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The average Malaysian consumes 75.5g of sugar a day, which is far more than the recommended 50g. In a bid to be healthier, more people are turning to sugar substitutes, assuming that it is healthier than refined sugar. - Marco Verch/Flickr

Do you believe these 15 health myths that do more harm than good?

We will never really know whether US President Donald Trump actually believes that injecting bleach could kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, unless you get the chance to ask him yourself.

But it is one of the most irresponsible things for a public figure to say, especially during a time of paranoia and uncertainty.

That brings to mind many more misleading health myths that continue to float around out there and are often accepted as the truth. Here are those supposed truths that are really myths:

1. You can catch the flu from getting a flu shot

Many believe that when you receive a flu shot, you are being made sick on purpose in order to build immunity. This is categorically untrue. Flu vaccines are made with an inactive version of the flu virus, or even no virus at all.

You may, however, experience mild symptoms after being vaccinated – some of which appear to match flu symptoms, e.g. soreness, redness, swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headache or muscle aches.

It’s easy to confuse those side effects with a real flu, but they disappear fairly quickly.

2. Yoghurt is a diet food and balances your digestive system

People have grown up with the notion that yoghurt is good for digestive health, but its benefits are oversold. Most yoghurt products contain high levels of sugar, but people eat sugary yoghurts like a health food because of what they’ve been told about it.

Plain, non-sugary yoghurt does contain good bacteria that may have some benefit for the digestive system, encourage weight loss and improve metabolism, but there is still plenty we don’t know about how bacteria actually operate in our bodies. To say that yoghurt is a diet food is a stretch and quite misleading.

3. Deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer

There is a long-held belief that the chemicals found in antiperspirants and deodorants can be absorbed into the body through your armpit.

Once inside, they supposedly end up in breast tissue and increase your chances of developing breast cancer. However, the US National Cancer Institute says the evidence that connects either product with breast cancer doesn’t exist.

4. Honey is better than processed sugar

Your body doesn’t make a distinction between the sugar from fruit, honey, high-fructose corn syrup or cane sugar. It is all the same: sugar is sugar. Among scientists, there is a near-unanimous consensus that the biological effect of high-fructose corn syrup is essentially the same as that of honey.

The main difference lies in the amount of sugar that manufactured candy contains, compared to the equivalent amount of honey. The higher your sugar intake, the more at risk you are for obesity.

5. Taking a daily multivitamin makes you healthier

Sorry to disappoint those who practise this, but a daily multivitamin is not a guarantee that you’re making up for the nutrients missing from your diet – research is inconclusive about this.

However, if your doctor advises you to take a supplement, don’t ignore that advice. And if you’re pregnant, you need to take folic acid to lower the risk of birth defects in your baby. The best way to get your nutrients is to eat a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and healthy oils.

6. Sugar causes diabetes

People often make offhand remarks like “It’s so sweet, I just got diabetes”, but there is barely any truth in that statement. Diabetes is a complicated health issue, with no single direct cause.

It is genetic for some, where they are born without the ability to regulate sugar properly due to the lack of insulin produced in their body. For others, poor lifestyle habits increase their risk of developing diabetes.

Eating sugar is not a direct cause of diabetes. Patients with this condition can eat sugar in moderation, although they must take the right medicine in the correct doses as prescribed by a doctor, to manage their condition.

7. Gum takes seven years to digest if you swallow it

The occasional swallowed piece of gum will pass through your intestines just fine, similar to anything else that your body is unable to digest.

The only case where swallowed gum has caused a problem is when a four-year-old girl suffered a gastrointestinal blockage from a wad of gum, which had four coins within it. Try not to swallow coins while chewing gum, and you should be fine.

8. A toilet seat can pass on harmful bacteria that make you ill

That risk is present everywhere. It is not exclusive to toilets, so don’t stress if you can’t cover or sanitise the toilet seat.

You should be more concerned about bathroom doors, door knobs and floors, which all tend to be covered with bugs like Escherichia coli, norovirus (which causes stomach flu) and influenza, or the flu.

After washing your hands with soap, cover them with a paper towel before you touch doors or door knobs, or use hand sanitiser afterwards.

9. Carrots improve your night vision

Eating a lot of carrots will not give you perfect vision.

The myth may have started during World War 2, when the British government wanted their bomber pilots to believe that their performance was enhanced when they had to attack in the dark.

But you should still include carrots in your diet as it is rich in vitamin A and does help to improve the overall health of your eyes, especially for those with poor vision.

10. One session at the gym every day is enough exercise

Humans were designed to move, so the lack of activity that stops us from doing so disrupts our health. In fact, five uninterrupted hours of being sedentary is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day! Going to the gym is where we work out the hardest, resulting in the peak of our daily activity.

But we need to find ways to incorporate movement into our routine throughout the day, such as taking a short walk every hour or so, playing a game of ping-pong during lunch break, or taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator.

11. Egg yolks are bad for health

Unless you are allergic to eggs, egg yolk is rich in HDL cholesterol, which is good cholesterol and may counteract the effects of bad cholesterol.

We have only learned this bit of information about egg yolk fairly recently, hence there is still some stigma around egg yolks. Eating one whole egg a day is good for your health – and they are delicious too.

12. Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis

The sound of cracking joints is due to a gas bubble that forms between the bones and “pops”. This sound might be jarring to others, but it does not cause any serious health problems, including arthritis.

But if you feel regular or severe pain when you do it, it might be time to stop cracking your knuckles and see a doctor.

13. Following the five-second rule for eating food that’s fallen to the floor is safe

The five-second rule isn’t a real health protocol. In reality, bacteria contaminates food within milliseconds. Moist foods collect more bacteria faster than dry foods, but there is no scientifically-proven “safe” duration.

It really depends more on the cleanliness of the surface that your food is dropped on. Think about dropping food on your own freshly-cleaned living room floor versus dropping food on the floor of a public bathroom.

Would you ever want to eat food that’s dropped onto the floor of the latter? Not in a million years!

14. An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Even though it is full of fibre and vitamin C, apples will not stop bacteria or viruses from entering your system. If only they did then we would not be in this pandemic right now.

15. Sunblock is only necessary when it is sunny

Harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays are all around, even when it isn’t a sunny day. If you are going to be outdoors for long periods of time, be diligent about applying sunscreen, no matter what the weather is like.

Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin, and reapply it at least every two hours.

By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, 04 May 2020