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Busted: Five Common Medical Myths Revealed

By Annika Carter

Carrots Can Improve Your Vision

The myth that carrots can improve your vision, or even give you night vision, began after World War II when the commander of the British Royal Air Force pinned his pilot’s successful night bombing runs on the number of carrots the men had been eating.  However, this myth is not completely baseless.  Carrots are rich in beta carotene, a component of Vitamin A which is necessary for vision.  Vitamin A supplements have been shown to improve vision only in people with deficiencies.  For example, studies showed that Vitamin A supplements reduces cases of night blindness in pregnant women.  There has been no evidence of Vitamin A being able to improve the vision of a healthy individual, though.  It is speculated that Vitamin A may also be able to protect against age-related macular degeneration, or loss of vision with age due to damage to the retina.

Photo credit: Chiot's Run / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Chiot’s Run / Foter / CC BY-NC

Cold Weather Will Make You Sick

We all know this myth.  It is the reason why our mothers and grandmothers remind us to put on a hat and mittens when we go out in the cold.  But will being in the cold really make us catch the flu or a cold?  Simply put, illnesses are caused by pathogens, not the temperature.  Well why is winter also “cold and flu season?”  Well, first of all, when it is cold outside, we spend more time indoors.  When we spend more time indoors, we come in close contact with more people and, therefore, have more exposure to the pathogens that make us sick, such as the influenza virus and rhinovirus.  Moreover, the decrease in humidity, both indoors and out, causes the mucus in our noses to become dry.  This mucus serves as a barrier to pathogens, but is less effective when dried out.  Another theory suggests a lack of Vitamin D brought on by the increase in time spent indoors and the shorter winter days could be the cause of increased illness in the winter months. Yet another theory suggests that the viruses that cause the common cold and the flu are also more active in winter, because their  their outer viral envelope  hardens in colder temperatures.  So we can all go out in the snow wearing shorts and T-shirts now, right?  Well, not quite.  Studies have also shown that people whose feet were immersed in ice water for a given period of time were more likely to develop a cold in the following days.  Perhaps this is due to the vasoconstriction, or shrinkage of the blood vessels, that occurs as a result of cold.  This could slow down the movement of white blood cells.  Cortisol, an androgen that suppresses the immune system, also increases in concentration in response to stress, which could be brought on by freezing temperatures.  So while lower temperatures do not directly make us sick, the combination of heightened viral activity and our own immune decline in sub-freezing temperatures are enough incentive to bundle up next time you go outside in the cold.

Makeup With SPF Can Replace Sunscreen

All of us girls hate having to wear oily, greasy sunscreen in the summer, but it turns out that foundation is not a viable substitute.  In order to get the SPF protection advertised on the label, you would have to wear seven times the normal amount of liquid foundation or fourteen times the normal amount of powder.  Even BB and CC creams, which advertise having the ability to replace sunscreen, are more makeup than anything and are not sufficient to completely replace sunscreen.  Furthermore, since foundation is intended to be worn only on problem areas, its coverage is far from even.  On the bright side, the FDA released a new statute requiring all companies advertising “full spectrum coverage” to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.  Most BB creams and foundations used to only protect against UVB rays, but this new statute is providing incentive for companies to improve the sunscreen properties of their makeup products.

Vaccines Cause Autism

There has been a lot of buzz in the media lately about the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) and its connection to autism in children.  These claims are, frankly, baseless.  One of the main spokespeople for the reduction of childhood vaccines has been Jenny McCarthy, who claims her son developed autism due to his MMR vaccine.  McCarthy comes up short with her lack of scientific evidence.  Measles had been almost wiped from the U.S. until the 1990s, when small outbreaks began surfacing.  Since then, all the cases have been localized.  In January, 2015, though, a measles outbreak began at Disney Land in California.  As of Friday, January 23, 2015, 77 people were infected in five states, and one child in Mexico.  This outbreak is the second largest since 2000, the largest being a case in 2013 in Ohio in an Amish community that occurred after their return from a foreign mission trip.  It is believed that one of the main causes of this current measles outbreak is the gross lack of immunizations in Southern California elementary schools.  It is estimated that about 20-30% of Southern Californian elementary school children are unimmunized.  The parents’ fears of immunizations are lacking in evidence, too.  A study published in March, 2013 supports the conclusion from a 2004 study, concluding that there is no correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism.  The study, which examined 256 children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and 752 children without ASD, immunized children and recorded the antigen populations immediately following the immunizations, as well as two years later.  The researchers concluded that the total number of antigens received was the same between the two groups of children, indicating that there is no difference in how a child with ASD and a child without ASD respond to immunizations.  The researchers also reminded the public reading their journal that the number of antigens given to young children in the form of immunizations in 2013 (315) is largely diminished from the several thousand given to children in the 1990s, and that a young child’s immune system is designed to ward off these antigens.

It is Necessary to Get 8 Hours of Sleep Straight Every Night

There is no doubt that sleep is good for your body, but do we really need to get nonstop eight hours at night?  This myth is not quite busted, but is rather debated.  Recent evidence suggests that monophasic sleep, or sleep acquired all at once, is not necessarily required to rest our bodies.  In fact, most animals are polyphasic.  Supporters of polyphasic sleep argue that quick bouts of sleep trick the body into entering REM sleep quicker, making the length of sleep negligible.  They also argue that monophasic sleep does not account for individual differences in sleep patterns.  Studies seem to reveal that most people experience biphasic patterns of sleep, or two three to four hour sleeps separated by an hour hiatus, when subject to natural patterns of light.  Plus, worrying about getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night can cause stress for those who don’t.  So next time you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t worry about it.  Simply wait for your body to get tired again.