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Status: True
I warn in Hippo Eats Dwarf that "Unsolicited e-mail is not a reliable source of information—about anything" (Reality Rule 7.4). This is especially true of all those random health-related claims that circulate via email warning of flesh-eating bananas, poisonous perfume, toxic tampons, etc. So it's refreshing to find an example of a health-related email warning that's actually true.

On May 7, Seattle's KOMO 4 News ran a segment about Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), a deadly form of cancer that most women are totally unaware of. IBC doesn't present with typical symptoms (there's no lump), and it can't readily be detected with a mammogram. Instead women and doctors alike often mistake IBC's symptoms for rashes or insect bites.

The KOMO news segment soon inspired an email warning to start circulating. One version of the email, as reported on, reads:
The Silent Killer...Very IMPORTANT
Ladies, you MUST watch this video...this is not a joke...please read and watch. It's a form of Breast Cancer that I honestly had never even heard of. Stay healthy!
Please show this to other women you know, or print it out for them to read.
Within less than two months, this email had spread far and wide. So far that KOMO now reports that:
As of Thursday morning, amazingly, the video has been accessed a total of 10 million times, and has helped shed light on the important subject to several news agencies across the nation and world. We continue to hope the video helps provide important life-saving information and helps bring more awareness to a subject that not many people knew about.
It's cool that an email warning is actually serving a useful function, for once. But I think the advice that most unsolicited information received via email is garbage should still stand.
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 30, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Undetermined
image The following technique to relieve nasal congestion by massaging points on your nose has been widely linked to (especially after getting posted on Supposedly this technique will provide immediate relief from congestion. Here's what you're supposed to do:
Perform the below routine 3 times:
1. Perform 10 pressures on a cavity at the corner of the nostrils (point 1). You should almost close and open the nostrils when you do the round movement.
2. Perform 10 pressures on a cavity just below the corner of the eyes near the nose (point 2)
3. Perform 10 pressures on a cavity just below the ear, behind the earlobe (point 3)
4. Massage the earlobe 10 times (point 4)

After performing the above 3 times, you should feel immediate relief of your nasal congestion. It is advised to return on the above procedure again in about 10 minutes to make it more permanent or the congestion could return.
I haven't tried this, but I'd be willing to bet that it doesn't work for me. Massaging my nose might feel good and temporarily relieve some pressure, but I can't imagine it would actually clear up congestion. For that I rely on drugs. If I have an allergic reaction, zyrtec works pretty well for me. (Claritin does almost nothing.) If I have a cold, I use Nyquil. Though I've heard Nyquil doesn't work as well as it used to since ingredients have been removed so that it can no longer be used to manufacture home-made methamphetamines.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 12, 2006
Comments (16)
Status: News
76-year-old William Winikoff of Coconut Creek, Florida has been charged with lewd and lascivious conduct for posing as a doctor and offering women free breast exams. Remarkably, he duped at least two women with this scam:

Carrying a black “doctor’s” bag, investigators claim Winnikoff walked up to a apartment building and told a 36-year-old woman, that he was in the neighborhood offering free breast exams. According to police, the woman let Winikoff into her apartment and the phony doctor began the exam, touching first her breasts, and then, her genitals. The woman quickly realized that Winikoff was not a real doctor and she called 911, but the fake doctor had already left her apartment to find another victim; a 33 year old woman who lives in the same apartment complex.

The Smoking Gun has some more details about this case.

It may sound like a stupid scam, but variations of it seem to happen more often than you would think. And the perpetrators always manage to find women who will fall for it. For instance, in October 2002 Zachariah Scott, a Toronto hospital employee, was charged with telling women in the obstetrics ward of Mount Sinai Hospital that he was a 'lactation consultant,' and then examining their breasts. No one realized anything was amiss until one of the women asked a nurse if she could see him again. She was told that the hospital only had female technicians.

Even weirder was the case, reported by Portuguese newspapers in 2002, of a woman who phoned other women and told them about a revolutionary new technology that allowed breast examinations to be conducted by satellite. All they had to do, she told them, was stand topless in an open window and a passing satellite would conduct a mammogram. Every woman who was contacted complied with the strange instructions. One woman even stripped entirely naked. The phone would then ring again, but instead of getting their mammogram results, the phony doctor would describe her sexual fantasies to the women in graphic detail.
Categories: Con Artists, Health/Medicine, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 19, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Pseudoscience
Aon Private Clients, a British insurance broker, has commissioned the first ever study of how to improve the feng shui of cars. They note that implementing these recommendations "could improve the flow of energy in vehicles and help drivers alleviate the negative feelings which lead to road rage." Suggestions offered by the study include:
  • A driver should park his or her car facing away from the driver’s home. According to feng shui, cars are ‘predatory tigers’. If parked facing towards a house or office building, they create a threat to the occupants of the building.
  • Remove clutter from the car: it ‘sucks the life force out of the driver’.
  • If using wi-fi connections such as Bluetooth, drivers and passengers should drink regular quantities of still water to flush out the effects of this negative and draining energy from their bodies.
  • To get rid of negative energy inside the car, which could affect the driver’s mood, the owner should sit in the car and sing, clap their hands or play music to make a statement that it is now your cleared space and will go forward refreshed and free from past events.
  • Keep the windows clean: this allows chi energy to enter the car from outside. In feng shui terms, the windows are the eyes for the car.
  • Tie a small blue ribbon on the satellite navigation or the rear-view mirror: the colour blue is a representation of Water, the perfect driving state of mind: clear, thoughtful, flowing and clear.
  • Keep a bottle of water in the car for the same reason
  • Sprinkle sea salt crystals on the carpets: they absorb passengers’ negative energy and can be cleaned out regularly taking the negativity with them.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Medical News
The journal Public Library of Science Medicine is publishing a special series of articles devoted to the practice of "diseasemongering": when pharmaceutical companies invent diseases, or market cures for benign conditions, in order to sell more drugs. The Times, reporting on the special issue, writes that:

conditions such as female sexual dysfunction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and “restless legs syndrome” have been promoted by companies hoping to sell more of their drugs. Other minor problems that are a normal part of life, such as symptoms of the menopause, are also becoming increasingly “medicalised”, while risk factors such as high cholesterol levels or osteoporosis are being presented as diseases in their own right, according to the editors.

In Hippo Eats Dwarf I wrote about a similar issue: how the plastic surgery industry has created medical names for various "disorders" and "deformities" that are actually perfectly normal, healthy body shapes. Examples include "batwing disorder" (loose skin under the arms), "violin deformity" (wide hips), "hypomastia" (small breasts), and "ptosis" (saggy breasts).

In related news, investigators have found that drug studies sponsored by corporations are invariably skewed to favor the study sponsors. Industry studies will use tricks such as using too low a dose of a competitor's drug, or massaging statistics to get the results they want. In other words, you can't trust the pharmaceutical industry (no surprise there), since whenever they have to choose between profits and quality health care, they always seem to favor profits.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 13, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Medical study
New research by Dr. Dieter Zapf of Frankfurt University suggests that workers who constantly have to pretend to be friendly to customers suffer from higher rates of depression and illness. The Advertiser reports:

Flight attendants, sales personnel and call centre operators are most at risk, say psychologists at Frankfurt University. People in these jobs are more likely to suffer from depression, according to the study released yesterday ahead of publication in consumer magazine Good Advice. "Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings, there are negative consequences for his health," said Professor Dieter Zapf, a researcher into human emotions.

I'm a little surprised that it was a German professor who did this study, because it's my subjective impression that fake happy workers seem to be more of an American phenomenon than a European one. American waiters, for instance, always want to act as if they're your new best friend, whereas European waiters tend to be a little more formal in how they interact with diners. Though maybe this is changing.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 17, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: News article
I'm hesitant to post this, remembering that the last time I posted about fake doctor's notes I ended up with hundreds of comments from people asking me to provide them with fake notes. But here goes anyway. The Shanghai Daily has an interesting short article about the economics of the fake-sick-note industry in China. Apparently sellers of fake doctor's notes can be found outside of many Shanghai hospitals:

The price depends on the type of disease and duration of the sick leave. A note allowing two to three days of rest normally costs 20 (US$2.47) to 30 yuan. The price goes up if the person requires longer sick leave. Ailments on two-day fake notes are always fever and diarrhea. Fractures can be 40 to 50 days, said the reader, who bought a two-day note for 20 yuan.

I imagine the guys selling these notes must be like scalpers, lurking on the street corner, coming up to strangers ("Hey, buddy. Wanna buy a sick note?") I've never seen the equivalent in America. But then, I've never gone shopping for a fake sick note.
Categories: Business/Finance, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 13, 2006
Comments (53)
Status: Undetermined
There's an old urban legend that states that the makers of lip balm (Carmex, specifically), add ground-up fiberglass to their product. The glass irritates people's lips, causing them to feel like they need to apply the balm again and again. There's another urban legend that states that lip balm interferes with the moisture sensors in the lips, causing lips to become dry and requiring more lip balm to be applied. Neither of these urban legends is true. Carmex debunks the fiberglass myth on their website, and the moisture sensor one is false because there are no such thing as moisture sensors in the lips. (At least, not ones that regulate the moisture levels of the lips.)

However, an Associated Press article points out that many lip balms contain salicylic acid or other irritants, and that these additives could encourage repeated use, thereby lending some substance to the charge that lip balm is physically addictive:

Dr. Monte Meltzer is the chief of dermatology at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. He says lip balm often includes ingredients that cause a tingling, such as salicylic acid, phenol and menthol. Some of these are exfoliants that cause lips to peel. In turn, the lips become thinner and less able to protect against the elements. So people need to apply again, and the vicious cycle continues.

Carmex, in its defense, tries to make out as if salicylic acid is a mild, non-irritating chemical, pointing out that it's "closely related to aspirin." However, I don't see why its relationship to aspirin is relevant since salicylic acid obviously does dry out your skin (which is why it's used in acne medicine).

However, even if lip balm isn't physically addictive, I know that it's definitely psychologically addictive, because my wife is totally addicted to the stuff. (I try to tell her that if her lips feel dry, she should drink more water, but she doesn't listen.) For those who are hooked on the stuff, Lip Balm Anonymous can offer some help.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (21)
Status: Medical Scam
Dr. Dale Pearlman has admitted that the head-lice treatment he was selling for $285 is really a commercial skin cleanser, Cetaphil, that could be bought over-the-counter for $10:

Dr. Dale Pearlman got widespread media attention and skepticism from some head-lice specialists last year when the journal Pediatrics published his study detailing results with a product he called Nuvo lotion. He described it as a "dry-on suffocation-based pediculicide" and the first in a new class of nontoxic lotions for head lice. And as of yesterday, his Web site still said the costly treatment was available only at his Menlo Park, Calif., office. But now, in a letter to the editor for release today in the December issue of Pediatrics, Dr. Pearlman says the treatment "was actually Cetaphil cleanser," available over the counter nationwide and abroad, and made by a company with which he has nothing to do.

So he was reselling $10 soap for $285. But does his treatment, which involves "having patients apply the lotion and dry it with a hair dryer to suffocate head lice" really work? He seems to think it does, though he doesn't have a lot of credibility left.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 06, 2005
Comments (8)
Status: Satire mistaken as news
Last week The Onion ran a story reporting that increasing numbers of elementary-school art teachers are coming down with "glitter lung" (aka pneumosparklyosis), a disease caused by inhaling too much glitter.

"When art teachers spend so much time in confined quarters with inadequate ventilation amid swirling clouds of glitter, it's only a matter of time before their lungs start to suffer negative effects," said Dr. Linda Norr, a specialist in elementary-school-related respiratory diseases. "Those sufferers who are not put on a rigorous program of treatment often spend their last days on respirators, hacking up a thick, dazzling mucus."

Apparently the story quickly made its way to online forums frequented by elementary school teachers, where some people mistook it for a serious article. This has prompted the lung disease specialist on to post a statement assuring people that "There is no such lung disease as Glitter Lung":

Although powdered glitter, not the typical square-flaked glitter, could be inhaled should someone throw a large handful of it into the air, it is not a danger when used as indicated. Furthermore, the larger, most common square flaked glitter is too large to pass down into the lungs and cause lung disease.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 30, 2005
Comments (16)
Status: Snake Oil
image The makers of MagneurolS·6 promise that this little pill has some remarkable properties. It will give you "the ability to plug into Earths complex magnetic fields" thereby enhancing your extra-sensory perception and psychic abilities. Of course, never mind that its ingredients are nothing that you can't find in any vitamin supplement costing far less than $49 a bottle. You won't care about such trivial matters once your sixth sense (S·6) has been awakened. One potential danger, however. When taking Magneurol, some users report that "they can 'feel' the radiation, or something like it, emanating from the [cell]phone where they could not do so before." Of course, with the psychic powers the pill bestows, you shouldn't need a cellphone. So that radiation won't be a problem.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 22, 2005
Comments (63)
Status: Scary scam
An Indiana dentist has been charged with diagnosing patients with cavities that didn't exist. This is the kind of thing that feeds the popular paranoia about dentists:

The attorney general's office said Dunlap diagnosed three patients with cavities, but the patients sought second opinions and were found to be cavity-free. State officials said Dunlap diagnosed a child with 10 cavities in June, but another dentist found that the child did not have any cavities. A similar complaint was filed by a patient in May 2004, said Staci Schneider, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.

Personally, I've never had a cavity. But one time a dental assistant cleaning my teeth told me I had three or four cavities. Luckily the dentist who checked her work recognized that the 'cavities' were just grooves in my teeth.
Categories: Con Artists, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 10, 2005
Comments (44)
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