Ten persistent fictions about your health

Some popular ideas about your health ain't necessarily so; some are even dangerous. Have you bought into the notions that fat, alcohol and even antiperspirants are all bad for you? Do you look for foods labeled "cholesterol-free"? Are friends and family telling you to "snap out of it and cheer up"? Read on.

1. "Cholesterol-free" foods are better for you

Not really. Cholesterol is essential to your body's functioning and is a part of every organ, with most of it being produced in your own liver. The phrase "cholesterol free" seems to imply a pervasive danger avoided.

That's the foods industry just cooking up fear. In reality, only a small amount of cholesterol is absorbed from one's diet. If you have a normal cholesterol count - below 200 mg/dl - your body automatically slows cholesterol production if you've eaten too much. So says the American Journal of Medicine. It's the body's natural controls getting out of whack, not the cholesterol eaten, that's dangerous.

After 50 years of pondering the question, the American Heart Association has concluded there is no proof that a low-cholesterol diet reduces heart-attack risk. Bonus fact: Two eggs a day, long vilified as culprits in heart disease, raise cholesterol by only 5 to 12 mg/dl. One egg a day has no effect at all.

2. Alcohol is just not good for you

That old lie? While alcohol is high in calories (sorry), numerous studies have debunked the idea that it's just plain bad for you. Alcohol, in red wine or other drinks, increases the HDL-2 and HDL-3, the "good" cholesterol, and decreases plasma fibrinogen (platelet stickiness and clotting) that's a factor in strokes. Wine has been shown to revive brain cells and to prevent some cancers.

Responsible use of alcohol - no more than three drinks per day - is actually good for you; one drink per day is ideal, based on American Heart Institute studies. Most surprising is that those who don't consume any alcohol are statistically more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. Two drinks per day for men reduces risk of heart disease by 50 percent. Moderate alcohol consumption also reduces the likelihood of Alzheimer's, osteoporosis and Type II diabetes. Cheers!

3. Salt is bad for your health

Not true - for those with normal blood pressure. A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no indication that sodium (salt) intake is bad for you or that it increases your risk of heart disease.

Still, nutritionists suggest using a "low sodium" salt: half sodium chloride (salt) and half potassium chloride. It tastes the same and is better for you. If you already have high blood pressure, doctors still believe you ought to reduce salt in your diet.

4. Fats in your diet are really, really bad

Nope. You body needs fat - more specifically, fatty acids from your diet. Moreover, if you don't consume some fat with your meals, nutritionists warn you could become vitamin-deficient in the essential vitamins that dissolve only in fat. But keep in mind, this should not be used as an excuse to pig out on fried cheese and nachos.

5. Heart symptoms are the same for women as for men

False. The classic sign - chest discomfort - may or may not appear in women with cardiovascular disease. There may be discomfort in the chest that goes away after resting. Don't ignore it. Women may also experience a rapid heartbeat, fainting, and/or recurring pain in the arms and jaw. Take these symptoms very seriously, women, and make sure your doctor considers the possibility of heart disease, no matter what your age may be.

6. A few extra pounds won't hurt you

Untrue (sorry). It doesn't take major additional poundage to affect your health. Studies have shown that even a moderate weight gain - sometimes as little as 10 pounds - can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke or high blood pressure. Watch the snacks!

7. Eating after 8 p.m. packs on extra pounds

No matter what time of day you eat, it's how much you eat during the whole day and how much you exercise that makes you gain or lose weight. Whenever you eat your meals, your body will store any extra calories as fat. Have that snack before bedtime if it doesn't push your total calories for the day past your goal.

8. Antiperspirants cause breast cancer

This health myth has been circulating through e-mail lately. The original message claims that a "health seminar" linked the use of antiperspirants to breast cancer. It says the body is unable to "purge toxins from below the armpits," and that the "buildup of toxins in the lymph nodes" will eventually cause breast cancer.

Your doctor will tell you none of this is true. Toxins cannot accumulate in lymph nodes, and breast cancer does not begin there. I could find no cancer studies on record linking antiperspirants and breast cancer. It is good to smell good!

9. No cheesecake for the lactose intolerant

Not necessarily. But when somebody who doesn't usually eat much dairy food scarfs a big dose of lactose (like a double-scoop ice cream cone), there will be some uncomfortable symptoms. Such people are short on a lactose-metabolizing enzyme (lactase).

Caution: Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as true milk allergy, which is a sensitivity to a certain milk protein (beta-lactoglobulin). It usually becomes apparent early on in babies and affects only an estimated 1 percent.

10. Depression comes from a personality weakness

Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak, much less being the result of a character flaw. It's a serious illness triggered by changes in brain chemistry, and medication and/or psychotherapy often help people to recover from or at least live with the problem.

True depression differs from "the blues," which we all sometimes experience, in that it cannot be willed away. A person cannot simply "snap out of it," and ignoring the problem will not make it disappear. Corporate executives, politicians, doctors and preachers can suffer from depression, as well as computer programmers, performers or athletes.

Although studies have found depressive tendencies to be genetic, literally everyone is vulnerable. And this illness should never be ignored; there are remedies.

Health writer Lynne DiMichele can be reached at editor@capitol hilltimes.com.[[In-content Ad]]