Hardly a week goes by where we don’t come across an online story about health, fitness or nutrition that dances on the edge of truth. Myths, conspiracies and fake health news abound. Even sources can be misleading. And there is also folklore, which can be so deeply rooted that it’s accepted as truth without the science to back it.
Below are seven health-related beliefs or myths that regularly circulate. Some are fiction, and some are surprisingly true. Test your knowledge.
- Honey is a healthier sweetener than sugar.
Bees everywhere are nodding in approval. And they’re right. Honey is made mostly of sugar with about 30 percent glucose and less than 40 percent fructose, plus other complex sugars and dextrin, a starchy fiber. Plus, honey has trace elements. Your body expends more energy to break it all down to glucose, which means you’re accumulating fewer calories. Also, did you know honey is an excellent cough suppressant? It’s true. Researchers found that honey performed better than over-the-counter cough medicine. What’s not to love about that? (Say the bees.)
- Acupuncture is a legitimate medical treatment.
Indeed, it is. Acupuncture is a treatment option recommended by highly respected medical institutions and health organizations around the world. The National Institutes of Health regularly fund clinical research trials, such a new study that looked at acupuncture as a way to relieve pain from carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Hydrogen peroxide is good for disinfecting wounds.
At one time, hydrogen peroxide was an accepted disinfectant for flesh wounds. But that has changed. Because it can irritate or damage skin cells used for healing, it’s not recommended for use on the skin, nor should it be swallowed. Although the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry states that concentrations of 9 percent or less are generally nontoxic, it’s best to avoid drinking it in any amount.
- Indoor tanning beds are a safe way to get a “base” tan before summer.
So wrong. Research shows that UV exposure from indoor tanning beds is classified as a human carcinogen (causes cancer in humans). This comes from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, the CDC states that every time you tan—indoor or outdoor—you increase your risk of getting melanoma. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Stay out of the sun as much as possible, and always wear sunscreen.
- Green mucus means infection.
You might think it should, but that’s not the case. Green mucus from your sinuses or a cough doesn’t mean you have a bacterial infection, or that you need antibiotics. An acute cough or sinus infection can cause a range of mucus colors. Green is one of them, but it can also be lovely shades of yellow.
- Cracking joints causes arthritis.
This myth continues to linger. If you’re compelled to crack your joints, rest assured, all you’re doing is bursting gas bubbles in the synovial fluid, which helps lubricate joints. Researchers say that knuckle cracking doesn’t cause arthritis, but a study shows it can cause swollen hands and reduced grip strength.
- Food picked up from the floor within 5 seconds is safe to eat
Mop your kitchen floor all you like but researchers found that food that comes into contact with a tile or wood floor picks up bacteria—and a lot of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 seconds or a minute, bacteria finds a way. Surprisingly, carpet is somewhat benign. Food doesn’t pick up many germs when it lands on carpet, just fuzz.
Check the sources
In this complicated world, it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction or folklore. While many online health resources are useful, others offer misleading or inaccurate information. It’s important to find sources you can trust and to know how to evaluate their content.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has a remarkably helpful site devoted to tips on how to evaluate the credibility of health information. You can also ask your health care provider if you have questions about something you’ve read online.
For this post, we sought expert review from Providence pediatrician Deborah J. Harper, M.D., in Spokane, Wash.