll be throwing away your microwave and seasoning your food with Himalayan Crystal Salt and wondering why you’re not feeling any better.