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What is a myth?

A myth is a traditional story, idea, or belief, especially one concerning early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon. It is a widely held but false belief or idea. In medicine, health myths are also widely held beliefs about health issues such as medicines, herbs, treatments, cures, antidotes, etc. which are partially or totally false and unsubstantiated in the scientific literature. This is a partial list of the most common health myths.


You don’t need to search very long to find copious information purporting the value of water to maintain good health. Sources suggest between 8 and 15 cups of water per day! Despite the plethora of contradictory information, there is no research to support an exact amount. In fact, most scientifically validated research suggests that healthy adults do not need to count cups and those who drink water when thirsty receive adequate hydration for good health. Remember, there are many water-rich foods to provide hydration; soup, fruit, vegetables, juice, coffee, and tea. However, be aware that if your urine is dark yellow you need more hydration. And, if you are very physically active or live in a warm climate, you may require more water.


In the late 70’s, eggs received a bad reputation when high cholesterol in the blood could increase the risk of heart disease. The love-hate relationship with eggs and egg products has continued to grow since. However, recent findings suggest that eating an egg or two a day will not raise the risk of heart disease in healthy adults. While egg yolks do contain cholesterol, the amount is relatively small and is offset by the fact that eggs also have many nutrients such as omega-3’s which are associated with lowering the risk of heart disease.


Some research attempted to link the preservatives (parabens) used in some deodorants and antiperspirants with the activity of estrogen in the body’s cells because these parabens are found in breast tumors. However, there is no scientific evidence that parabens cause breast cancer. So, don’t sweat it!


Sometimes “old wives tales” are true…but not this one! Grandparents and parents have been telling their grandchildren and children to button up and don’t spend too much time in the cold. In fact, one study found that healthy men who spent several hours a day in cold temperatures (just above freezing) had an increase in virus-fighting activity in their immune systems. Moreover, it is well documented that spending too much time indoors, especially during winter flu season, puts you at risk for getting the flu…so circulate fresh air or get outdoors!


While it is commonly believed that everyone needs a multivitamin to supplement for nutrients not in your diet, research does not supported this theory. In fact, most medical experts agree that healthy adults receive all necessary nutrients and vitamins from a well-balanced diet including; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and healthy oils. However, if your physician recommends a vitamin, do so. It may be that you are insufficient or at risk due to other medical conditions. If you are pregnant, for example, you will need to take folic acid to lower the risk of birth defects. 


Some diets purport that eating breakfast is necessary to stimulate your metabolism in order to lose weight. This theory is not confirmed, and for those who enjoy breakfast, it may limit hunger sensation and prevent unhealthy snacking. However, a study from Cornell University found that those who did not eat breakfast did not overeat at lunch and dinner and consumed approximately 400 fewer calories per day. So, for some healthy adults, eliminating breakfast can help lose weight…the premise of “intermittent fasting.”


Most would agree, the slimy green mucus in your tissue is disgusting. However, without a lab test, it is not a sure sign of an infection or need for antibiotics. Often, a sinus infection is associated with clear mucus and a common cold presents with green mucus.


Sugar making your kids hyper? Maybe it’s just kids being kids! It is widely accepted that sugar is not good for kids (unhealthy calories leading to obesity, etc), but, believe it or not, research shows that it is not the cause of hyperactivity (caffeine or chocolate may). It may be that parents are so focused on their behavior after sugar intake that they expect their kids to be wired when it may just be attributed to the normal behavior of kids just being kids!


Believe it or not, toilet seats are not the most unsanitary item in the bathroom. So, if you can’t cover it, don’t sweat it. Bathroom doors, door handles, and floors, however, are covered with bugs such as E. coli, norovirus, and other flu viruses. Thorough hand washing is essential and use a paper towel for door handles.


One thing is certain…cracking your knuckles is annoying to everyone around you! But studies show that it is not harmful to your joints or causes arthritis. The popping noise is not because the bones are grinding together; it is due to movement of gas bubbles in the joint capsule.  


Total elimination of fat from your diet is not only unnecessary to be healthy and lose weight, but is unhealthy and harmful. Fat provides essential nutrients and is an important component of a healthy diet. Due to the fact that fats have more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, limiting fat intake is necessary to avoid extra calories. Instead, chose low fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) and consider eating small amounts of food with healthy fats, such as avocados, olives, or nuts. 


Vaccines do not cause autism. Despite much controversy, there is no scientific evidence that supports a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. In fact, the original study that started the debate years ago has been disproven and retracted. Fact: childhood vaccines protect children from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases.

SOURCES: WebMd; National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic

Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – Every Monday. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Read all of Dr. Mackarey's articles at:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor  in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

The New Year brings renewed energy in our collective efforts to win the race against a common foe. If we intend 2021 to be a year of joy and hope — we absolutely need to use all viable tools at our disposal and unite in our efforts to beat the coronavirus. One such tool is vaccines, considered one of the most important advances in modern medicine, and has been responsible for greatly improving our quality of life over centuries. Vaccines have allowed us to triumph over serious adverse diseases by reducing or eliminating many dangerous infectious diseases we don't even think about anymore.

Vaccination research and development has never stopped. Global partnerships have been formed to create faster, more efficient platforms and new technologies to help us against the onslaught of diseases like Ebola, Zika, and the coronavirus family — SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), and now SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2).

 The victory of vaccines, our most promising counter-pandemic measure, in our fight against a pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, relies on a critical mass of people becoming immune to the virus. This breaks the chain of transmission and, most importantly, protects the most vulnerable people in our community who cannot develop immunity through vaccination. This is called herd immunity — vaccines go beyond our individual benefit; it protects us as a community. Imagine this vaccinated community surrounding a pregnant mother who cannot get vaccinated now; she is protected through this invisible shield of the community blocking SARS-CoV-2 from reaching her.

Vaccine safety requirements are among the highest in the nation because they are widely distributed. Two vaccines (Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna) received U.S. emergency use approval (EUA) from the FDA. Nearly 2.8 million people in the U.S. have received a Covid-19 vaccine to date. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, received the Moderna vaccine on December 22, 2020 — saying the two vaccines had been examined and put through more rigorous analysis than most vaccines to date. Nonetheless, some common myths are surrounding both vaccines:

Dispelling Myths About the COVID 19 Vaccine:

You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Both approved U.S. vaccines contain no virus or viral particles. You are not injected with any part of a virus. The vaccines use synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) that our cells can read to make a specific piece of the virus, which on its own cannot harm. This piece is the protein spikes on the outside of the virus, and it is what helps the virus dock onto a human cell and allows it to infect us. By allowing our cells to reproduce this spike temporarily, we teach our immune system what to look for in the face of a future coronavirus attack. This memory of what to look for provides us immunity and allows us to respond much faster.

Speed of development affected safety and efficacy.

The development of the current vaccines did not start in January 2020. Science has been paying close attention to the coronavirus family for many years. Research into the messenger RNA technology used in the Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna vaccines has been in development for close to 15 years. The perceived speed in getting the vaccines to the public is partly due to unparalleled worldwide emergency cooperation, free sharing of information, and new faster technology platforms. Also aiding has been billions in private and public funding, allowing vaccine firms to run preclinical and phase I, II, and III trials in parallel instead of sequentially. The FDA completed a meticulous safety review, and the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization panel scrutinized safety and efficacy data from the clinical trials.

The Vaccine can alter your DNA.

Your cell's DNA is securely kept inside a nucleus in the cell. The snippet of mRNA that gets injected does not gain access to the nucleus and never comes in contact with your DNA. Your cell machinery translates the mRNA and manufactures the viral spike protein needed to present to your immune system. Once the instruction is read, human cells break down and get rid of the mRNA.

If I had COVID-19, I wouldn't need the vaccine.

Currently, we don't have enough information to definitively know how long after infection someone might be protected from getting reinfected with Covid-19. Early indications suggest this natural immunity may not last very long. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated. However, if you are currently infected with Covid-19, the recommendation is to delay vaccination until the illness has resolved.

You can stop wearing a mask after you're vaccinated.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, getting rid of public health measures like wearing a mask is only possible once there are extremely low levels of circulating virus left. For this to happen, we need 75-95 percent of people to have immunity to the coronavirus.

COVID-19 vaccines are stored at extremely low temperatures because of preservatives in the vaccines.

Both Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna have reported that their vaccines contain no preservatives. The vaccines are created using a novel methodology to synthesize the mRNA, encapsulated for protection in a lipid or oily shell. This technology allows the vaccine to be free from materials of animal origin, egg, and without preservatives. However, mRNA is fragile and can break down easily. Storing vaccines in ultracold environments keeps them stable and safe. Vaccines are thawed before injection.

What are the risks?

Life and vaccines never present us with absolute safety in usage. We must acknowledge this — vaccines do carry some risks. Of the close to 2.8 million U.S. vaccines to date, very few recipients reported short-term mild or moderate symptoms that resolved without complication within a day or two. These included sore arms, redness at the injection site, headache, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, or fever — all expected indicators that your immune system is responding to the vaccine — and comparable to side effects seen with the shingles vaccine. As of December 23, 2020, the U.S. has seen 10 cases of anaphylaxis. Anaphylactic reactions can occur with any vaccine but are extremely rare. The cases occurred in people with a significant history of severe allergies and were safely managed with epinephrine, and the CDC has distributed safeguard protocols to vaccine sites.

 But, compare these calculated vaccination risks to that of the virus itself — which has infected more than 83 million people globally and killed approximately 1.8 million — including more than 350,000 deaths in the United States. Now add in the devastation caused to economies and health systems. Dr. Walter Orenstein, the former director of the United States' National Immunization Program, wrote that if vaccines are not administered to the persons they are recommended for, there is zero impact. In the current pandemic, time is lives. We need an estimated 80 percent of people vaccinated to reach herd immunity to have a fighting chance to stop this pandemic in its tracks — and we need to get it done now.

We face a collective threat — a pandemic, and a moral dilemma on choosing to be vaccinated. Concerns over the vaccines' safety are understandable, but reports on negative outcomes are few and far outweighed by the benefits. This quarantine year has taught me that we are intrinsically bound to our community, only truly to thrive through community involvement and participation. We need each other, and we have an obligation to take care of one another. Getting a Covid-19 vaccine is not just about you; it is protecting your grandmother who has diabetes, your neighbor who is immuno-compromised — it safeguards everyone who is medically unable to receive a vaccine and needs you as their human shield against coronavirus reaching them. Vaccinations save lives — when your eligibility phase comes up, be a solid citizen, loving caring child, sibling, parent, and spouse…GET IT!

This column is a monthly feature of “Health & Exercise Forum” in association with the students and faculty of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Author: Hendrik Marais, MD, MS

Hendrik Marais, MD, MS, received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in 2015 and his Master of Science degree in Global Medicine from Keck School of Medicine at USC in 2019. He is passionate about creating positive and empowered patient health outcomes. He grew up in South Africa and currently calls Scranton, PA home – where he enjoys cycling, swimming, and discovering the beauty of NEPA. He is a member of the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. He plans to pursue a clinical career in physiatry.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”

Read all of Dr. Mackarey's articles at

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.