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Healthwatch: Fact Or Myth

Even though most people realize medicine is not an exact science, misinformation and misconceptions can still be frustrating.

Dr. Nathaniel Hupert of Cornell University tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, "A lot of it has to do with the way science proceeds in these. There are all different studies, small and large studies. In addition some look at specific end points like cholesterol level, and others look at important things for you and me, like how long will you live and how healthy will you be. As they get done, data accumulates and studies sometimes contradict each other."

So here is up-to-date information for the most common health misconceptions, as Dr. Hupert explained.

Cholesterol:

Red meat is worse for your cholesterol than white meat. - Most say that they are avoiding red meat to keep their cholesterol down. But the reality is there is remarkably little evidence of this. The best study shows that if you take two sets of people and give them lean red or white meat in both groups, the cholesterol decreases by a little bit and it does so equally in each group.

Eggs are bad for your heart. - Not only are they not associated with long-term increases of cholesterol, there is some evidence that egg consumption is associated with better long-term outcomes. Harvard published a study in 1999 in which it found there was no significant effect of eating eggs. What the researchers discovered was that it was not associated with coronary heart disease in otherwise healthy men and women.

And in 1977, researchers fed people two eggs in a custard-shake every day. The results showed that in some people the cholesterol went up, and in some it went down. But the researchers couldn't conclude that there was any correlation between eggs and changes in cholesterol levels.

So the best thing to do is if you go on an egg diet - eating them every day - is to ask your doctor to run a few tests. Check cholesterol levels prior to adding eggs to your diet and then after eating eggs. That's the only way you will know if you have this rare relationship between high cholesterol and egg consumption.

Alcohol:

Alcohol causes breast cancer. This is one of the most complicated ones. There is a whole range of information out there. What it turns out, for moderate drinking - this is having a single glass of wine at dinner - there is very little good evidence that there is a connection between alcohol and breast cancer. We'll probably see more about this in the future.

There's tremendous evidence that red wine and every other type of wine prevents heart disease when consumed in moderate amounts. There are ten times as many women in this country that have heart disease than breast cancer so the benefits in terms of heart disease is possibly better than any risk in breast cancer.

Sleep:

You must have eight hours of sleep to be healthy. - There is one study that looked over 1 million Americans and found that the best amount of sleep when you look at mortality is actually seven hours a night. So we don't have to shoot for 8 hours. The study really didn't show a link to illness and decrease in length of life until subjects got down to about 4.5 hours or above 8.5 hours. The people who sleep more than that are probably people that have more illnesses as well.

If you are getting six hours a night don't be concerned.

Naps are helpful - Naps have been shown to improve alertness and cognitive performance in people who don't get enough sleep during the night. (The study was done with people who got 4.5 hours of sleep.)

A study done in 2001 shows that even taking a 10-minute nap can improve mental functioning.

Multivitamin:

You must take a daily multivitamin to stay healthy. - A study that looked at taking vitamins, E, C, or multivitamin found that there was no effect on heart disease. But vitamins that have folic acid have a moderate effect on decreasing the risk of colon cancer. The science on vitamin supplements is all over the place and it usually depends on the person's existing health.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against it. But if a patient is not eating a balanced diet, taking a vitamin supplement is suggested.

About Dr. Nathaniel Hupert

Nathaniel Hupert is an Assistant Professor of Public Health and Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City. In addition to maintaining a primary-care internal medicine practice, Dr. Hupert has directed a number of federally funded studies since 2000 using computer modeling to improve public health response strategies for intentional and natural outbreaks of disease.

Dr. Hupert is a member of both local and national expert panels on bioterrorism response and has provided computer modeling support to the New York City Office of Emergency Management and to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene since the spring of 2001.

He has served as a lecturer for the CDC Strategic National Stockpile Program and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Readiness Force on antibiotic dispensing strategies. He also is a member of the New York Presbyterian Hospital Biological Pathogens Task Force.