Common Health Myths.

Charles Lascano, MD CAQSM.

Sports Medicine Specialist. Sanitas Medical Centers

Para leer en Español


MYTH 1: All herbal medicines and supplements are safe to use.

Unfortunately, many of the herbal medicines and supplements pose potential health risks to people in terms of adverse events and interactions with other medications. Many over-the-counter dietary supplements have been found to contain active pharmaceuticals not identified on the label.

Examples include products marketed for weight loss (found to frequently contain sibutramine and phenolphthalein, two drugs previously withdrawn from the market by the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA]), sexual enhancement (found to contain phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors, most commonly sildenafil (Viagra)) and muscle-building supplements (found to contain anabolic steroids).

Makers of dietary supplements are not required to prove efficacy, safety, or quality of a product prior to marketing. Supplement manufacturers are also not obligated to report post-marketing adverse events to the FDA.


MYTH 2: Vitamins supplementation is a good source of energy when exercising.

Regardless of what energy system is used in our body, the end result is the production of adenosine triphosphate (or ATP). ATP is extracted from the food we eat (fat, carbohydrate, and protein) and is required for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. The intensity and duration of the activity dictates which foodstuffs are broken down.

Vitamins are a group of substances that are needed for normal cell function, growth, and development but are not the source of energy for exercise. There is a fine line between getting enough of these nutrients (which is healthy) and getting too much (which can end up harming you). Eating a healthy diet remains the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals you need.


MYTH 3: Osteoarthritis can be cured with herbs, supplements, vitamins, and minerals.

Currently, the process underlying osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, but symptoms can usually be effectively managed. Exercise, physical therapy, knee taping, and tai chi are beneficial for knee osteoarthritis and are considered the first line of treatment to treat this condition. Herbs, supplements, vitamins, and minerals are not routinely used due to a lack of data demonstrating efficacy.


MYTH 4: If the flu or common cold does not improve, is time to take antibiotics.

Antibiotics, also known as antibacterials, are medications that destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria. They include a range of powerful drugs and are used to treat diseases caused by bacteria. Antibiotics cannot treat viral infections, such as cold or flu.

Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms, the immune system can typically kill them. White blood cells (WBCs) attack harmful bacteria and, even if symptoms do occur, the immune system can usually cope and fight off the infection. Sometimes, however, the number of harmful bacteria is excessive, and the immune system cannot fight them all. Antibiotics are useful in this scenario. These drugs usually interfere with either the formation of the bacterial cell wall or its cell contents or stop bacteria from multiplying. In other words, the antibiotic makes the bacteria weaker so the white blood cells will come and kill them. The structure of a virus is different so it would be useless to try the antibiotic on them and the only effect this will cause is to expose the body to the many potential side effects of the antibiotics for nothing. The antibiotics do not work by making the body stronger as some people think.


MYTH 5: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is needed to diagnose the cause of musculoskeletal pain.

The clinical presentation (which consists of the explanation of the symptoms and how did those started), and the appropriate examination with the health professional, are the most important tools to diagnose any musculoskeletal pain (pain that affects the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and bones). In the vast majority of the cases, the diagnosis made by the health professional after examining the patient is all that is needed.

When imaging studies are needed, radiographs are usually the first choice because is more available and cheaper than the MRI. It is incorrect to assume that radiographs are useful only to check if there is a fracture. Radiographs are also helpful for example to look for calcifications, observe the joint space, look for infection and to locate foreign objects in soft tissue.

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