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Sunday September 8, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 8, 2013 MYT 9:41:23 AM
by fiona ho
The belief that drinking bottled water that has been stored in a hot place can lead to cancer stems from the fact that Bisphenol A (BPA) is present in many hard plastic bottles and metalbased food and beverages. – Filepic
Not all myths about the human body are harmful, but facts often become distorted over time. We take a look at five long-running myths about health and the body that have been passed around since the heyday of the Backstreet Boys.
HEALTH myths are myriad, and they range from your grandmother’s warnings against shaving your legs (because the hair will grow back thicker), to popular hearsay that the use of antiperspirant products can cause cancer.
The way the human body functions has always been shrouded with mystery, and attempts to unravel some of these secrets have led to a large pool of misinformation.
We take a plunge into these uncertain waters with a pinch of healthy skepticism, to try to separate fact from fiction.
Body hair grows back thicker when you shave it
This is one myth that has been keeping the ladies away from the razor. It was probably during your prepubescent years when your mother first warned you about shaving your legs, fearing it would turn you into a hairy ogre.
Despite such warnings, there is no scientific evident to support claims that shaving body hair changes its thickness, colour or rate of growth.
Mayo Clinic dermatologist Dr Lawrence E. Gibson explains: “Shaving facial hair or body hair gives the hair a blunt tip. The tip might feel coarse or ‘stubbly’ for a time as it grows out. During this phase, the hair might be more noticeable and perhaps appear darker or thicker – but it’s not.”
Hair that has been shaved lacks the fine taper seen at the ends of unshaven hair, creating an impression of coarseness. Also, because new hair has not been lightened by sunlight or other chemical exposures, they often appear darker than existing hair.
Another thing is, because shaving removes only the dead portion of hair, and not the living section beneath the skin, it is unlikely to affect the rate or type of growth.
Consider this – if shaving caused hair to grow back much thicker, balding men would be shaving their heads for hair-loss prevention, and hair care centres would cease to exist.
However, Dr Gibson warns: “Consult your doctor if you notice a sudden increase in facial or body hair. This could be a medication side effect or a sign of an underlying medical condition.”
Smoking menthol cigarettes can cause sterility or impotence in males
Apparently, if you like peppermint candies, mint tea or menthol cigarettes, and you happen to be male, then you’re putting your manhood at risk.
Consultant urologist Dr George Lee points out that the correlation between smoking menthol cigarettes and male sterility has always been something of an urban legend. It is a question that he gets asked about regularly, he shares.
While the medical world is rife with studies of cigarette smoking and its effect on sperm health and fertility, there are no studies that focus only on menthol cigarettes and sterility.
Some online sources claim that menthol products, derived from mint, have anti-androgenic effects, and diminishes spermatogenesis and testosterone production.
However, Dr Lee says there are no scientific findings to demonstrate a direct link between mint or menthol consumption, and sterility in males.
Cigarette smoking by itself has been shown to affect sperm maturation and is linked to decreased fertility, he says. “Smoking any kind of cigarette can reduce your sperm count by 23%, reduce sperm mortality by 13% and sperm morphology by 50% – so there is some degree of truth to the myth.”
He explains that smoking menthol cigarettes may put infertility risks at higher rates due to these three factors:
1. Advertising often use words like “minty”, “light” or “cool” when it comes to describing menthol cigarettes. This implies that they are not as harmful as regular cigarettes. Those who smoke menthol cigarettes could end up smoking more, as they believe that they are not as detrimental to health.
2. It decreases your cough reflex and throat sensation. Cigarettes flavoured with menthol cool the back of the throat and make them “easier” to smoke. For instance, menthol cigarette smokers don’t cough as much as those who smoke regular cigarettes, as menthol numbs the senses.
Those who smoke regular cigarettes are more likely to experience dry throat and smoker’s cough, which may deter some from smoking.
3. It increases your nicotine and carcinogen inhalation. “Because the mouth is numb, menthol smokers tend to suck in more smoke and hold it deeper and longer in the lungs,” says Dr Lee. “They inhale more nicotine as a result, and are consequently exposed to a larger dose of cancer-causing agents in cigarettes.”
Antiperspirants can cause breast cancer
Antiperspirant products help many avoid smelling like a hobo. These products counteract unpleasant body odour by fighting bacteria, and reducing the amount of sweat released, to keep the underarms nice and dry.
Much controversy has surrounded the use of these products in recent years. They include claims that they may contain harmful substances, which can be absorbed through skin and cause cancer.
Some studies suggest that certain ingredients found in underarm hygiene products may be related to breast cancer because they are applied directly and frequently to an area next to the breast.
As the main ingredient in antiperspirants, aluminium has been the most debated subject, as far as risk factors go. Most antiperspirants contain up to 10 to 25% of this “active ingredient”, which is usually an aluminium-based compound.
Despite the cancer claims, researchers at the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of the US National Institutes of Health, are not aware of any conclusive evidence that links the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food, cosmetics, medicines and medical devices, also does not have any evidence or research data that show that ingredients in underarm antiperspirants or deodorants can cause cancer.
Studies on antiperspirant products and breast cancer have showed conflicting results.
In 2002, the results of a study on the relationship between breast cancer and underarm hygiene products did not show an increased risk for breast cancer in women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant.
These conclusions were based on interviews with 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women with no history of breast cancer.
However, findings from a different study that examined the frequency of underarm shaving and antiperspirant/deodorant use among 437 breast cancer survivors showed that the age of breast cancer diagnosis was significantly earlier in women who used these products and who shaved their underarms more frequently.
These findings, released in 2003, also showed that women who began both of these underarm hygiene habits before the age of 16 were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than those who began these habits later.
While these results suggest that underarm shaving, combined with the use of antiperspirants/deodorants, may be related to breast cancer, it does not demonstrate a clear link between underarm hygiene habits and breast cancer.
Additional research is needed to investigate this relationship and other factors that may be involved.
Drinking bottled water that has been left in a car can cause cancer
Forwarded messages that warn people about drinking bottled water that has been sitting for any length of time in a warm car, because the heat can supposedly cause cancer-producing toxins to seep from the plastic into the water, has been around since the early 2000s.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it all began with an email that proposed that “many are unaware of poisoning caused by re-using plastic bottles”, and “bottles are safe for one-time use only; if you must keep them longer, it should be for no more than a few days, a week max, and keep them away from heat as well”.
The email claims that these bottles contain diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), which it calls a potential carcinogen.
In 2007, an updated version of this email quotes an unidentified doctor who claims that women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car because the heat and the plastic generate chemicals that can lead to breast cancer.
However, the ACS points out that these emails are actually based on a college student’s thesis, and DEHA is not inherent in the plastic used to make these bottles.
Even if it was, the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) says DEHA “cannot reasonably be anticipated to cause cancer, teratogenic effects, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, gene mutations, liver, kidney, reproductive, or developmental toxicity or other serious or irreversible chronic health effects”.
Meanwhile, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that DEHA “is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”.
According to Prof Dr Teo Soo-Hwang, chief executive officer at the Cancer Research Initiative Foundation (Carif), the belief that drinking bottled water that has been stored in heat can lead to cancer, actually stems from the use of Bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical that is present in many hard plastic bottles and metal-based food and beverages.
“Some sources claim that BPA can leach into liquid at high heat (or due to harsh detergents), and that BPA may cause cancer,” she says. However, the evidence on BPA is controversial, and most countries (including those that are regulated by the FDA) do not have strong evidence to promote the link, she adds.
Sniff-and-snatch perfume scams
The sniff-and-snatch perfume scam is another long-running urban legend that has been passed around since the heyday of the Backstreet Boys.
Supposedly, crooks have been making their rounds in carparks, using perfume that is laced with ether – a substance so powerful, it can render unsuspecting victims unconscious with just a sniff or two.
In the chemical world, ether is a nice-smelling, colourless and highly flammable liquid that is used as an anaesthetic or a solvent in industrial processes.
There is no available data on whether such cases are actually legit. However, a quick search on the internet reveals that most accounts of these perfume attacks are derived mostly from a 1999 case, in which a woman in Alabama, US, claimed to have been assaulted and robbed by assailants who used a debilitating substance masked as perfume.
The woman, Bertha Johnson, told police that she was robbed of US$800 (RM2,560) after sniffing a cologne sample that was offered by a stranger and passed out in her car. However, subsequent toxicological tests revealed no foreign substance in Johnson’s blood.
This original story remains unsubstantiated, and may well be untrue.
There have been no credible police or news reports about such robbery methods either. Over the years, versions of this “warning” have been sent to several countries, including Malaysia.
Though details of the original story have morphed over time, the essence of it remains unchanged. A more recent reincarnation of the tale claims that robbers have been targetting lone shoppers at lifts.
This may well be a boogeyman story that parents tell their kids to deter them from wandering out late, but I won’t be too keen to stick around the next time a stranger offers me cologne...
Tags / Keywords:
Health, Lifestyle, Health myths, male infertility, breast cancer
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