Medical Urban Legends: Fact or Fiction?

  • Bad Medicine

    As far as medical science has progressed, there’s still plenty of misinformation floating around out there. While the Internet has made it easier to get to the science behind medical controversies, it’s also made it easier for myths to propagate – it seems it’s easier to forward an e-mail than it is to do a bit of Googling. Combine that with the litany of old wives’ tales and cautionary stories you’ve heard from your parents, and it’s likely that you’ve been snookered into believing at least one of these medical urban legends. Photo Credit:
    Cracking Your Knuckles Leads to Arthritis
  • Cracking Your Knuckles Leads to Arthritis

    Myth: In the grand tradition of “your face will freeze like that” comes one that you probably heard from your mother. Knuckle-cracking kids were told that the habit would lead to arthritis. Fact: Not so, says Dr. Dimitrios Pappas, Rheumatology Fellow at Johns Hopkins University. “There is no evidence that cracking knuckles causes any damage such as arthritis in the joints.” He does note, however, that habitual knuckle-cracking can reduce grip strength and in rare cases injure ligaments and tendons, according to some medical literature. Photo Credit: davco9200
    Mountain Dew Will Kill Your Sperm
  • Mountain Dew Will Kill Your Sperm

    Myth: Perhaps we’ll never know how much damage this schoolyard rumor did to Mountain Dew’s brand. The myth goes that Yellow #5, a food dye found in Mountain Dew and other food and drink products, is associated with all sorts of damage to male virility, from reduced sperm count to shrunken manhood. Fact: Yellow #5 has been approved as a food additive by the FDA since 1969, and in that time we haven’t heard anything about anyone’s sperm count shrinking. A study released last year did find decreased sperm count and sperm abnormalities in mice given excess amounts of the additive. But since the amount administered to the mice was about 1,000 times the FDA’s acceptable daily intake, your sperm probably have nothing to fear from your Mountain Dew habit. Photo Credit: Ken Wilcox
    Vaccinations Will Give Your Child Autism
  • Vaccinations Will Give Your Child Autism

    Myth: The Lancet, a British medical journal, published a study in 1998 that found a link between Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccinations and autism. In the years since, numerous parents of autistic children, including actress Jenny McCarthy, have touted the study’s findings. Fact: This one has transcended “medical controversy” status to find itself firmly in the “medical myth” camp. The journal has since retracted the study, calling it “fatally flawed,” and the lead author was stripped of his medical license in Britain amidst accusations of conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, various follow-up studies have been unable to find a link, and the latest research definitively states that exposure to the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Photo Credit: USACE Europe District
    Ingested Seeds Will Grow in Your Stomach
  • Ingested Seeds Will Grow in Your Stomach

    Myth: Make sure you spit out those watermelon/apple/pumpkin seeds! Otherwise they’ll take root in your stomach and you’ll wind up with a watermelon vine/apple tree/pumpkin patch growing inside you. Fact: Horticulturists point out two holes in this theory. First, seeds are designed to pass through the digestive tract to maximize dispersal, not get stuck there and take root. Second, seeds need oxygen to germinate, which they won’t find in a stomach. They will, however, find a moist and oxygen-rich environment in your lungs, as one man found out after he inhaled a pea and wound up with a half-inch sprout in his lung.  Photo Credit:
    Swallowed Gum Will Stay There for Years
  • Swallowed Gum Will Stay There for Years

    Myth: Sticking with the “things you shouldn’t swallow” theme, this schoolyard myth states that swallowed gum will take several years to work its way through your digestive system. Apparently fearful of a stomach full of Bazooka Joe, thousands of students have done the only logical thing and stuck it under their seats. Fact: It’s true that your stomach won’t digest gum like it will food, says Dr. Michael Picco, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic. But that doesn’t mean that the gum just sits there. “It progresses relatively intact through your digestive system and is excreted in your stool,” says Dr. Picco. He does warn that swallowing too much at once can lead to constipation, though. Photo Credit: KonRuff
    Visine in Your Drink Causes Diarrhea
  • Visine in Your Drink Causes Diarrhea

    Myth: Want to send your hated enemy running for the bathroom? Sneak a few drops of Visine or other eyedrop into his drink and watch as he comes down with an embarrassing case of the runs. Fact: Ingesting eyedrops certainly causes health issues, but it’s a lot more serious than a bout of diarrhea. The urban legend experts at list the various ailments that can befall someone who ingests Visine, including seizures, blurred vision and difficulty breathing. Several people have ended up in the hospital as a result of what was supposed to be a harmless prank, and Snopes notes that one woman died after being poisoned at a Halloween party. Photo Credit:
    Tryptophan in Turkey Makes You Sleepy
  • Tryptophan in Turkey Makes You Sleepy

    Myth: This one gets trotted out every Thanksgiving. Turkey is alleged to contain a chemical known as tryptophan that causes drowsiness. This, we’re told, is why we all want to go to sleep after Thanksgiving dinner. Fact: Yes, turkey contains a chemical known as tryptophan and, yes, tryptophan acts as a natural sedative. But it typically only has this effect if ingested on an empty stomach, and turkey has roughly the same amount of the stuff as chicken. So why do you get so tired after Thanksgiving dinner? Most experts agree that this post-turkey drowsiness is mainly a product of eating an enormous meal (and probably having a bit of alcohol, too). There may also be a self-fulfilling prophecy at work here: So many people have heard the tryptophan myth that they use it as an excuse to fall asleep on the couch while someone else does the dishes. Photo Credit: tuchodi
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