There's no shortage of suspect health information that can be found with just a simple Google search. Some of it sounds too good to be true – a sure sign that you should scroll right past it. Miracle cures with no scientific backing are easy to spot, but what about the more credible advice, or even beliefs about your health you may have held since childhood? Not sure what to keep and what to get rid of in your journey towards better health and wellness? This list is a great start to debunking some common health lies.
Herbal supplements are safe – and can often replace expensive prescriptions. Just because it's natural doesn't mean that it's necessarily safe. Many supplements are derived from plant extracts and used around the world, may claim a wide range of health benefits that are not based on scientific studies. Many other supplements are well researched, and may help in managing many different issues. But, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so strength and purity are never guaranteed. And many can also interfere with prescribed medications and cause dangerous issues, so it's important that your doctor knows – and approves – every supplement you take. Never start taking any supplement without discussing it with your doctor, and be especially cautious with any supplement that promises weight loss, increased strength and stamina, or even improved mood.
Vaccines make me sick. I'll rely on my immune system instead. Long before the COVID-19 vaccine became controversial, many people had strongly held beliefs that vaccines make you sick and sometimes even cause permanent health damage – the exact opposite of what they are designed to do. Every year, thousands of people in the U.S. die from the flu, and an estimated 80% of them skipped the vaccine. Hundreds of thousands of people have refused the COVID-19 vaccine in recent years because they believe it triggers the infection, damages the heart, causes cancer, permanently alters DNA and more. In fact, vaccines are made with inactive parts of a specific antigen that triggers a protective immune response in the body. Newer vaccines contain the blueprint for the antigen, rather than the inactivated antigen itself. Vaccines have effectively eradicated some of the worst diseases the world has ever seen, and they save millions of lives every single year. No matter how strong your immune system may be, it's no match for the protective powers a vaccine can provide.
Doing a detox or cleanse can restore my health and energy. Celebrities and influencers swear by expensive detoxing or cleansing programs for removing toxins from the body and restoring health and vigor. Common claims would have us believe that a program consisting of special teas and a combination of supplements will remove chemicals and heavy metals from our bodies, and improve a variety of vague symptoms, from fatigue, digestive issues and allergies to irritated skin, puffy eyes and weight gain. To date, there is no evidence that these programs, or the ingredients they use, can magically restore health. Our bodies already do a remarkable job of eliminating toxins through our kidneys, liver, skin, digestive system and lungs. And an expensive one week detox program can’t reverse years of bad habits that impact health over time. A more effective way to support the elimination of unwanted substances and help ensure long-term health and wellness is to optimize your body’s natural abilities by:
- Staying hydrated, so that waste products are eliminated more easily through breathing, urination and sweat.
- Limiting or eliminating alcohol, which gives your liver a rest and allows it to focus more on filtering everyday waste effectively.
- Getting enough sleep so that our brains can effectively clear out products that build up during the day that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and more Reducing consumption of sugary and processed foods, which can cause fatty liver disease and impact normal liver functions.
- Eating more fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, which can help protect your body from excessive free radicals that can damage cells and cause dementia, heart disease, cancer, and more.
I don't need a gynecologist if I've had a hysterectomy or have gone through menopause. Gynecological exams are an important part of women's preventative health care – even if you've had a hysterectomy or are past menopause. It's an opportunity for your doctor to evaluate the health of your pelvic organs, including your uterus and ovaries (if you still have them), bladder, rectum and vagina, and look for any signs of serious problems so they can be treated earlier. It's also often the only time a woman will get a manual breast exam. And, for most women, a regular pap smear is still recommended until the age of 65. Talk to your doctor to see how frequently you need a pelvic exam based on your history and health, but don’t just assume you're "past that point" now.
I can deal with my depression or anxiety on my own. It's just a matter of mind over matter. Mental health is every bit as important as physical health. In fact, untreated mental health issues including depression, anxiety, stress, and PTSD can increase your risk for several other diseases, from obesity and sleep disturbances to cancer and heart disease. It's fine to just power through when you're having a bad week or two. But when it goes beyond that, and it's starting to impact your work, your family life and other relationships, and your ability to take care of yourself and find joy in life, it's time to talk to your doctor. The sooner you get the appropriate treatment – which may include medication, stress reduction, meditation, talk therapy or other options – the sooner you can get back to enjoying your life.
I don't have time to exercise. This may be one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves…year after year after year. A busy schedule can make it hard or even impossible to carve out an hour for the gym or a class every day. But it's important to remember that small bursts of exercise add up, and not every workout has to be a heart-pounding sweat session. Taking the stairs or parking five minutes away from your destination are easy steps anyone can take. Taking 10 minutes to dance to some favorite music is something that can help alleviate stress while also getting your heart rate up. Holding informal calls while you walk around the block or your office building can easily add 15 minutes or more of exercise to your day. Lifting hand weights (or even bags of flour!) while relaxing with your favorite Netflix series doesn’t take much effort. You may not be able to add more time to your day, but virtually anybody can find a total of 30 minutes most days to move just a little bit more.
It's fine to repurpose or save antibiotics. When a doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics to help your body heal from an infection, it always comes with instructions to take the entire amount. Yet many people still think they can discontinue the antibiotics once they are feeling better – and perhaps save them in case they (or even worse, someone else in the family) get sick again. This is a misuse of the prescription your doctor gave you, and it's a contributing factor in the increase of antibiotic resistant infections. By not taking all of the medication prescribed, you risk not wiping out the bacteria completely, which means you may get sick again very quickly. But this time the remaining bacteria may now be resistant to the drug you were originally taking. This can result in longer and more complicated illnesses that require more expensive and powerful antibiotics. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, make sure you understand why it's necessary, then take it exactly as prescribed. And NEVER insist on an antibiotic your doctor is reluctant to prescribe. Antibiotics are effective only against bacterial infections, such as strep throat, but they won't do anything to help alleviate the common cold (caused by a virus). Listen to your doctor, and take antibiotics only when he or she believes they are necessary.
I don't need as much sleep as most people. We've said it before, and we'll continue to say it loud and clear: to achieve and maintain optimum health, you need to get at least 7-8 hours of good quality sleep every single night. You may have convinced yourself and those around you that you can function just fine on six hours or less, but the cold hard fact is that you can't, and it's taking a huge toll on your health. Lack of sleep is one of the biggest contributing factors to a huge laundry list of issues: obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, heart disease, stress, high blood pressure, dementia, accidents, addiction and so much more. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any disease or condition that's not exacerbated by too little sleep. So stop making excuses. Make sleep your top priority right now. Seven to eight hours a night – every night – must be your new normal if you want to stay healthy now and in the future.
This article first appeared in the June 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.