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Medical Myths In Your Email

Written by Wellness Club on January 25, 2013 – 1:15 pm -

By Nurse Mark

 

Computers, the World Wide Web, and email have become indispensable parts of our lives and have contributed greatly to the dissemination of knowledge and understanding – but they also have a darker side as they have also become the favored medium for spoofers, scammers, pranksters, and the spreaders of rumors, urban legends, and old wives’ tales.

It seems hardly a day goes by without at least one well-meaning email appearing in my inbox encouraging me to cough if I think I’m having a heart attack, or to beware of razor blades hidden in gas pump handles, or to be cautious if someone honks their horn and flashes their lights at me when I’m driving at night or some other foolishness.

A lot of people are taken in by these emails, and use up a lot of bandwidth in forwarding them along to “10 of your best friends” as most of these emails direct them to do. Fortunately, Wellness Club members and HealthBeat News readers are a little more savvy and they will often ask us about these “helpful” messages before they send them to everyone in their address book…

There are lessons to be learned in these emails however – for they follow a fairly predictable formula in that they gain the confidence of the reader by first presenting statements that are known fact or make good sense. “Many heart attacks are preceded by arm or jaw pain”, “water is essential for life”, or “if you think you are having a heart attack, dial 911″ are all examples of this kind of statement. How can you argue these statements – they are true! Next, the letter usually invokes some authority figure to validate the statements: “the Mayo Clinic”, “A Famous Cardiologist”, “a chief investigator with the FBI”, and so on.  Once the reader’s confidence has been gained, then almost anything else said will seem to make sense and will be accepted as fact.

If you pay attention you’ll see that a lot of advertising for cures, remedies, and “natural products” follows the same pattern. Those ads for Coral Calcium, Raspberry Ketones, “top secret ingredients from the deep sea”, saffron, hoodia, and other amazing, miraculous cures start out with a known fact or two, then invoke an “authority” to lend credibility, and then hit you with the “pitch.” A time-honored technique…

Here is a recent example, sent to us by a Wellness Club member – this one is making the rounds again, so you may have seen it yourself.

Subject: Fwd: Heart Attacks and Water
Hi Dr. Myatt,
Received this from a friend and just wanted to pass this on to you.  Is most of this true??
Terrie

Subject: Heart Attacks and Water
How many folks do you know who say they don’t want to drink
anything before going to bed because they’ll have to get up during
the night?
Heart Attack and Water – I never knew all of this ! Interesting…….
[this email goes on and on with nonsense - I've cut it here to spare you]

Now, the very first thing that can be done to separate the truth from the spoof is to use the internet! Often a quick Google search of the subject line will result in plenty of references to”myth” or “hoax” or “spoof.”  That is exactly what I did with the subject line of the email that Terrie forwarded, and one of the first entries in the results was for “Snopes.com” – aka the Urban Legends Reference Pages – a website covering urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other stories of unknown or questionable origin.

According to Snopes, this email has been going since 2004, and growing in complexity and silliness since then. This latest iteration has been circulating since 2011.

Here is the Snopes page on it: http://www.snopes.com/medical/myths/water.asp

If you find this “helpful” email in your inbox, here is my take on it:

Essentially, this is a collection of wives’ tales and urban legends and armchair theories generated by people with very limited knowledge of human anatomy and physiology who have then invoked the name of the “Mighty Mayo Clinic” and an unnamed “cardiologist” in order to try to attach validity to their ramblings.

“2 glasses of water after waking up – helps activate internal organs” – As if “internal organs somehow stop working when we sleep?

“1 glass of water 30 minutes before a meal – helps digestion” – No, it hampers digestion by diluting the normal healthy hydrochloric acid content of the stomach.

“1 glass of water before taking a bath – helps lower blood pressure” – This is beyond silly – where is the scientific basis for this?

“1 glass of water before going to bed – reduces the risk of stroke or heart attack” – If this were true, don’t we think that modern medicine would know about it and be shouting it from the rooftops? Again, there is no scientific basis for this statement.

The aspirin / “heart attack” advise is likewise mostly silly, with tiny footholds in reality – like calling 911 if you think you might be experiencing cardiac pain…

With regard to the aspirin / Mayo Clinic reference: Mayo Clinic states: “Neither Dr. Somers nor Mayo Clinic contributed to this email, which contains some information that is inaccurate and potentially harmful.” The new release to that effect can be found here: http://newsblog.mayoclinic.org/2010/02/28/misleading-aspirin-email-virend-somers-mayo-clinic/

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