Medical Urban Legends
Weeding out truth from lies on the internet.
By Walt Raleigh
If you've been on the Internet for a while now, you have, no doubt, had the experience of well-meaning friends forwarding you implausible or even frightening e-mails that turn out to be bad information--completely untrue.
The term of art for this kind of rumor is "urban legend," and there are many sites devoted to the study and debunking of same; one of the best is Snopes, which is the first place you should check out when, say, somebody sends you an e-mail claiming that David Bowie and Mister Rogers were secret power players in a 9/11-related conspiracy.
(Snopes maintains a great list of the the top-25 urban legends circulating on the Net at any given time... check it out.)
Most of the bad information on the Internet is relatively harmless, if you don't count raising the blood pressure and stress levels of the gullible as "harm."
Bottom line: One of the side effects of the Internet making it easy to share information with each other is that it has also become much easier to share bad information with each other.
And some rumors and lies can do real harm.
Spammers sell pills and elixirs that claim to cure everything from cancer to ingrown toenails, and I think we've all quickly learned to ignore the obvious frauds.
And as dLife readers, we're all savvy enough to recognize that there are authoritative web sites that we can consult for information about our diabetes, right? dLife's Diabetes Resources page is chock full of good links including one of my very favorites, the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. There are many others.
But some rumors and lies sound more plausible – new dietary supplements that can replace your medication? Alternative therapies that can cure the medical condition your doctor told you can just be "managed?"
And what if the person sending you the "helpful information" isn't a spammer, but a well-meaning friend or family member?
Wouldn't it be great if there were a site like Snopes for medical mythology?
There is. Let me introduce you to Quackwatch ("Your guide to quackery, health fraud and intelligent decisions"), a labor of love by Dr. Stephen Barrett, who casts a skeptical eye on extraordinary medical claims and examines the scientific evidence (or, usually, the lack thereof) for their validity.
Here's Dr. Barrett on "25 Ways to Spot Quacks" – on a line item that is unfortunately near and dear to my heart:
15. They Say It Is Easy to Lose Weight.
Diet quacks would like you to believe that special pills or food combinations can cause "effortless" weight loss. But the only way to lose weight is to burn off more calories than you eat. This requires self-discipline: eating less, exercising more, or preferably doing both. There are about 3,500 calories in a pound of body weight. To lose one pound a week (a safe amount that is not just water), you must eat about 500 fewer calories per day than you burn up. The most sensible diet for losing weight is one that is nutritionally balanced in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Most fad diets "work" by producing temporary weight loss—as a result of calorie restriction. But they are invariably too monotonous and are often too dangerous for long-term use. Unless a dieter develops and maintains better eating and exercise habits, weight lost on a diet will soon return.
The next time someone sends you a medical claim that sounds too good to be true, drop by Quackwatch and run a quick search.
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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