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Local doctors explain medical myths

Odessa American - 8/12/2019

Aug. 12--Exercising for weight loss, vaccines causing autism and the need for antibiotics when you have a virus are just some the medical myths local physicians say abound.

Family medicine practitioner Dr. Bonnie Carter said the thing she sees most often is cold virus vs. bacteria.

"Everybody believes that when they're drainage turns green it equals bacteria; it must equal an antibiotic. I get so many people coming in (saying) my snot is green, I need an antibiotic. And the truth is anything that causes an immune response will cause your drainage to change colors. Allergies will do that; a virus will do that; bacteria will do that. The color of the congestion doesn't tell me what it is. ... What makes the color change is your white blood cells responding to something that has triggered the immune system," Carter said.

"When you have a flare of allergies, your white blood cells rush to that so they can cause a color change. A virus is still an infection. The bad thing is that antibiotics don't work against a virus. Everybody thinks, 'I have a cold. I need antibiotics.' Unfortunately, there's still not a cure for a common cold," she added. "Antibiotics only work against bacteria and using antibiotics when they're not necessary creates antibiotic resistance, and unfortunately, there's a lot of potential harm for people getting stomach upset, diarrhea. You kill the good bacteria in your gut you get a yeast infection because it also kills your normal flora. Even yeast in the mouth, like thrush."

"People can have a serious allergic reaction, potentially even die, to an antibiotic at any time. It's something you always have to look at. ... The public honestly demands an antibiotic every time they're sick, and if they don't get it, everybody thinks that that you don't know what you're talking about and they go and they grade you bad. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's the right treatment. A lot of times you see people go from doctor to doctor to doctor, or clinic like urgent cares, or ERs (emergency rooms) because they don't feel better, probably because they didn't need an antibiotic in the first place," she said.

Vaccines causing autism, Carter said, is a touchy subject.

"... There is only one doctor (Andrew Wakefield) and one study that ever linked vaccines to autism and he has since lost his license. ... They've never reproduced it, but everybody latches on to that one case. His study that he did they've linked it most to the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. His thing was thimerosal, a preservative MMR used to have it in it but doesn't anymore. MMR is a live vaccine," Carter said.

A "ton of studies" have been conducted since then, but his data has never been reproduced.

"And then come to find out, he falsified data," Carter said.

Some other myths:

>> The flu vaccine will give me the flu. Carter said the flu vaccine is not a live vaccine.

"It's a completely dead, inactivated virus so it can't become the flu in your body. Any vaccine takes a little while to form antibodies. It usually takes about two weeks. If you've been exposed in those two weeks, you can still get the flu. Anytime you get a vaccine, you have an immune response so you typically have a little low-grade fever, a little achiness, a little headache. A lot of people think that's getting the flu because they have those symptoms, but it's actually just your body making the antibodies and that's the immune response."

>> Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website said.

Dr. Fernando Boccalandro, who is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology with Medical Center Hospital, said people think about men having heart attacks, but they don't realize that heart attacks are also a leading cause for death in women.

But symptoms tend to be different for women.

"So they know they need to watch their diet and they need to be as proactive as men," Boccalandro said.

In a similar vein, Carter said you have to weigh the risks and benefits of taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks.

"The downfall of aspirin is bleeding, so you've got to watch if you have a history of ulcers, if you've got bleeding issues ... What aspirin does is it keeps the platelets from sticking together, so it keeps a clot from propagating. What happens with a heart attack is that you have a cholesterol plaque that builds up on a nick in a blood vessel that's usually caused from high blood pressure," Carter said.

"As the cholesterol sticks to that, so do your platelets so you end up with a little clot basically. It's a little plaque and when a heart attack happens that plaque actually ruptures and you get platelets and debris and cholesterol that go and they block in the smaller vessel," she said. "So what aspirin does, theoretically, is it keeps the platelets from sticking to that plaque so theoretically the plaque doesn't get as big. But the cholesterol is still there, so you still have that. So does it completely prevent, no."

"We use it a lot more for stroke, but it's usually for people who have had a stroke, basically trying to prevent further basically formulation of the clot with the platelets," Carter said.

Carter emphasized that bleeding is the biggest issue with aspirin.

"... If you have somebody that's a fall risk, you worry about if somebody hits their head. They could have a brain bleed from falling and hitting their head. If they're at more risk of falling than they are of a heart attack, then the risk outweighs the benefit so it's one of those things that really depends individually. There are some people that absolutely benefit," she said.

>> Boccalandro said vitamins are "super mythical."

"People love to take vitamins and they have no purpose except for making very expensive urine because you pee it out. People take these things faithfully. What is worse is that people take the supplements, but they don't take their medicines," he said.

"All these vitamins supplements they are completely unregulated. The FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) doesn't regulate them. I could come up with my own supplement. That's another myth -- the multivitamins that people buy here," he added.

>> Exercise for weight loss.

"Because 90 percent of your weight loss comes from what you eat," Boccolandro said.

At the level most people exercise, unless you're an athlete and you exercise six hours a day, you can lose weight.

"But the regular people that go to gym every day and walk for 30 minutes, your weight loss doesn't come from there. Weight loss comes from what we put in our mouth. People need to focus on diet not exercise," Boccalandro said.

"Exercise is great for fitness. We know that. ... People who are fit live a lot longer. But it doesn't affect weight; it affects longevity; it affects blood pressure; it affects quality of life; it affects cardiovascular fitness, which is healthy. But it doesn't affect the variability of weight too much. People tend to think 50 percent of my weight loss is going to come from diet; 50 percent from exercise, but it doesn't occur that way," he said. "The amount of calories that you burn is disproportionately low for what we eat, so most of the weight loss comes from diet not exercise."

>> Another one to do with eating is that eating after a certain time makes you gain weight.

"There's no evidence that shows that's true. It's actually more what you're eating more than when you're eating and the amount. That's one I hear often," Carter said.

>> Eight glasses of water. Boccolandro said he doesn't know where that idea came from.

"The body is very smart. The body is going to tell you, 'You're thirsty; go and drink water," Boccolandro said. "If your volume is normal and they give you eight glasses of water you're going to pee eight glasses of water."

>> Tryptophan in turkey making you sleepy. Carter said they found that there's no evidence that this actually causes more sedation.

"It's actually the carb load and the amount of what we eat like at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's actually the carbs that are causing the sleepiness," Carter said.

>> Boils that people think are spider bites could be MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is resistant to some commonly used antibiotics.

"It is now everywhere," Carter said. "Part of that is the overuse of antibiotics has created these resistant bugs, so a lot of when we see people come in had to have been a spider bite it's usually a staph infection ..."

>> Hand sanitizer. Eventually, Carter said, it loses its effectiveness, but it depends on how much you're using and the type.

"If you're exposing your bacteria to the constant antibiotic hand sanitizer, the antibacterial soap, in a lot of ways you're making resistance because you're exposing it to that and the ones that survive are resistant to it and they're the ones that multiply," Carter said. "If you have resistant bacteria, that hand sanitizer is not going to work."

She said it is better than nothing, but most of them are alcohol based and that dries your skin creating microbreaks, which could open you up to potential infection.

"So in a way good old soap and water is better in the long run. It's just you don't always have access to that all the time, but whenever you do, soap and water is better than hand sanitizer," Carter said.

Lysol also is good, but people don't leave it on long enough for bacteria to die.

"Once it dries on a surface, it is going to die," Carter said.

If it stays wet, the germs are still alive. "You kind of have to soak stuff down with Lysol to kill it and let it completely dry," she said.

She suggests using a Lysol wipe on phones.


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