Seven Medical Mythteries

If you want to know the fastest way to spread BS, disguise it as medical advice.  The following memes were produced by a website called myhealthtips.in and featured on the Facebook page Library of Most Controversial Files, whose interests include “popular conspiracy theories”.  I’m not sure what constitutes a popular conspiracy theory, but make of that what you will.

SleepyTime

It’s hard to find scientific information about human sleep cycles.  Googling the question is next to pointless, because there are thousands of websites that purport to be “experts on healthy sleep”, and which nevertheless parrot information that was probably generated by somebody without a medical degree.  It can be difficult to determine what constitutes expert advice and what doesn’t.

In any case, the idea that there is a best time for sleep is contentious and is by no means established scientific wisdom.  Historians tell us that in olden days, people slept in two chunks of about 4 hours each, separated by a 1-2 hour period of wakefulness in the middle of the night.  People would routinely use this wakeful period to visit the john, read, pray, or ahem, perpetuate the species, if you catch my meaning.

The advent of modern technology – in particular lighting – may have contributed to the decline of the 4-2-4 sleep cycle, but it did not quell people’s need for sleep.  In modern times, doctors recommend that a healthy adult should get between 7 and 8 hours of quality sleep a night.  Some people claim to get by on fewer than 7 hours, but in general neurologists find that prolonged periods of inadequate sleep can lead to a decline in mental functioning.  In case you need help with the math (perhaps because you haven’t been getting sufficient sleep); 10:00 pm to 4:00 am is only six hours.  As far as I can tell, no scientists are advocating a six-hour sleep schedule.

The important thing to take away is that each person is different, and needs different amounts of sleep in different increments.  You should sleep the number of hours that allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to function.  Don’t base your sleep schedule on a meme.

WarmMedicine

This almost sounds like one of those “fake advice” memes produced by mean-spirited people to dupe gullible folks into ruining their own health and/or property.  Most medical websites I consulted recommended taking medicine – especially gel capsules – with cool water (not cold or hot).  Water is important to help the medicine go down, but using hot water can apparently accelerate the rate at which the pill’s protective coating dissolves.  This might prematurely expose the medicine to digestive enzymes, which can abate its effectiveness.

If you’re concerned about the proper temperature of water to use when swallowing a pill, ask your doctor or contact the medicine’s manufacturer directly.  Either of those sources will be much more valuable than advice from a meme.

MedicineWalk

There may be a kernal of truth to this one, but it’s still misguided.  According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, lying down after taking a pill may slow the pill’s progress through the esophagus, which might lead to irritation of the esophagus.  However, I couldn’t find a source that corroborated this meme’s advice to do physical activity after taking medicine.  Some medications alter heart rate and blood pressure, both of which are also affected by exercise.  Depending on the medicine you took, a post-dose workout might be unwise.

As always, ask your doctor.

HeavyMeals

Overeating in general is not a good idea, but there’s no merit to the idea that you shouldn’t have a large dinner after 5:00 pm.  In fact, a search of more than 4800 scientific journals failed to turn up even a single article backing up this claim.

It is true that eating a hearty, healthy breakfast will make you less prone to overeating later in the day; however, you shouldn’t feel guilty about sitting down at 8:00 pm for a reasonably-portioned meal with family or friends.  As always, moderation is key.

WaterMorning

I’ve already written a post about how ridiculous it is to claim that one’s hydration schedule significantly affects one’s health, so I’ll just link to that post and move on.

I will say this: for crying out loud, stop using plastic water bottles (unless you live in a region with a tainted water system, that is).

BrainPhone

Um, your brain is pretty much dead-center in your skull.  It’s not significantly closer to one ear or the other.  And why would that matter anyway, unless you think that… oh lord, you’re one of those cell phone/radiation/cancer theorists, aren’t you?

PhoneBattery

Yep.

Okay, there’s just so much wrong here that I’m at a loss for where to start.

Radiation often gets a bad rap, but radiation isn’t always harmful.  Radiation is a catch-all term for the waves and particles that are given off by an energetic source.  Yes, cell phones give off radiation, but so do light bulbs, human bodies, and bananas.  And yes, nuclear waste gives off radiation as well, but don’t let that scare you.  When you’re talking about radiation and health concerns, there are two questions you have to ask yourself: what kind of radiation are you dealing with, and how much are you receiving?

Cell phone radiation is sometimes placed into the microwave category, which gives lots of people pause.  Microwave radiation – isn’t that the same kind of radiation that’s used to cook food?  Well, yes and no.   A microwave oven focuses radiation with a frequency of 2450 Megahertz into a relatively small space.  That particular frequency causes water molecules inside the food to spin and dance around, which generates heat and cooks the food from the inside out.  A typical microwave oven expends about 1200 watts of power while cooking.

A cell phone, on the other hand, can operate at a range of frequencies from 1850 to 1990 MHz, or from 824 to 894 MHz.  All of these frequencies are lower than the microwave oven’s frequency of 2450 MHz, which means that cell phone waves carry less energy per photon than cooking microwaves do.  Also, water doesn’t respond as strongly to the frequencies given off by cell phones, which means that cell phones cannot possibly be used to cook popcorn (despite the hoax videos you might have seen).

Furthermore, the power output of a cell phone is much smaller than the power output of a microwave.  Although sources vary, the average number is about 1 watt.  So let’s put that into perspective; the average cell phone’s radiation power output is about 1200 times less than the power produced by an operating microwave oven.  In other words, it takes a cell phone about 20 minutes of continuous usage to output the same amount of energy that a microwave oven puts out in one second.  Also, since cell phones typically don’t have directional antennas, about half of that energy is going away from the user’s head, which further mitigates the risk.

Of course, you might argue that the danger of a cell phone’s radiation is due to something other than thermal damage.  Perhaps you believe that a cell phone’s radiation will screw up your DNA and cause tumors to grow out of control.

At least one major study refutes this notion.  The INTERPHONE study, conducted in 13 nations, was unable to establish a causal link between cell phone usage and brain tumors.

Now I’m reasonably certain that somebody will comment with a link to a study showing that cell phone radiation does negatively impact human tissue.  I understand that even among scientists, there are opposing camps regarding to what extent cell phone radiation affects humans, and what we ought to do about it.

Whichever side you fall on, the notion that cell phone radiation is 1000 times stronger when the battery dips below ten percent is utter rubbish.  Batteries do not work that way.  The power output of your cell phone varies with signal strength; when signal strength is low, the cell phone beefs up its transmission power in order to compensate.  I suppose it could be true that if you’ve been in a signal dead zone for several hours, your battery could have drained due to your phone’s persistent efforts to maintain a link.  In that case, a prematurely drained battery could be a warning sign (in addition to the low-bars symbol helpfully offered by your cell phone) that your cell phone will be transmitting with more power.

But…and this is important, so pay careful attention…there are lots of other things that can cause a cell phone’s battery to drain, so a low battery does not necessarily mean your cell phone will fry your noodle.  And even if the cell phone is transmitting with more power, all cell phone manufacturers design their products with built-in power output limit.

So what’s the bottom line?  Are cell phones killing us, or aren’t they?  Well, there’s no good evidence that they are, but if it concerns you that much, then you should stop using your cell phone altogether, and not just when the battery is low.

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