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Health Information Discover Rush Fall 2008

Is that Health Warning You Heard Fact or Fiction?

Have you heard that cell phones cause cancer? Or that microwave ovens expose you to radiation? The more important question may be: Do you believe what you heard?

If you have been told to button up before you catch your death of cold, you’ve heard health misinformation.

But while we know that colds are caused by viruses, not chilly temperatures, health fallacies still flourish.

Dino Rumoro, DO, acting chairperson of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rush University Medical Center, helps distinguish health fact from common fiction.

1. Cell phones cause brain tumors. “Nothing in the medical literature demonstrates any relationship between cell phone use and brain tumors, ” Rumoro says.

Cell phones operate with radio frequencies; they don’t put out ionizing radiation, the type that damages DNA.

Although there is little to suggest that cell phone use causes brain cancer, it’s OK to be cautious. This technology is still relatively new — too new, in fact, to have performed long-term studies on its effects.

So if you are the cautious type, you may want to use landlines when possible and a hands-free device with your cell phone to keep it away from your head, Rumoro says.

2. Televisions and microwave ovens expose you to dangerous radiation. “Typically, these are pretty safe devices — especially now, ” Rumoro says.

Modern televisions emit very little radiation. And as with cell phones, the radiation involved with microwave ovens is nonionizing. Microwave ovens heat food with microwaves, hence the name, which are a form of electromagnetic radiation that causes water molecules in food to vibrate and produce heat.

Federal standards also limit the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to levels far below those known to harm humans.

3. Microwaving food in plastic containers releases chemicals into your food. It’s actually true that components of plastics can seep into food, but at a level well within the margin of safety, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, it’s generally best to avoid microwaving plastics that aren’t labeled “microwave safe,” Rumoro says. Inappropriately microwaving certain plastics could cause plastic to melt and burn you, or actually melt onto your food.

4. Breathing steam from instant popcorn can cause “popcorn lung.” This story began circulating after workers in a microwave popcorn factory contracted bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare lung disease known informally as popcorn lung. The disease was traced to inhalation of high levels of diacetyl, a chemical used to give microwave popcorn its buttery flavoring. For typical consumers, though, there appears to be no cause for alarm, Rumoro says.

If you have questions about something you hear or read, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor to help you decipher medical fact from fiction. Call (888) 352-RUSH (7874) to make an appointment with a physician at Rush.


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