Don’t Believe Everything Your Granny Tells You: Finding the Truth in Common Health Claims

By Betsey Miller
Nurse Practitioner

Okay, Messiah.  It is time to separate medical fact from medical fiction. Now that you are students of higher education, you can’t just take Granny at her word when she tells you that if you go outside with a wet head you’ll catch a cold.  You need evidence!  Granny is going to need some scientific data to back up her claim.

And I’m afraid, as much as I love and respect Granny, she just would not have her facts straight in this case. The common cold is caused by a rhinovirus, which is spread from infected persons to others through close personal contact or through the air.  If you go out in the cold with a wet head, you will probably get cold, but you won’t catchthe common cold.

That said, let’s tackle some other common health claims together:

Cracking your knuckles (or other joints) causes arthritis

This habit might cause annoyance to the people around you, but it won’t cause arthritis.  The “pop” of a cracked joint is caused by the bursting of a gas bubble in the synovial fluid, which is the liquid that surrounds and protects the joint.  By moving or stretching the joint, negative pressure is created and the bubbles pop.  Several studies have evaluated the arthritis claim and have determined that it is unfounded, but there is some evidence that the repetitive knuckle cracking can cause some decreased grip strength over time.

Cell phones cause cancer

We are addicted to our smart phones.  According to a recent study, the average American checks their phone around 150 times a day!  So, is having our phone constantly attached to us doing us harm?  There have been a surprising number of studies done to research this claim.  Cell phones emit “non-ionizing radiation” (the kind of radiation that comes from microwaves), not “ionizing radiation” (the kind that comes from x-rays) and this is an important difference.  We know excessive ionizing radiation exposure can be cancer producing, but there’s no good evidence that suggests that long term exposure to non-ionizing radiation is problematic. There is still a lot of uncertainty here since the technology keeps changing.  But, like anything else, moderation is always best.  Leave your phone at home and enjoy the one you’re with!

Eating too much chocolate will give you acne

Your Hershey bar isn’t the cause of your breakout.  You may however, have coincidently hit the chocolate stash at the same time that you had a hormonal surge or when you were feeling stressed.  Stress or hormones are likely to play a role in the buildup of sebum – an oily substance that is produced in the skin and contributes to the overgrowth of bacteria and leads to pimples.  So you don’t need to give up your chocolate treat, but it’s always a good idea to eat a balanced diet and manage stress as best you can.  Also, wash your face with warm, soapy water twice a day.

You can “catch-up” on sleep

A recent study looked at participants that slept for 10 hours to try and compensate for sleeping only six hours a night for two weeks.  There was a decreased ability to focus and a reaction time that was significantly worse as compared to when they had pulled an all-nighter.  Unfortunately, there is no way to make up for lost sleep.  Trying to keep the same sleep routine on weekdays and weekends and an avoidance of all-nighters are the best things you can do to improve your overall test performance.

So next time you’re home for break, you can go outside with a wet head with confidence.  But out of respect for Granny, put on a hat so she doesn’t see.

Oh, and that chewing gum you swallowed?  Don’t worry. In a day or two, it will pass.

Betsey Miller, MSN, CRNP is the new nurse practitioner at the Engle Health Center.  She is a 1993 Messiah alumna who comes to campus with 17 years of family practice experience. She is excited to be back at Messiah and to have the opportunity to serve the campus community’s health needs.

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