Are these common beliefs myths or facts?

By Fred Clifton Campbell Jr., MD, associate professor/clinical, Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine

If food drops on the floor, does the five-second rule apply?

Is it dangerous to hold a sneeze?

It’s good to question whether there is any truth to some commonly held beliefs that have become part of the cultural psyche. The truth is, some answers are not cut and dried.

To start the New Year in the know, let’s delve into some frequently uttered statements to address their veracity.

1. Myth or fact? If food drops on the floor, it is safe to eat if picked up within five seconds.

Answer: Leaning toward myth. The more moisture content a food has, the more likely bacteria or other pathogens can stick to it. For instance, it’s less likely that organisms will adhere to a dropped cookie than to a moist piece of fudge. The location of the dropped food item can also play a role in the virulence of the bacteria that may adhere to it. For example, the potential to pick up a more dangerous type of bacteria may increase in a hospital setting.

The bottom line: If you drop a piece of food that has moisture in it, it’s probably best not to eat it if you’re concerned about a potentially harmful virus or bacteria entering your system.

2. Myth or fact: It’s dangerous to hold a sneeze.

Answer: Myth. There shouldn’t be any adverse effects from holding a sneeze. That said, the only instance it could conceivably cause potential damage is if an individual holds their nose and sneezes against a closed nose and mouth. When this happens, there is the possibility of transmitting the pressure to the eardrums, which may cause additional discomfort if, for example, someone has an ear infection.

3. Myth or fact: People can become more muscular just by eating more protein.

Answer: Myth. Eating a lot of protein without exercising will not contribute to muscle gain.

 4. Myth or fact: Cold weather can make you sick.

Answer: Myth. While people do tend to huddle closer together indoors and may be more likely to spread airborne viruses and bacteria during winter months, the cold weather itself will not cause illness. The only other potential risk for sickness in a cold climate is for those susceptible to cold-induced asthma, where they could get bronchial spasms or wheezing and trigger an asthma attack because of sudden exposure to very cold temperatures.

5. Myth or fact? Antiperspirants cause breast cancer.

Answer: Myth. Antiperspirants have been used and tested extensively. While there can be some skin irritation caused by various chemicals in antiperspirants, there is no harm as far as causing cancer or other diseases.

6. Myth or fact? People can shrink as they age.

Answer: Fact. Past a certain age, people can lose height due to loss of bone mass, particularly in the vertebrae. With time, the vertebrae tend to shrink, as do the pads between the vertebrae. That’s why older individuals may lose a small amount of height.

To help maintain height, moderate exercise is very important in addition to a nutritious diet, particularly with the minimum daily requirements of protein, calcium and vitamin D.

7. Myth or fact? The flu shot can give you the flu.

Answer: Myth. There are no reports of anyone developing the flu from a flu shot. The materials used to create the flu vaccine are derivatives of flu materials, but they are completely inactivated, so there is no possibility of contracting the flu from a flu vaccine.

8. Myth or fact? Taking large amounts of vitamins can be helpful.

Answer: Myth. Rather than helping, evidence suggests that taking large amounts of certain vitamins can be harmful. An example of this would be taking large amounts of vitamin A or large doses of vitamin D. Excess vitamin A has been shown to cause liver damage, hair loss, bone and muscle pain and birth defects. Excess Vitamin D has been shown to cause bone loss, vomiting, confusion and loss of appetite.



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