I have practiced the art of medicine for 20 years and enjoy it immensely, however, I am here to admit that medicine has many grey areas and there are few absolute black and white answers. With so many variables to contend with when dealing with the human body, there will inevitably be some conflict of ideas or approach to treatment. But sometimes, a trend develops and treatment avenues become outright “ruts of habit” rather than best option scenarios. That’s when “myths” become embedded in a culture. I want to discuss some of these myths with you and hopefully reignite the search for better answers.
The first area I want to explore is the area of breast health and mammography as this is a big concern for millions of people locally and globally.
MYTH: Mammography finds breast cancer in the early stages of disease.
FACT: Most breast cancers have been present and growing for 5 to 8 years before mammography discovers them.
MYTH: Mammography is highly accurate and is all you need to ensure breast health.
FACT: The false positive rate of mammography is 80 to 93 percent. That means if a mammography shows a mass that is suspicious for cancer there is an 80 to 93 percent chance that the mammography is wrong. The problem is that these false positives need to be addressed with breast biopsies in order to rule out cancer. This provokes a lot of anxiety as well as physical discomfort. Furthermore, 10 to 15 percent of women with an active breast cancer go undetected by mammography. The cancer gets missed but offers false reassurance that all is well.
MYTH: Mammography is the only tool we have to test for breast cancer.
FACT: Breast “thermography” is a great adjunct that when used in conjunction with self exam and mammography would increase sensitivity (the ability to find cancer) to 98 percent and would reduce the need for unnecessary surgeries. MRI is now also being used for breast evaluation but suffers many of the same limitations of mammography and offers very little improvement in specificity.
Reality check: Breast cancer is the number one killer of women between the ages of 40 and 52 yet the largest mammography studies to date question whether this test is of any benefit to women under the age of 50. The number of women screened in order to find and stop one death per year ranges from 7086 to 63,264 to infinity depending on which study you read. Most breast cancers are slow growing and are not palpable until they are greater than 1 centimeter in size. By that time a full 25 percent have already metastasized. The cost in inefficiency of this system not to mention the fear and pain caused by false positives leads us to pursue new answers. Something as safe and simple as thermography deserves a closer look by every woman. It detects heat patterns from increased blood flow associated with tumor growth.
Osteoporosis is another area with more myth than fact. We have this misguided belief that if we swallow jugs of calcium, our bones will be fine. Wrong.
MYTH: I drink milk to make my bones strong because it contains lots of calcium.
FACT: Only 30 percent of the calcium in milk is even available for absorption by the human body. On top of that, milk is an acidic animal food that requires your body to pull calcium and magnesium salts from your bones to buffer the acidic load. This results in a net loss of calcium. The National Dairy Council sponsored a study in 1985 to show how good milk was for the body and it backfired. They had women drink three additional glasses of milk per day and when measured they were losing calcium at a faster rate than the control group. There are countless studies showing the futility of trying to strengthen bones with milk or calcium. It is only part of the equation and a much more important variable is your physical activity and your vitamin D status. Get your blood level of vitamin D checked.
MYTH: Milk is the best source of calcium.
FACT: Green vegetables offer a greater source of calcium that is more bioavailable (easily absorbed and used by the body). Bok choy for example has four times the amount of calcium compared to milk, calorie for calorie. Following shortly behind is brussel sprouts and broccoli. The lowest osteoporosis rates in the world can be found in Africa where milk consumption is nonexistent. They eat green vegetables. Eskimo’s have the highest rate of osteoporosis. Have you seen any broccoli growing on the side of a glacier?
MYTH: A DEXA scan will reliably demonstrate the health of my bones.
FACT: DEXA scans (dual energy x-ray absorptometry) is a radiologic tool that calculates bone density. It does this by comparing your bone density to a reference range but here is the kicker: There is no standardized reference range. Each manufacturer uses their own and sometimes the standard is laughable such as the case of one U.S. DEXA scam manufacturer that used college age athletes. Would you really like anything on your body compared to a young college athlete? This obviously leads to wide variability in readings. In fact one Canadian study had a women go to two different DEXA scan centers for measurement and she walked away with a clean bill of health from one and a report of osteoporosis and instructions for treatment from the other. Your bone density varies with the seasons, your gender, regional variances and many other variables. If you are going to get a DEXA scan then at least go to the same center every time to eliminate one of the variables.
MYTH: The only way to improve my bone density is to take lots of calcium and maybe a drug.
FACT: Calcium is not the answer. If your vitamin D status is low then you can only absorb 10 to 15 percent of all the calcium that goes through your gut. If your calcium is calcium “carbonate” then your body can’t absorb it to any significant extent. If you take too much calcium then your body will shut down absorption, as it is able to recognize over abundance and regulate itself. Your bone density will drop as you age. That is normal and natural and is not a predictor for fracture. Aging is not a disease so don’t become fixated on a number. I think a better approach is to take action to preserve your bone by observing better lifestyle habits that won’t pull the valuable calcium you have out of your bones. Acidic lifestyle habits such as drinking soda pop, milk, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, eating processed foods and refined sugar pulls calcium from your body. Getting physical exercise on a daily basis is far more beneficial than taking calcium. If you are going to take a calcium supplement then consult with a qualified health care professional that can direct you toward proper forms and dosages of calcium. I like calcium citrate or micro crystalline hydroxyapatite at 600 to 1000mg per day if you have some documented osteoporosis. Get your vitamin D status checked.
There’s a lot of controversy about vaccines in the media right now, so here’s the last myth and fact as my final parting thought.
MYTH: Vaccines are safe and effective for me and my kids.
FACT: Most vaccines contain thimerisol which is a form of mercury and is very toxic. The Federal government just recently admitted that there is a connection between thimerisol in vaccines and autism. There are more than 4,900 cases pending in federal court. A typical child will receive 32 vaccines by the time they are 2 years old. If you took all the mercury in those vaccines and gave it to an adult male in one dose, it would be lethal. Do you want to inject this much mercury into a young developing brain?
One mans myth is another’s religion. The best you can do is keep your ears and eyes open to new ideas as the world is always changing.