Fact or Myth

I read this British Medical Journal excerpt this morning and wanted to share two of the seven myths with you.

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Popular culture is loaded with myths and half-truths. Most are harmless. But when doctors start believing medical myths, perhaps it’s time to worry. 

In the British Medical Journal this week, researchers looked into several common misconceptions, from the belief that a person should drink eight glasses of water per day to the notion that reading in low light ruins your eyesight.

“We got fired up about this because we knew that physicians accepted these beliefs and were passing this information along to their patients,” said Dr. Aaron Carroll, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “And these beliefs are frequently cited in the popular media.”

And so here they are, so that you can inform your doctor:

Myth: We use only 10 percent of our brains.

Fact: Physicians and comedians alike, including Jerry Seinfeld, love to cite this one. It’s sometimes erroneously credited to Albert Einstein. But MRI scans, PET scans and other imaging studies show no dormant areas of the brain, and even viewing individual neurons or cells reveals no inactive areas, the new paper points out. Metabolic studies of how brain cells process chemicals show no nonfunctioning areas. The myth probably originated with self-improvement hucksters in the early 1900s who wanted to convince people that they had yet not reached their full potential, Carroll figures. It also doesn’t jibe with the fact that our other organs run at full tilt.

Myth: You should drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

Fact: “There is no medical evidence to suggest that you need that much water,” said Dr. Rachel Vreeman, a pediatrics research fellow at the university and co-author of the journal article. Vreeman thinks this myth can be traced back to a 1945 recommendation from the Nutrition Council that a person consume the equivalent of 8 glasses (64 ounces) of fluid a day. Over the years, “fluid” turned to water. But fruits and vegetables, plus coffee and other liquids, count.

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