Medical myths debunked

July 23, 2008 10:38:22 AM PDT
You may have heard these rumors before, cell phones cause cancer, going on the pill can make you fat, and cold weather can cause you to catch a cold. But are these fact or fiction? Last year alone, Americans used more than two trillion cell phone minutes. But can all that time with the gadget next to your head cause brain cancer?

"There's no evidence to show that cell phones cause cancer," said Vijay Reddy, M.D., a hematologist and oncologist at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute in Orlando, Fla. "The radiofrequency that the cell phones emit is much lower than some of the standard devices that we use everyday in our daily lives such as microwaves."

Another common belief. Many think once brain cells die, they are gone for good. But good news, we do grow new brain cells.

"What we think happens is that people who really keep their brains very active build up a cognitive reserve," said Cynthia Holzer, M.D., director of Geriatric Education at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, R.I.

The best way to do it-- exercise for 30 minutes. Read or play a musical instrument.

Gaining weight is a big fear for many women. Some fear the scale so much they won't take birth control pills.

"The modern birth control pills we have do not cause any weight gain, weight loss or any change in weight at all," Dr. Hill, medical director of the Loch Haven OB/GYN Group at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Fla.

Today's birth control pills have 20-30 micrograms of estrogen while oral contraceptives in the 1960's had up to 150 micrograms.

With the cold weather season behind us, you will probably be togs out your old cold medicinE. But is cold weather really to blame for your sore throat and runny nose? No. This, too, is a myth.

The fact that children get sick is a fact of life.

Experts say the only way to get sick is with direct contact with the virus like coughing or sneezing. The next time you hear another one of these pesky rumors, be sure to check the facts.

But don't ignore everything you hear. Sometimes strange things might actually be truE. Did you know toothpaste can zap those zips by absorbing oil? Or did you know eating poppy seed muffins can make you fail a drug test? Poppy seeds contain small traces of opiates there are also found in drugs such as morphine and codeine.

Background: Why are some people concerned that cell phones cause cancer? According to the United States National Cancer Institute (NCI), one of the main reasons is that they emit radiofrequency (RF) energy - a type of radiation. Also, since it is a fairly new technology, there are no long-term studies on the effects of cell phone radiation on the human body.

RF Energy is widespread in telecommunications and is emitted by AM/FM radios, VHF/UHF televisions, microwaves, cell phones, etc. These types of devices use non-ionizing (low-frequency) radiation. At high levels of exposure, RF energy in the ionizing form (high-frequency), like from an X-ray machine, is a health risk; but it is unknown whether non-ionizing radiation creates a cancer risk.

Radiation Exposure: The NCI says radiation exposure from cell phones depends on several things, including the number and length of calls, other cell phone traffic at a given time, the distance from the cell phone station, the quality of transmission, how long the antenna is and the size of the handset. For concerned users, hands-free kits are available and can reduce radiation exposure to the head.

Cell Phone studies: A study in 2000 funded by Wireless Technology Research LLC and NCI found no link between hand-held cell phones and brain cancer. For the study, researchers looked at a group of 469 men and women with brain cancer and a group of 422 men and women without brain cancer. Another study in 2001 looked specifically at three types of brain cancer - glioma meningioma and acoustic neuroma. It revealed brain tumors did not develop more often than expected on the side of the head users reported using their cell phone most.

Growing Brain Cells: Contrary to the long-standing belief, brain cells do re-grow. A study by researchers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, revealed neurons in the hippocampus region of animal brains not only form; they also help create new memeories. Researchers found when they reduced the formation of new hippocampus cells in rats using a drug inhibitor, their memory formation was inhibited. So what's a good way to help stimulate your brain? Exercise for 30 minutes a day, play mentally challenging games like Sudoku, read or play a musical instrument.

Catching a Cold: Experts say colds appear to be more common in the winter months because that's when viruses tend to spread across the country, but cold weather is not the culprit. People tend to be indoors more in the winter where spreading germs is easy. Doctors say one of the best ways to keep yourself sniffle-free is by washing your hands often.


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