Some Fifth Friday Fun: It Must Be True

Oops! This was supposed to post on May 31, which was a Fifth Friday. Somehow I typed 2014 instead of 2013 when scheduling things, and as a result nothing posted that day. Well, I don’t want to deprive you of some fun, so let’s just call it a “First Friday” instead.

Honey will cure all your ills. Squeezing a metal rod can allow a “practitioner” to diagnose toxicity and disease in your body. Raising your hands over your head can tell a health care worker what you’re allergic to. Those are just three of the “facts” I’ve heard lately from friends—friends who were convinced they knew what they were talking about. Then there’s the perennial parade of Facebook and email warnings… and we all know that if you read it online, it must be true!

What ever happened to critical thinking?

It’s a fifth Friday, and time for some fun. Since I used to be a teacher, I thought a true/false quiz would be in order. I’ve compiled a list of “facts” that may or may not be true. How many can you identify correctly?


  1. Coconut oil is a helpful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Numbing teething gels (such as Orajel) can cause babies to stop breathing and turn blue, and even die.
  3. Covering a tick with liquid soap is a good way to safely remove it.
  4. Using underarm antiperspirants can lead to breast cancer.
  5. Sidewalk chalk may contain lead, and is dangerous for children.
  6. The glucuronolactone contained in energy drinks is a dangerous chemical manufactured by the US government.
  7. Prepared, bagged salads may contain E. coli.
  8. Candy canes contain titanium dioxide, a carcinogen.
  9. Shopping cart handles are more germy than public restrooms.
  10. Eliminating certain foods such as sugar, milk, and meat will starve your cancer cells.

Finished my little quiz? Now here are the answers:

  1. False. I started with this one because the explanation on Snopes also gives some very good suggestions on how to evaluate any suspicious medical treatment claims. In this case, the “coconut oil cure” is based on one person’s subjective experience with giving coconut oil to her ailing husband. This same person is selling a book promoting this idea. Conflict of interest, anyone? There are no scientific studies supporting this claim, and no scientific evidence that it works.
  1. True. A rare reaction to benzocaine can lead to a condition called methomoglobinemia, especially in babies under two years of age. The FDA recommends that these products not be used on babies except under the advice and supervision of a physician.
  1. False. This causes the tick to die a slow death, making it more likely that it will regurgitate saliva (and nasty tick-borne diseases) into your body. It’s much better to carefully use tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the head as possible, and get it out of there as quickly as possible!
  1. False. Click on this link to an American Cancer Society article that discusses this seemingly reasonable correlation and points to a study proving it’s all right to have non-sweaty armpits.
  1. True. There was a case in 2003 where an unnamed brand of sidewalk chalk tested positive for excessive levels of lead. The situation has now been corrected, and current packages of chalk are safe. However, lead does crop up in mostly imported products from time to time, so it pays to stay current on Consumer Product and Safety Commission alerts.
  1. False. According to Wikipedia (which I believe has it right this time), Glucuronolactone is a naturally-occurring carbohydrate produced by the human body. It is an important structural component of nearly all connective tissues.
  1. True, salads and other vegetables may be contaminated. It’s rare, but it happens. We tend to associate E. coli with contaminated meat, but lettuce is also at risk. Furthermore, the germs may be inside the leaves (via contaminated irrigation water), making washing futile. Snopes has a good summary on this one.
  1. True. Many food products, especially candies, that need to be a bright, white color contain titanium dioxide. It’s also a major ingredient in toothpaste, frequently used in pill coatings, and the main ingredient in the goop people at the beach used to smear on their noses before transparent sunscreens were invented (a micro-particle version is still used in sunscreens to block UV radiation). And yes, it’s a carcinogen, if you inhale tremendous quantities of titanium dioxide dust. Eating it is perfectly safe, as is using it as a skin cream.
  1. Ugh, true. A study by the University of Arizona found human saliva, mucus, urine, fecal matter, and the blood and juices from raw meat. Cart handles are germier than public restrooms. Use those sanitizing wipes provided by the store!
  1. False. This statement occurred in a letter supposedly from “John” Hopkins Hospital. In fact, the letter is not from Johns Hopkins, and has been refuted on their website. (First clue: it’s unlikely that Johns Hopkins would misspell their own name.) It’s so full of misinformation that I don’t know where to begin. Just for starters, the author claims you can “starve” cancer cells by avoiding sugars except for honey and molasses (which are just as much sugars as is table sugar). While I’m well aware of the dangers of too much sugar, by the time any carbohydrate get to our cells, our bodies have converted it into glucose. If you starve the cancer cells, you starve your whole body! Additionally, the letter suggests avoiding caffeine by avoiding coffee, tea, and chocolate—and then goes on to recommend green tea, which also contains caffeine. They confuse digestive enzymes with other enzymes found in the body. And they claim milk causes mucus to form, which “feeds” cancer cells. Yes, milk can increase mucus secretions in the digestive tract, but cells don’t feed on it. Besides, how would that affect, say, bone cancer cells?

So, how did you do? Are you a discerning, skeptical reader, or do you believe too many urban legends? It pays to do a bit of research before buying into any alarming warnings, and certainly check them out before hitting that “share” button! We’ll all thank you.

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