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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Who’s The Denier?

autism deniers

One of the greatest theoretical gifts of the Internet, in my opinion, is that it grants nearly unfettered access to all sorts of scientific data. Unfortunately, many of the people who access and attempt to use scientific data have no formal scientific training. Trying to analyze data when you’re not trained to do so is akin to performing open-heart surgery without the benefit of a medical school education. It leads to gross mistakes, which leads to wrong ideas, which leads to memes like this one.

But before I dismiss this meme as so much poppycock, let me give it a fair shake. I did a bit of digging on the three supposedly inept officials pictured in this meme, and on the alleged surge in autism cases over the past few decades. Dr Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) acknowledges that diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have increased dramatically in the last few decades. He notes that doctors have expanded the definition of ASD to include many children who might previously have been diagnosed with a different condition; also, ASD testing has become more sensitive, allowing for the diagnoses of mild autism cases that could have escaped detection in previous years. But Dr Insel does not stop there; he also points to an alarming increase in other childhood ailments, including asthma, Type I diabetes, and food allergies. If environmental factors are contributing to an uptick in those other conditions, perhaps there is some external factor causing a greater incidence of ASD in children. Dr Insel believes that the cause behind the uptick in autism diagnoses is probably a combination: there are more children being affected, and more being detected. Those hardly sound like the words of an autism denier.

Dr Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsop and Dr Coleen Boyle gave a press briefing in March to talk about the growing ASD epidemic. They both say that ASD diagnoses are increasing, and stress that further research is needed to explain why. They mention the improvement in diagnostic practices but say little about the possibility that environmental factors are leading to an increased incidence rate of ASD. Dr Yeargin-Allsop and Dr Boyle are not deniers; they are cautious scientists who do not wish to hang their reputations on unsupported speculation.

If only everyone else felt the same way…

So we can dispense with the notion that these doctors are autism deniers, or that they are culpable for the apparent increase in ASD during their tenures. Why would anyone suggest otherwise?

In my research I came across a letter drafted by several “concerned organizations” that expressed the same sentiments contained in this meme. They charge that the CDC and NIMH are refusing to investigate environmental causes behind the ASD epidemic (which is patently untrue, as per Dr Insel’s article) and demand that President Obama remove these people from their posts. They claim that it is impossible for a genetic autism epidemic to arise in a single generation and that there is no “autism gene”; ironically, the three doctors they lambast would probably agree with them. Most health experts believe that autism is the result of genetic and environmental factors; in other words, there is no single cause (or gene) that makes a person autistic.

The entire scientific community is still struggling to understand the causes and nature of ASD, yet the creators of this missive (and this meme) have painted themselves as experts. How wonderful it must be to possess certainty when the best and brightest minds – the people who have spent a lifetime training to interpret scientific data – are still scratching their heads.

One thing the letter and meme do not do is provide an actual culprit for the alleged ASD epidemic. If ASD isn’t genetic (as the “concerned organizations” assert), then what environmental factor could be causing it? Thankfully, some of the “concerned organizations” are listed at the end of the letter with links to what are sure to be fact-filled websites. Click on a few of them and it becomes clear that one word is on all of their minds:

Vaccines.

From Age of Autism (emphasis mine):

We are published to give voice to those who believe autism is an environmentally induced illness, that it is treatable, and that children can recover. For the most part, the major media in the United States aren’t interested in that point of view, they won’t investigate the causes and possible biomedical treatments of autism independently, and they don’t listen to the most important people – the parents, many of whom have witnessed autistic regression and medical illness after vaccinations. We do all those things, and more.

From Autism Action Network:

Autism Action Network is a national, non-partisan, grassroots, political action organization formed by parents in support of children and adults with autism, vaccne (sic) injuries, and neurodevelopmental and communication disorders.

From Canary Party:

The proper definition of safety involves a clear vision of the larger goal of regulatory work, which is securing positive health outcomes for children and families. This vision of safety requires a commitment to a total health perspective, including chronic as well as infectious disease, developmental disability as well as episodic illness, and quality of life as well as the absence of disease. It embraces a philosophy that sets a goal of zero vaccine and other medical adverse events, where these events are treated respectfully, indeed, as a resource for prevention of future adverse reactions. Achieving this goal requires a strong and global commitment to safety science, especially the study of health outcomes in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

From the Elizabeth Birth Center for Autism Law & Advocacy (EBCALA):

The autism community faces severe legal hurdles in many areas, including special education, insurance, healthcare, family law, criminal law and tort law, particularly related to vaccine injury. Since 2009, EBCALA has organized an annual conference each May in Chicago, Illinois during the Autism One conference to address the unique legal needs of the autism community.

From Generation Rescue:

Generation Rescue firmly believes that all parents have the power of choice – to vaccinate or not – and should be armed with the right questions to make an informed decision. We encourage all new parents to educate themselves about vaccinations so they can stand with confidence behind their decisions. Parents need to discuss vaccination options directly with their child’s pediatrician.

From Thinking Moms Revolution (in response to a question about doctors who refused to treat a mother’s unvaccinated child):

While I cannot give you advice on finding an MD who shares your (valid) concerns about immunization, I can tell you what I did for my sister when she lived in North Carolina. I asked around at all the local health food stores, yoga studios, and complementary health clinics for names of all-round well-recommended health professionals, and created a short-list for her with the names which had come up 3x or more.
From that list, there was an osteopathic doctor, a naturopathic doctor, and a traditional chinese medicine doctor, only one of which was covered by her insurance. She sees that osteopath every time she goes back, even though she’s moved overseas.

All of the “concerned organizations” who signed the letter that inspired this meme express a strong concern about vaccines (with the exception of the Holland Center, whose website doesn’t mention vaccines at all as far as I can tell). Let’s be clear, if you run an autism awareness website, there is no scientifically valid reason to mention vaccines at all, unless it is to debunk this dangerous misconception. Science-Based Medicine has a lot to say about the safety of vaccines, and many other scientific institutions, many of them operating independently, have offered their assurance that vaccines are not connected to autism at all. If there is an environmental factor contributing to a rise in the number of children affected by ASD, it isn’t vaccination.

So what about this meme? Well, it doesn’t specifically mention vaccines, but it is spawned by a mindset that clearly believes there is a link between vaccines and autism. Therefore I will go with my original impression: this meme is hogwash, and not to be taken seriously.

Psst…Things You Can Find With Google Aren’t Secrets.

Patent 5676977

I’ll save you the trouble. 5676977 refers to the number of a United States Patent filed by one Marvin S Antelman of Rehovot, Israel, on May 31, 1996. The subject of the patent is “tetrasilver tetroxide”, or Ag4O4, a “diamagnetic semiconducting molecular crystal… utilized for destroying the AIDS virus, destroying AIDS synergistic pathogens and immunity suppressing moieties (ISM) in humans.”

A cure for AIDS? Certainly that would be the medical breakthrough of the century! Why is this such a secret (and here we’re using the word secret to mean a matter of public record that can be accessed by anybody with an Internet connection)? There are two possible explanations: the rational explanation and the one favored by paranoid conspiracy theorists. Given that this meme seems to be the work of the latter group, let’s start with that explanation.

Big Pharma and Big Government are at it again! Or so say the conspiracy theorists, predictably. This meme seems to imply that the cure for AIDS has been right under our noses for almost two decades, and yet this plague runs unchecked around the world, destroying families and ruining lives. Why, they cry out, why isn’t anybody manufacturing tetrasilver tetroxide by the ton and ending this dread disease? Because, they say, shadowy figures whose red glowing eyes peer out from beneath wide-brimmed hats are working day and night to prevent any AIDS cure from seeing the light of day! And why would they do that? Simple: pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars on AIDS medications, and governments use AIDS as a means of population control. Put those two factors together, and humanity is certain to never see an end to the AIDS scourge.

It all works out so perfectly: the nefarious forces of darkness (not to be confused with the good-natured forces of darkness) are suppressing any and all drugs that could end the single most profitable and useful disease to ever befall man. They know Ag4O4 will stop HIV in its tracks, but to allow its production would vaporize their strangle-hold on the reins of power. Tetrasilver tetroxide must be hidden away forever!

Except…it isn’t hidden. As I said before, US Patent 5676977 is freely available on the Internet, on a website that is run by the United States government! If the government wants to hide tetrasilver tetroxide from the world, they’re doing a crummy job of it.

Let’s approach this question from a slightly more level-headed perspective, shall we? Is there any reason (other than greed and cruelty) that pharmaceutical companies are not manufacturing Ag4O4 en masse to combat AIDS? Only one comes to mind: because Ag4O4 is not an effective AIDS treatment or cure.

Mention that to a conspiracy theorist and they’ll regurgitate a string of anecdotal accounts about people who swallowed, inhaled, brushed against, or hashtagged Ag4O4 and were HIV-free within seconds. Ask them to produce peer-reviewed studies, however, and they are less forthcoming. To date, there are no clinical studies indicating that tetrasilver tetroxide is effective as an AIDS cure. It may have anti-microbial properties and would be a useful treatment for small wounds, but that’s a far cry from stopping a full-blown viral immune disorder.

And lest the conspiracy nuts claim that Big Pharma won’t allow clinical trials to proceed, I would like to remind them that Big Pharma (whatever that actually means) does not control every lab-testing group on the entire planet. If a compound as simple as Ag4O4 were an effective cure for AIDS, somebody would have uncovered evidence of that fact and made it public. Lack of evidence is not evidence in itself.

Based on my reading of HIV-positive forums, it seems that many people living with HIV/AIDS take a very dim view of people who promulgate quack cures like Ag4O4, and who can blame them? It is the height of cruelty to sell false hope. These people would be the first to sing the praises of a simple AIDS cure that actually worked. They aren’t singing anything kind about Ag4O4.


Edited: I originally said that Marvin Antelman was from Rehovot, Illinois. In fact, he is from Rehovot, Israel. Apparently Israel and Illinois use the same two-letter code. Now I know.