Medical myths that should die

A sage African American once remarked, “It’s not the things you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s the things you know for sure, that ain’t so”. So here are some medical myths that just ain’t so.

Myth # 1 – Wearing a copper bracelet cures arthritis.

Those who promote copper bracelets say that copper is absorbed through the skin and helps cartilage regenerate. But this notion has never been proven. There’s no evidence that copper regenerates damaged cartilage to reduce pain. Our bodies need only small amounts of copper and we get this in our daily diet by eating vegetables such as potatoes, beans and peas. Copper is also present in nuts and grains such as wheat and rye. If copper bracelets were the answer, millions of North Americans seeking pain relief would be wearing them.

Myth # 2 – You can’t catch sexually transmitted disease by sitting on a toilet seat.

It’s not likely to happen. But having said that, there’s no guarantee it can’t happen. Dr. Trudy Larsen, researcher at the University of California, asked a patient with an active herpes lesion to sit on a toilet seat for just a few seconds. Later, she took cultures from the seat and found that the herpes virus survived for four hours! This was shocking news. Previously it had been believed that the virus died quickly when exposed to air. Mother’s advice was right, “Don’t sit on a public toilet seat”.

Myth # 3 – A high fiber diet prevents colon cancer.

Fiber helps to cure constipation, so it would seem to follow that removing carcinogens quickly from the bowel would decrease the risk of colon cancer. But studies so far have failed to show that a high fiber diet will prevent colon malignancy. But don’t give up on fiber. A high fiber diet decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And by making stools soft as toothpaste, rather than hard as rocks, it decreases the risk of diverticulosis (small hernias of the large bowel).

Myth # 4 – Vitamin C prevents the common cold.

Linus Pauling thought it did, and he was the recipient of two Nobel prizes! But trials using 1,000 milligrams (mg) of C failed to show any significant effect in reducing this common annoyance. Pauling believed this result was because the dose of C was not large enough and recommended 6,000 to 10,000 mg of C daily. It’s unlikely a study using this amount will ever be carried out. No manufacturer can make any money on such a study as Vitamin C cannot be patented. But there is evidence that high doses of C fight cardiovascular disease. I’d suggest that those with a family history of heart disease read the columns dealing with Vitamin C and Lysine on my new web site.

Myth # 5 – Hamburgers are safe as long as the meat is not pink.

I always order a steak “blue” and I may be pushing my luck too far. But I want hamburgers well done. I have no desire to fool around with E. coli 0157:H7, which has the ability to survive in ground beef even when the pink is gone. This infection causes abdominal pain and severe bloody diarrhea. But about 5% of the elderly and children under five years of age develop the uremic hemolytic syndrome from less than well done hamburgers. This causes destruction of red blood cells, kidney failure, and three to five percent of patients die. It’s too high a price to pay for a rare hamburger.

This week brings a new web site,, which provides easy access to my past columns and allows me to post frequent medical tips.

I often come across medical topics that would be interesting for readers but ones that do not require a full column.

Now I will be able to pass this information to you. It’s my hope that readers will sign up for the site.

New ventures are always exciting and I look forward to this greater contact with readers.

As my Captain used to say when I was a Ship’s Surgeon, “New shores, new faces”.