Fact or fiction by fjzhangxiaoquan



     Fact or fiction?
     Separating real health hazards from urban legends

                                                 multiple sclerosis, blindness, Parkinson’s         and lectured on urban legends. She
                                                 disease, birth defects and a number of             finds that the most difficult stories to
                                                 neurological conditions. The e-mail                eradicate are those involving health
                                                 quotes a number of firsthand accounts              fears – often the result of an alleged
                                                 and multiple doctors’ reports as testa-            conspiracy within the government or
                                                 ment to the truth.                                 large corporations.
                                                     But wait – before you toss your diet               “People have a natural interest in
                                                 cola in the trash can, here is a fact the e-       health issues,” she said. “Some of the
                                                 mail does not mention: Just about every            toughest myths to dispel are ones about
                                                 health agency around the world – includ-           health and products: cancer, dangerous
                                                 ing the Food and Drug Administration –             chemicals.”
                                                 has repeatedly declared aspartame safe                 She also finds that a general distrust
                                                 for human consumption.                             of “big business” and an assumed collu-
                                                     UK medical journal The Lancet states,          sion with government lead people to
                                                 “Virtually all of the information offered          readily believe that their health and
                                                 [in the e-mail] is anecdotal, from anony-          safety are knowingly put at risk for
                                                 mous sources and is scientifically implau-         financial gain.
                                                 sible.” The European Food Safety                       So why do otherwise rational people
     By Lauretta Claussen                        Authority recently reviewed and dis-               continue to believe in urban legends
                                                 missed findings in a study that suggested          almost beyond all reason? To answer the
     An e-mail arrives in your inbox and you     aspartame can act as a carcinogen.                 question simply: fear.
     click to open it. It comes from a trusted       The FDA, which deemed aspartame                    Some of the most prolific urban leg-
     friend and cites an official-sounding       safe for consumption in 1981, said the             ends take place in a familiar setting or a
     authority: a doctor-lecturer at the World   agency “has not been presented with                common situation. “A lot of these sto-
     Environmental Conference. “If you are       any scientific information that would              ries are believed because, given the
     using aspartame and you suffer from         support a change in our conclusions                right circumstances, they could be plau-
     fibromyalgia symptoms, spasms, shooting     about the safety of aspartame. Those               sible,” Davison said. Indeed, freak acci-
     pains, numbness in your legs, cramps,       conclusions are based on a detailed                dents with all of the typical markings of
     vertigo, dizziness, headaches, tinnitus,    review of a large body of information,             an urban legend sometimes occur.
     joint pain, depression, anxiety attacks,    including more than 100 toxicological                  Often, warnings are spread by well-
     slurred speech, blurred vision or memory    and clinical studies regarding the sweet-          intentioned friends and family mem-
     loss – you probably have ASPARTAME          ener’s safety.”                                    bers, rather than from an impersonal,
     DISEASE!” the e-mail shouts.                    This e-mail is a classic example of            outside source. As a result, people may
         Aspartame is a popular artificial       an urban legend. These false or exagger-           feel more compelled to take to heart
     sweetener used in many low-calorie          ated stories of distorted reality appear           advice they receive from a concerned
     products, including diet soda.              everywhere – and spread even more                  party. In turn, many feel the responsi-
     According to this fear-inducing e-mail,     quickly now in the age of the Internet.            bility to further share these stories to
     drinking up to four cans of diet soda a                                                        spare loved ones from the dangers
     day can lead to the condition. In addi-     Why do people believe?                             described.
     tion to the symptoms listed above,          Lorraine Davison, project manager                      Seven “urban legends” are listed on
     aspartame disease is also said to be        with the Canadian Centre for Occu-                 the following pages. See if you can tell
     responsible for causing systemic lupus,     pational Health and Safety, has studied            fact from fiction.

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Antiperspirant is a leading                    director of breast and cervical cancer
cause of breast cancer.                        for the Atlanta-based ACS.
FALSE                                              “Unfortunately, the ‘leading’ risk
Not so, according to the American              factors for breast cancer are things that
Cancer Society. “There is absolutely no        women cannot do anything about:
scientific evidence that antiperspirants       being a woman, aging, and having a
cause or even increase a woman’s risk          personal or family history of breast
for breast cancer,” said Debbie Saslow,        cancer,” she said.

                                              Dangerous levels of lead have                      The FDA’s own lab studies concluded
                                              been found in lipstick.                            those fears were unfounded. Although
                                              FALSE                                              there is no established tolerance limit
                                              According to the FDA, reports of dan-              for lead in cosmetics, the FDA’s test
                                              gerous lead in lipstick have been                  found lead levels present in some lip-
                                              around since at least the 1990s, when a            sticks did not even exceed trace
                                              commercial testing lab raised concerns.            amounts.

Plastic containers release toxins.            Toxicology Program recently indicated
UNDETERMINED                                  that the substance is of “some concern”
The chemical bisphenol-A has been in          for fetuses and infants. More studies
the news a great deal recently.               are planned on the effects of the chem-
Commonly referred to as BPA, the              ical. In the meantime, a number of
chemical can be found in many food            bottles and other products that bill
containers, such as baby bottles and the      themselves as “BPA free” are available
lining of cans. Although no danger has        for purchase.
been conclusively proven, the National

                                              Dangerous levels of asbestos                        found small amounts of asbestos in
                                              can be found in crayons.                            crayons in 2000, but deemed the level
                                              FALSE                                               “scientifically insignificant.” However,
                                              This myth is actually false on two                  even if higher levels were found, it
                                              accounts – crayons do not contain dan-              would pose little danger. Asbestos is not
                                              gerous levels of asbestos, and, even if             a poison and is only a risk when the
                                              they did, asbestos in this form would               fibers are inhaled – not a viable threat
                                              not be harmful to humans. The                       when the substance is mixed in a waxy
                                              Consumer Product Safety Commission                  crayon.

                                           FA M I LY S A F E T Y & H E A LT H | S p r i n g 2 0 0 9                                           13

                                                  Children can become “drunk”
                                                  by eating hand sanitizer.
                                                  Many people use alcohol-based hand
                                                  sanitizers to clean up when no soap or
                                                  water is available, but caution must be
                                                  taken when using these gels on chil-
                                                  dren. Most contain at least 60 percent
                                                  alcohol by volume – the equivalent of
                                                  120 proof. According to the Alexandria,
                                                  VA-based American Association of
                                                  Poison Control Centers, just 2 teaspoons
                                                  would be enough to make a toddler
                                                  sick. Extreme caution must be taken
                                                  when using the gels around children. If
                                                  ingested, contact a Poison Control
                                                  Center immediately at (800) 222-1222.

     Microwaving water can cause                   “super heating” is more likely when
     it to “explode.”                              water is boiled alone in a clean cup,
     TRUE                                          without the addition of instant coffee or
     While this may sound impossible, it is        a drink mix. To mitigate the risk, the
     in fact true. An extremely rare – but         FDA recommends only heating water
     possible – reaction to boiling water in       for the appropriate amount of time, and
     the microwave is combustion. The FDA          not overheating.
     warns that this rare phenomenon of

                                                   Deadly disease can be trans-
                                                   mitted through dirty soda cans.
                                                   In 2001, rumors began circulating on
                                                   the Internet about a store clerk who had
                                                   died of hantavirus – a disease transmit-               Could it be true?
                                                   ted through contact with rodent drop-
                                                   pings. Although the disease is real, the               Next time you receive
                                                   claim is not. Shortly after the rumors                 an e-mail with a health
                                                   surfaced, the Centers for Disease                        or safety warning,
                                                   Control and Prevention released a state-                     research it.
                                                   ment indicating that there had been no
                                                   reported deaths from the disease.                              Snopes.com
                                                   Although cleaning off soda cans before                       www.snopes.com
                                                   drinking might be a good idea, it is
                                                                                                                Quackwatch Inc.
                                                   likely that the most dangerous thing the
                                                   cans contain is germs from other
                                                   humans who have come into contact                         About.com: urban legends
                                                   with it. FS&H                                          http://urbanlegends.about.com

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