De-Mystifying Common Health Myths

Remember your mom telling you to wait an hour before going swimming? Do you still follow this rule?

Speaking of water, are you drinking enough? Are you seeing more work colleagues walking around with water bottles, letting you know they’re on a special diet that requires more water intake?

That’s just two examples of common “facts” you might hear based on self-perpetuating health myths.  (The truth about swimming after meals and water diets is revealed in the myths/facts section below.)

“It is very important that you consult with your doctor before accepting any health-related notion as fact, especially if it involves self-prescribed treatments,” said Rosendo Collazo, M.D., an internist with the Baptist Health Medical Group at Baptist Hospital.

Common health myths can run in families and across cultures for generations. Most primary doctors and family practice physicians are quite familiar with many of these rumored conditions, causes or treatments.

Here are five myths that Dr. Collazo often hears, so we’re exploring them a little deeper to de-mystify certain health-related assumptions:

Myth: Eating peanuts while pregnant can cause allergies in your child.

  • Fact:
    Peanut allergies are one of the most common causes of severe reactions to eating certain types of foods. Peanuts can result in anaphylaxis, the rapid onset of allergic reactions all through the body, including throat swelling, itchy rashes and wheezing. Some studies suggest peanut allergies are becoming increasingly common in the current generation of children.But can an expectant mother pass on such an allergy to her unborn child by eating peanuts?

    This myth is not entirely without basis, as there does seem to be some role for maternal transmission of peanut allergy when the mother is allergic to peanuts herself.

    While there are a few studies that support the link between a mother’s peanut consumption and increased risk for peanut allergy in the baby, there are many more studies that have found that there is no such link. The prevailing school of thought is that peanut ingestion during pregnancy does not raise the risk of peanut allergy in the child, based on the results of most studies.

    Bottom line: if you have peanut allergies and are pregnant, consult with your physician. If you don’t have such allergies, there is no evidence to suggest you’re child will acquire such an allergy from your eating habits.

  • Myth: Coughing Can Help Fend Off a Heart Attack.

  • Fact:
    Coughing does not help in the case of a heart attack. Calling 911 after recognizing the warning signs is the best course of action, in addition to initiating CPR if the person assisting is trained to do so. Apparently, an e-mail that spread like a contagion a few years ago claimed that anyone who feels heart attack symptoms while alone should cough “repeatedly and very vigorously, repeating a breath about every two seconds…until help arrives, or (a normal heartbeat returns).”

    Wrong, says the American Heart Association.

    The rumor may have been influenced by the coughing technique known as “cough CPR” which has been used in hospitals by physicians to treat sudden irregular heartbeats in monitored patients during cardiac catheterization procedures.  In these cases, a responsive patient who develops a sudden irregular heartbeat could possibly maintain blood flow to the brain and remain conscious for a few seconds if they cough vigorously – while being assisted by a physician.

    Traditional CPR is not used to treat heart attack victims who remain conscious – but only if the heart attack if followed by cardiac arrest, the American Heart Association says.

  • Myth: Hepatitis B is a rare disease, so I am not likely to come in contact with it.

  • Fact:
    Hepatitis B, a virus that infects the liver, is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world, according to the World Health Organization.It is spread through contact with the blood and body fluids of an infected person. More than one-third of the world’s population is infected with the hepatitis B virus. Some 400 million people worldwide are chronically infected, says the WHO, increasing the chances that they can come down with serious liver disease and liver cancer.  The WHO urges anyone who is at risk for hepatitis B to visit a medical professional and get tested.
  • Myth:  Drinking more water helps you lose weight?

  • Fact:
    The mere addition of water to your diet won’t help you lose weight. However, there may be benefits to this strategy if drinking more water means drinking less soda or sugar-added fruit  drinks.Nonetheless, the mere act of adding water to a normal diet doesn’t promote weight loss, unless you also take steps to reduce total caloric intake and start a regular exercise program. Nothing beats an improved diet and being more active for losing weight, Dr. Collazo says.

    Drinking water also helps maintain the body’s proper balance of body fluids. And it’s essential for replacing the large amounts of water lost each day.

    But drinking more water is not a magic diet formula.

  • Myth:  I have to wait an hour after eating before going for a swim.

  • Fact:
    No one seems to know  exactly how this myth got started, with parents telling their children for generations to wait an hour after eating before even getting close to a pool, the lake or the beach. This conventional wisdom seems to have surged in the 1950s and 1960s when water-safety concerns were much more lax, and there were fewer lifeguards watching out for swimmers in peril.The truth is that this is a myth. Blood flows to our stomachs to absorb nutrients after eating a big meal. But there is plenty of blood leftover to deliver oxygen and remove waste products elsewhere in the body. This competing demand for blood does not cause cramps that can be dangerous for swimming.

    However, there are limits.  It is widely recommended to wait at least two to three hours after a normal meal before engaging in exercise to allow food to run its course through the stomach. But this depends entirely on the individual and how much was eaten.

  • Dr. Collazo says that while most medical myths are relatively harmless if followed, others like some of the ones above and many diet-related myths may not be, so it’s always best to check with a doctor to be sure.

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