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The truth about 9 medical myths

You hear them all the time. Before you know it, they’re accepted as law. Medical myths often become part of our culture as they get passed from one generation to the next. But what many of us take as expert information may actually be wrong or even harmful to our health. Here’s a sampling of some medical myths and the truth behind them.

  1. Starve a cold; feed a fever. Fact: Good nutrition is an important part of getting well in both cases. You should drink plenty of fluids and eat enough to satisfy your appetite.
  2. A flu shot can give you a mild case of the flu. Fact: Some people may experience redness, soreness or swelling where they received the shot and a headache or low-grade fever for a day afterward, but these are mild side effects—not the flu.
  3. Foodborne illness is the result of the last food you ate. Fact: It can take up to 24 hours before contaminated food causes symptoms. During that time you would have eaten many foods, so it’s often difficult to determine which food caused the illness.
  4. Harmful substances in underarm antiperspirants or deodorants cause breast cancer. Fact: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute say there is no evidence to support this theory.
  5. You can’t get pregnant during your period or while breastfeeding. Fact: In both of these cases, you can get pregnant. Many women ovulate earlier or later than the middle of their menstrual cycles. Add to this the fact that sperm can live in your body for up to five days, causing your fertile time to increase. And during breastfeeding, your body gradually returns to its prepregnancy state and begins to produce eggs again.
  6. A cold shower and a cup of coffee will sober you up. Fact: Nothing sobers you up but time. You may be clean and awake, but you’re still drunk.
  7. Generic drugs are not as effective as their brand-name equivalents. Fact: The Food and Drug Administration requires that generic drugs have the same quality, strength, purity and stability as brand-name drugs. Generic drugs use the same active ingredients and work the same way in the body.
  8. Exercise keeps you up all night. Fact: You’ll actually have a more restful sleep if you exercise. Just don’t do it within three to four hours of bedtime.
  9. You shouldn’t swim for one hour after eating. Fact: Wading or moderate swimming after moderate eating is safe. On the other hand, a challenging swim in the ocean after a heavy meal—especially with alcohol to slow you down and impair your judgment—is not recommended.