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New study dispels common medical myths

Turkey does not make your tired. Really. The British Medical Journal wants to set you straight in its second study of health-related myths.

But first, some perspective from Dr. Laura Mosqueda, the medical director of the University of California Irvine Senior Health Center, who said that after reading the myths the most important message is not related to the medical beliefs at all.

"It is that we are susceptible to believing unproven concepts if they are repeated often enough by 'experts' (real or self-perceived/self-proclaimed)," Mosqueda said.

So, believe it or don't, but:

Drink eight glasses of water each day: The authors found references as early as 1945 suggesting that healthy people should stay hydrated by drinking eight glasses of water each day. But they say there's a complete lack of evidence supporting that recommendation. Studies also show that most people get enough fluids through daily consumption of juice, milk and even caffeinated drinks.

People only use 10 percent of their brains: This myth has been around for more than a century. Some believe it came from Albert Einstein, although the authors found no evidence of that. What they did find were studies that show people use much more than 10 percent of their brains. For example, when almost any area of the brain is damaged, it has "specific and lasting effects on mental, vegetative and behavioral capabilities." Also, imaging studies have found no area of the brain is completely inactive.

Hair and fingernails keep growing after death: Though it is impossible for the body to continue the complex hormone regulation needed to cause hair and nails to grow after death, this myth does have a basis in a biological phenomenon that sometimes occurs after death.

When someone dies, dehydration of the body can cause the skin around the hair or nails to retract, creating the appearance of increased length. But the authors say this is an optical illusion.

Shaving causes your hair to grow back faster, darker or thicker: Several studies show that shaving has no effect on the thickness or rate of new hair growth. But because shaved hair is blunt, and doesn't have the finer taper at the ends of unshaven hair, it can give an impression of being coarse. And new hair sometimes appears darker because it has not yet been lightened by the sun or other chemical exposures.

Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight: While reading in dim light can cause eye strain, and the uncomfortable effects that go along with it, such as dryness and difficulty focusing, it does not cause permanent damage, the authors say.

Eating turkey makes you especially tired: If turkey contains tryptophan, and science has found that tryptophan can cause drowsiness, how is this medical belief a myth?

The study's authors say turkey doesn't contain "an exceptional amount of tryptophan." In fact, turkey, chicken and minced beef contain nearly the same amounts of the amino acid. Other proteins, such as pork or cheese, contain more tryptophan per gram than turkey.

Perhaps the reason turkey has long been accused of making people extra sleepy is because of all the overeating we do on Thanksgiving. Studies show that eating any large, solid meal can make you tired because blood flow and oxygenation to the brain decreases. Plus, meals that are high in protein or carbohydrates can cause sleepiness. So can wine.

Cell phones cause significant electromagnetic interference in hospitals: Hospitals widely banned cell phone use after the media detailed more than 100 reports of suspected electromagnetic interference with medical devices before 1993. But an Internet search by the study's authors could not find any cases of death caused by use of a cell phone in a hospital.

Meanwhile, subsequent studies show little or no interference. For example, a 2007 study examining mobile phones "used in a normal way" found no interference in 300 tests in 75 treatment rooms.

STEMMING THE EFFECTS OF CARDIAC ARREST

Nearly 200,000 out-of-hospital incidents of sudden cardiac arrest occur among Americans each year. A growing number of emergency doctors are using a treatment called moderate therapeutic hypothermia to cool the body of a patient to between 90 and 94 degrees when sudden cardiac arrest is witnessed. The body's metabolic processes are slowed and cellular breakdown and the release of toxic chemicals are stymied. "The cooling allowing injured, but not dead, cells to get healthy," said Dr. Matt Sutter with Emergency Medicine of Indiana. This type of treatment is also being used on traumatic brain injury and spinal cord patients in some hospitals. Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett brought national attention to the treatment after it was successfully used on him following a spinal cord injury incurred during a September 2007 game. The most gratifying news Sutter hears from nurses, he says, is that "a lot of people are waking up who they never expected to wake up." For more from the American Heart Association, visit tr.im/nscardio.

Shift into gear

Tired, fatigued. Oh, you too? We might be inclined to reach for the nearest energy drink, chocolate candy bar or large cup of coffee. They might help rev us up for the short-term, but what we might really need are some food and beverage suggestions to energize you for the long haul, according to a recent Health Focus International survey. Some observations:

• • •

Energize your eating. Skipping meals is like forgetting to put gas in the car. You can't run on fumes for long and you'll sputter to a stop. Overfilling your tank isn't a good idea either. That's because big meals require the digestive tract to work overtime and will sap the energy you need to stay alert and on the move. Instead, eating frequent small meals every three or four hours — even the age-old practice of a breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack — gives you sustained energy throughout the day and will help keep your blood sugar from crashing.

• • •

Feeling cranky? Try eating more fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain crackers. And make sure to include protein in every meal, including snacks, to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel because these foods are absorbed more slowly.

Carbohydrates are actually the body's preferred source of fuel and can raise levels of the mood-elevating brain chemical serotonin. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, brown rice and whole-wheat pastas and you'll make dietitians happy, too.

Compiled from Times staff, wire reports

New study dispels common medical myths 01/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 8:00pm]

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