If you have an e-mail address, you have probably received e-mails warning you of newly discovered health hazards. These e-mails are alarming, and plausible enough to be believed. They encourage you to forward the information to all your friends and family. Can they be believed?
Most often, the answer is no. Usually, these health scares are merely rumors. Some may be created by well-meaning individuals who misinterpret or embellish legitimate health information. Others are true hoaxes, invented by sociopaths who enjoy making up stories and spreading them far and wide. Some of these e-mails circulate for years, forwarded by well-meaning folks.
Here are some untrue health claims currently circulating on the Internet.
"Antiperspirants cause breast cancer." This is not true. In fact, research done at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle on this topic was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Vol. 94, No. 20: 1578-1580), which found no link between cancer and antiperspirants, deodorants or underarm shaving.
"The artificial sweetener aspartame (found in NutraSweet) causes a huge number of health problems," including lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, seizures and brain tumors. Also untrue; no legitimate medical organization agrees with these claims. All these diseases have been around much longer than aspartame has.
"Bras cause breast cancer." The author claims that bras constrict the natural flow of toxins out of the breast via the lymphatic system. The American Cancer Society has refuted this claim. Wearing a bra does not increase your risk of breast cancer.
"Canola oil is dangerous to your health." An e-mail is circulating with claims that canola oil is poisonous to humans, is a source of mustard gas and is a cause of Mad Cow disease. All these claims are untrue.
"Taking pills with warm water is dangerous." Not true. The temperature of water is unimportant. However, it is important to take pills properly. Always read the instructions before taking medicine. Most pills are best taken with water, but some are better absorbed when taken with milk.
"A common shampoo and toothpaste ingredient causes cancer." This hoax claims sodium lauryl sulfate causes "the cancer virus." Cancer is not a virus, and this ingredient is safe, according to experts such as the American Cancer Society.
"All women should have the CA-125 test for ovarian cancer." Although this test is helpful in diagnosing ovarian cancer, cancer experts recommend it only for women who have an increased risk or who are having symptoms consistent with ovarian cancer. In other women, the test may give a false positive result, leading to needless tests and worry.
If you receive one of these hoaxes, do your friends and family a favor and hit the "delete" button. Forwarding these e-mails creates needless worry, confusion and spam.
Not all Internet hoaxes are health-related. In 2004, terrorism-related rumors circulated via e-mail, such as one about terrorists buying United Parcel Service uniforms on eBay. Also, e-mails designed to separate fools from their money are common, such as the many variations of a Nigerian scam that promises you a large amount of money in exchange for your bank account information.
How can you tell if something is a hoax? Wording such as "THIS IS NOT A HOAX!!!!!!!" (lots of capital letters and exclamation points) and "please forward this to everyone on your e-mail list" are dead giveaways.
There are several web sites that collect and analyze these rumors, hoaxes and urban legends. If you receive some information that is questionable, check out the accuracy of the story at (www.truthorfiction.com), (www.breakthechain.org) or (www.urbanlegends.about.com).
Kathryn B. Brown is a family nurse practitioner with a master's degree in nursing from OHSU. Is there a health topic you would like to read about? Send ideas to (email@example.com). You can find more local health news and information in the Health section at (www.dailyastorian.info).