11 email health hoaxes revealed
Cleverly disguised as a chance to save your own life or the life of loved ones, email health scams often look official. Logos from prestigious universities or medical organizations can easily convince even the most skeptical reader to pay attention to this "important" information. But these hoaxes, urban legends or old wives' tales are either completely fabricated or based on a snippet of fact and blown out of proportion. Here, experts discuss the most popular ones in recent years — and the truth behind them.
-- By Linda Melone for MSN Healthy Living
Phony Mayo Clinic letter gives heart attack advice
The letter began circulating around 2009, citing recommendations from a Mayo Clinic physician. A variety of the letters can be found, with slightly different information, each suggesting (among other things) that if you believe you're having a heart attack to take two aspirin and then phone a neighbor. A cardiologist with the Mayo Clinic allegedly backs the letter. The Mayo Clinic posted a note on its website, verifying that the doctor does indeed exist but is in no way associated with this information. "There's a nugget of truth to the aspirin recommendation, however," says Andrew Freeman, cardiologist with National Jewish Health, Denver, Colo., referring to aspirin's known anti-blood clotting effect. "But most importantly, call 911 immediately if you think you're having a heart attack — not a neighbor."
Drinking cold water causes cancer
This email hoax claims that drinking cold water after a meal will solidify "oily stuff" present in the food consumed and will lead to cancer. A new version recommends drinking warm water with meals and tacks on unrelated information about heart attacks. This persistent hoax has been making the rounds on the Internet since approximately 2006. "The fact is that drinking cold water, even ice water, has no effect on the fats in your stomach," says Marc I. Leavey, internist with Lutherville Personal Physicians, a satellite of Mercy Medical Center in Lutherville, Md. "Your core body temperature quickly warms up any ingested liquid so that such a process could not happen."
The 'right' time to drink water
Another water-based hoax, this one links health benefits to the timing of your water intake, stating the information is from a "cardiac specialist." It recommends drinking two glasses of water after waking up to "activate" internal organs, a glass of water before a meal to help digestion, another before taking a bath to lower blood pressure and another before bed to avoid a heart attack. Staying hydrated is certainly important, but these recommendations aren't all true, says cardiologist Freeman. "Drinking water with meals may help digestion, but immersing your body into water can lower blood pressure — but it has nothing to do with drinking water beforehand." The water before bed is also not based on any known studies.
A trick for removing ticks
Removing a tick can be tricky business, and a phony email about using a glob of liquid soap to get the tick to release is nothing but an old wives' tale, says Jessica Krant, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. "It may not work at all or it may annoy or irritate the tick just enough that it will spit infectious contents into the bite wound it has created." Your best bet is to see a dermatologist immediately for safe removal, says Krant. If that's not an option, remove the tick by grasping it firmly with tweezers and gently pulling it straight out. Most diseases require 48 hours of tick attachment to be transmitted, but if you aren't sure if you've been infected see your physician.
Cucumbers cause baldness
A rumor circulating in late 2012 cited a study by AgriSearch, an on-campus research arm of Dalhousie University, which showed that genetically-modified cucumbers resulted in serious side effects. One such effect included total groin hair loss and chafing. The bogus story was taken seriously and widely circulated through social networking sites, although the report originally appeared on The Lapine, a satirical website. "Cucumbers do not cause hair loss," says Coyle S. Connolly, board certified dermatologist and president of Connolly Dermatology in New Jersey. "Rather, family history is to blame. A new study suggests faulty hair producing cells may be the cause."
Antiperspirants cause breast cancer
A bogus cancer scare linking antiperspirants to breast cancer began circulating back in 1999. It claimed that toxins -- released by the body due to antiperspirant use deposited in lymph nodes below the arms, leading to cell mutations and cancer. "This has no basis in science, since sweating is not the primary way the body gets rid of toxins in the first place (it does so via the liver and kidneys)," says dermatologist Krant. The original fear centered on aluminum content in the antiperspirant chemicals, which was believed to collect in breast tissue and breast lymph nodes. "This has not been proven," says Krant. "The presence of aluminum particles in breasts with cancer may just be a coincidence and not a causative factor." In either case, there's simply no proof.
Coughing can save your life during a heart attack
Based on a nugget of truth, this self-CPR method is not advocated by cardiologists or proven in studies. The newsletter advises people to cough "repeatedly and vigorously," taking a deep breath between each cough and repeated every two seconds until help arrives. While not recommended, the premise behind this tactic does make some sense, says cardiologist Freeman. "The heart is stimulated by the vagal nerve, which is also involved in coughing," says Freeman. "If someone is having a heart attack due to a rhythm disturbance, coughing can cause the heart to recover. It can reset itself through the vagal nerve." It's not a mainstream recommendation, however, as it has not been studied long enough, says Freeman.
A needle can save the life of a stroke victim
This phony medical alert for helping a stroke victim starts with instructions to sterilize a needle and then use it to prick the tips of the person's 10 fingers until they bleed. The advice credits ancient Chinese medicine. "Eastern medicine has been proven in western studies to actually work, but the question is whether or not this procedure works, and the answer is probably not," says Freeman. Hospitals use a device that squeezes a person's legs to reduce the incidence of clots in the legs, and this may be a crazy version of the same idea, says Freeman. "Calling 911 should always be your first step if you think someone's having a stroke."
Pancake mix turns deadly
A viral email in 2006 told of a 14-year old boy who ate pancakes made from outdated pancake mix and began having difficulty breathing. He eventually recovered. Other similar stories began circulating, each more extreme than the last one. While rare, a 2001 study published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology told of a 19-year-old male with a history of allergies who died after eating old pancake mix. This is extremely rare unless you have a severe mold allergy, says Kevin McGrath, fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). "There have been case reports of flour or beignet mix being consumed and subsequent severe food allergy anaphylaxis. In those cases, the old mix was contaminated with flour mites, a cousin to dust mites."