Separating myths from medical facts

There are probably a lot of things that you do simply because that is how you’ve always done them. You might have overheard something and believed it was true or learned something erroneously that has worked its way into your daily routine. It might involve drinking water, wearing sunscreen or adopting some trendy routine that seems perfectly logical in practice.

However, if you take a minute to consider if the things you are doing habitually are really helping you, you might discover they aren’t necessary at all. We asked our medical expert, Dr. Michael Huynh, M.D., about four common practices to see if they were myths or facts.

What is oil pulling and does it help?

Oil pulling is the practice of using certain natural oils, such as coconut oil, as a way to achieve and maintain good oral hygiene. More conservative claims say the oil can kill the bacteria in your mouth, making you less prone to bad breath and cavities. More radical claims suggest the practice can cure chronic diseases, such as allergies.

When asked about oil pulling, Dr. Huynh stated, “It actually does not do any good to the teeth. And it may cause erosion of the enamel.” He suggested that if you want to try it, add it to your dental routine. Do not use it as a replacement for brushing.

The American Dental Association’s (ADA’s) stance on the benefits of oil pulling is similar: “Currently, there are no reliable scientific studies to show that oil pulling reduces cavities, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well-being. Based on the lack of scientific evidence, the American Dental Association does not recommend oil pulling as a dental hygiene practice.”

Dr. Huynh explained why it is so important to take care of your teeth. “The mouth has so much bacteria in it. But it’s OK because everything is set up in a way that you are protected from that bacteria. However, once any bit of the barrier is broken, like the enamel of the tooth, bacteria has a channel that can lead to the rest of the body.”

In short, if an infection in the mouth travels deeper to reach the root canal, it can spread throughout the body and travel to places you really don’t want it to go, such as the heart. So proper dental hygiene is extremely important to overall health.

Who needs to wear sunscreen?

People know from experience that they don’t tend to burn as much after getting a tan. This leads them to believe that a tan, or a darker skin tone, will protect them from the sun. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

“No matter what your skin tone, everyone should wear sunscreen,” Dr. Huynh advised. “It protects against UV rays, which you cannot see. If your skin tone is light, you definitely need to wear sunscreen because you don’t produce something called melanin, which is pigmentation that absorbs some of the UV rays. If you are a darker tone, you should still wear sunscreen because you are still at risk for skin cancer.”

He continued, stating that before you leave the house, you should apply sunscreen on the exposed parts of your body, especially your face, neck and arms if you are wearing a short sleeve shirt. “Even though UV rays are invisible, they can cause damage that can lead to a lot of cancers that you can’t really cure in the future.”

Are multivitamins necessary?

The common belief is everyone needs multivitamins to promote stronger health. Dr. Huynh, on the other hand, said it is “very person dependent.”

If you eat a well-balanced diet, you can get your vitamins and minerals through food sources, such as vegetables, meats and fruits. So, there may not be a need for you to take a multivitamin.

Dr. Huynh offered, “If you think you are lacking certain vitamins, it’s OK to take a multivitamin. Even if you aren’t lacking certain vitamins, there is still no harm with most vitamins you take in excess because you can just pee them right out if you take too much. In my opinion, it’s OK to take multivitamins, but it might not be necessary. Especially if you’re a healthy person with a good diet.”

Dr Huynh warned, however, that not all vitamins are water soluble. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins. This means they linger in your body and can cause complications if they build up. When you take a multivitamin, there are usually not enough fat-soluble vitamins to cause a problem. But if you take a standalone vitamin, you can get yourself into trouble.

How much water do we really need?

It’s easy to remember the phrase drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. So easy that it caught on and became more than a mantra. Drinking water became a lifestyle. People walk around with a bottle of water in hand, feeling the constant pressure to get that 64 ounces of water down before bedtime.

But according to Dr. Huynh, “There is no real rule to how much water you should drink. You should drink when you feel like you are thirsty because your body has very good regulators that tell you when you need water.”

The truth is, drinking too much water can be harmful to the body. It can cause a fluid imbalance and dilute the electrolytes in your system. But we’re talking excessive drinking, not just an extra glass or two. Conversely, too little fluid can cause problems as well. So you should listen to your body and drink when it tells you to.

If you want to get a little more scientific about it, Dr. Huynh says the best way to gauge if you’re drinking the right amount of water is to get weighed every day at approximately the same time. Ideally, this time would be in the morning, before breakfast. If there are dramatic changes in your weight from day to day, that is an indicator that you are either getting too much water or not enough water each day.

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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