15 medical myths debunked

With more and more people using ‘Dr Google’ as our first medical port-of-call, and with so much conflicting opinion on what can be serious health issues, it can be hard to know just what to believe.

So, private healthcare firm AXA PPP has debunked 15 of the most common medical myths in the UK, to help put people’s minds at ease...

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1. “Using a sunbed is safer than sunbathing outdoors”

It doesn’t matter how you tan – both sunbeds and catching the sun outdoors for an extended period of time can be dangerous and can increase your risk of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Not only that but rays from sunbeds are often more intense than the UV rays from the sun. What looks like a healthy glow is actually proof that your skin has been damaged.

2. “You can prevent cancer by eating certain food”

Green tea, blueberries, garlic – we've all heard of these ‘superfoods’, but there's no scientific basis for claims that they can prevent cancer. It’s far too much of an oversimplification to say that one food can stop cancer. Instead, focus on maintaining a balanced diet and avoid known risk factors such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle.

3. “Always wrap up warm in winter or you’ll catch a cold”

It’s a good idea to prepare for chilly winter weather, but the weather itself doesn’t cause colds. The only thing that can cause a cold or flu is the cold or flu virus. However, if you’re already carrying the virus, then the cold weather may allow symptoms to develop.

4. “Only the elderly are at risk of dementia”

Dementia is more common in the over 65s; however, it can affect people as young as 30. For people between the ages of 30 and 65, dementia is known as ‘young onset’. In 2014, it was estimated that there were 42,325 people in the UK living with young onset dementia, so it’s not only the elderly who are at risk.

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5. “High blood pressure has many warning signs, so you’d know if you have it”

You may never experience symptoms of high blood pressure, so don’t wait for any warning signs. To diagnose high blood pressure (hypertension), arrange for a blood pressure test with a healthcare professional. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

6. “Taking one aspirin a day is an easy way to prevent a heart attack or stroke”

For people who have already had a heart attack or stroke, or are considered to be at risk of one, it is often recommended that they take a daily aspirin after consulting their doctor. Unless your doctor has advised this, however, it is not recommended as a precautionary measure.

7. “A stroke is always easy to spot”

The symptoms of an ischemic stroke are easy to identify – weakness in one arm or leg, slurred speech and one side of the face drooping. This isn’t the only type of stroke however – some people have ‘silent strokes’ that do not have obvious symptoms like the ones found in an ischemic stroke. The best way to prevent a stroke is by keeping your blood pressure under control and maintaining a low cholesterol.

8. “Avoid eating spicy food because it causes stomach ulcers”

It has been proven that stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection (Helicobacter pylori), and there is also a link to taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in high doses or for long periods of time. There’s no evidence to indicate that spicy food alone causes a stomach ulcer, but it may irritate one that is already present within the stomach.

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9. “You can make up for an unhealthy diet with vitamin supplements”

Vitamin supplements are recommended for certain groups of people, such as pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and children aged between six months and five years. In most cases, people can get all the vitamins they need simply by eating a balanced diet, and shouldn’t rely on supplements unless they’ve been recommended by a doctor.

10. “You should avoid exercise if you have arthritis”

When your joints are stiff, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is going for a brisk walk, but mild exercise shouldn’t be completely ruled out because it increases strength and flexibility and can reduce joint pain. It’s best to speak to your doctor and find an exercise routine that will give you the most benefit without aggravating your arthritis.

11. “It’s okay to skip sleep during the week and make up for it at the weekend”

Missing the odd hour here and there won’t affect you in the short-term, but if you make it a habit, you’re at risk of serious health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. The best thing to do is stick to a sleep schedule and stay away from caffeinated drinks which only provide a short-lived boost.

12. “Sleeping tablets are a cure for insomnia”

A short term course of sleeping tablets may be prescribed by your doctor if you have insomnia that lasts more than four weeks. However, long-term use should be avoided as the body can become dependent on these drugs. It’s important to look at your lifestyle and habits and make changes where possible, such as avoiding the blue glow from computers and mobile phones before bed, and reducing your caffeine intake.

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13. “Everyone needs the same amount of sleep”

The amount of sleep you need varies depending on your age, your lifestyle, and overall health. For adults aged between 18-64 years, the recommended amount of sleep is between 7 and 9 hours. Adults over the age of 65 need slightly less sleep – between 7 or 8 hours. Whereas children generally need the most sleep as they’re still developing. 6-13 year olds will need 9 to 11 hours sleep, but a toddler between 1-2 years of age will need 11 to 14 hours.

14. “You must drink 8 glasses of water every day”

You don’t need to strictly stick to eight glasses of water. Remember, food also contains water, as do a variety of drinks. As a general rule, 70-80% of your daily water intake should come from drinks, with the remaining 20-30% from food. You should aim for 2-2.5 litres of water a day, but you may also find that you need to drink more if it’s a hot day or if you’re doing a lot of physical activity.

15. “Asthma is a condition you get when you’re a child, not an adult”

Many asthma sufferers are diagnosed in childhood however it’s not uncommon for adults to be diagnosed. Adult asthma is known as ‘late onset asthma’ and is less likely to be caused by allergies – instead, it’s more likely to be triggered by viral infections or hormonal changes.

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