Healthcare Society

Health Myths, Debunked

  • A lady consulting a doctor from Sunway Medical Centre online through a tablet.
Healthcare Society
  • Health and wellness trends have been targeting us across our screens — but does science back them up? We asked an expert to set the record straight.

Knowledge is power, they say. But in the world of social media, where every wave brings new health information, this power can easily set us on a wild goose chase!

We have all been there — a quick scroll through social media is enough to send us down a rabbit hole of the latest health and wellness trends. In 2023 alone, we have witnessed the explosion of a new weight-loss frenzy (hello, Ozempic). And we have puzzled over the outright peculiar (mouth taping — it is a thing)!

As the internet continues to metabolise these health hacks and quick fixes, how do we discern facts from fads? We round up five of the most popular health-related trends and spoke with Dr. Lim Ren Jye, the Medical Director of Sunway Traditional and Complementary Medicine (TCM) Centre, to find out: truth or myth?

Truth or myth? It is better to drink alkaline water

There is water, and then there is alkaline water, whose higher pH level is purported to substantially neutralise bodily acidity, reduce inflammation, and prevent illnesses. However, upon closer examination, the benefits seem a little watered down.

Pure water in glass and water filters on the blurred background. Household filtration system

“Our human body is a marvel of biological engineering. It can do more than maintain its pH balance with remarkable precision through the kidneys and lungs,” said Dr. Lim. In other words, the effects of alkaline water on overall health are nebulous at best. “Furthermore, assertions linking acidic body pH to diseases are oversimplified. Drinking adequate clean, filtered water is enough to keep us healthy and hydrated.”

Truth or myth? Retro walking strengthens the knees and joints

A lady walking backwards on the treadmill at a gym

A new way to exercise on the treadmill? Credits: Garage Gym Reviews.

On social media, gym-goers are hitting the treadmills differently — they are walking backwards and it is what they call ‘retro walking’. Advocates have reported improvements in their knees and joints from the exercise.

“There are studies  suggesting that retro walking reduces the compressive force on the patellofemoral joint and implies less strain and potential pain relief. However, with a small sample size of 20 participants and variable results, the evidence treads on shaky ground.” Dr. Lim agrees that walking backwards may indeed activate different muscle groups. “But it takes a well-rounded workout routine that includes flexibility, balance, and strength training to effectively support knee and joint health so you can step confidently forward—or backward—into your fitness journey.”

Truth or myth? Colostrum is beneficial to adults, too

Advertisements of bovine colostrum as a supplement have been making their rounds online, adding to a chorus of social media posts that gush about its abilities to boost the immune system, improve gut health and aid skin regeneration. Colostrum, the milk-like fluid produced by mammals shortly after giving birth, is endowed with antibodies, antimicrobial proteins, and other vital nutrients essential for kickstarting a newborn’s immune system.

A pregnant lady being consulted to by a doctor with a stethoscope, with medical equipment on the side

“But translating these benefits to adults is less straightforward,” Dr. Lim pointed out. For all its merits, Dr. Lim is taking a sceptic view. “There is a lack of substantive scientific support in favour of the theories. And the process of turning natural colostrum into a supplement will likely strip it of its properties.”

Truth or myth? Berberine helps with weight loss

The discovery of the diabetes drug Ozempic’s remarkable weight-loss side effect  Riding on Ozempic’s coattails, berberine has recently captured the internet’s imagination for its potential to reduce body weight, somewhat akin to how Ozempic operates.

Dr. Lim cautions against regarding the herbal supplement as a direct substitute. “While preliminary research highlights berberine’s ability to improve metabolic indicators, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, the data is not as robust and consistent as clinically approved pharmaceuticals like Ozempic.” Do not consume it, thinking you can purge pounds fast. Instead, he suggests incorporating berberine as part of a broader, holistic approach to healthcare.

Low section of man standing on a weighing scale on tiled floor

It is important that we do not lose weight while compromising our health.

Found in plants like huang lian (Coptis chinensis), berberine has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to address conditions related to heat and dampness, such as gastrointestinal issues and infections, rather than as an isolated solution to weight management. It is advisable to check in with practitioners familiar with both Western and traditional Chinese medicinal principles to grasp the fullness of its benefits and limitations.”

Truth or myth? Mouth taping prevents snoring

A close-up shot of a lady taping her mouth as she falls asleep

Mouth taping as a way to stop snoring? Source: CNN.

It seems like a quirky bedtime ritual: place a piece of tape around or over your lips to keep them shut during sleep to encourage breathing through the nose. It, in turn, eliminates snoring, dry throat, and congestion, among a long list of health issues. Even Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it. What can go wrong?

“Claims circulating about the practice of mouth taping are outpacing their evidence.” Dr. Lim immediately raised a red flag against this viral trend: “More alarmingly, mouth taping can pose serious risks for those with pre-existing breathing issues, such as sleep apnea. It could exacerbate breathing difficulties rather than alleviate them.”

Furthermore, this sticky solution can cause skin irritation or allergies. “There are safer ways,” Dr. Lim reassured us. “Nasal strips open up nasal passages, reducing the likelihood of snoring. So does side sleeping. And there is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy for sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea.”

Telling Facts from Fiction: A Guide

Unfortunately, the allure of miracle diets and supplements often overshadows the nuanced realities of what it truly means to be well. As Dr. Lim warns, the internet is “a double-edged sword,” when it comes to health advice.

The online world has made us all armchair experts in a way. Anyone with a revelation about a new hero ingredient or wellness ritual can shout their beliefs into the void and gather a following. While keeping the internet entirely free of disinformation is impossible, we can still learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

According to Dr. Lim, “just spend a few precious minutes verifying the source and references.” Consult reputable organisations like government health agencies, accredited academic institutions, recognised medical bodies, and peer-reviewed journals, as they are governed by a stringent review process to provide  information.

These days, any bad actor can fake a website with the official logo and a dot-org domain. Dr. Lim recommends verifying the credentials of the authors and content creators, too. “I am a believer in evidence-based practices. It is crucial for all healthcare providers at Sunway TCM Centre to stay abreast of the latest research and collaborate with relevant experts to ensure all information provided to patients is firmly grounded in empirical support and clinical experience,” he said.

Profile shot of Dr Lim Ren Jye, medical director and TCM consultant, Sunway TCM Centre

Dr. Lim Ren Jye, medical director and TCM consultant, Sunway TCM Centre advises us to stay vigilant against health myths – even if it is the latest social media trend.

Watch out for content that favours specific products and treatments, which indicate underlying commercial interests. Trustworthy sources maintain transparency about their research methodologies and are forthcoming about any potential conflicts of interest and limitations of their findings.

Finally, resist the allure of sensational or exaggerated health claims that promise a shortcut to eternal youth or peak fitness. Over the years, Sunway TCM Centre has embedded itself as a pivotal part of the community’s health fabric by offering comprehensible resources about traditional Chinese medicine and participating in outreach programmes, health fairs, and public seminars,” Dr. Lim explained. These initiatives may not cure all ails, but they can empower people to make informed decisions about their health.

“And do you know what is our take on this? If something sounds too good to be true, it most probably is!”


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