A busy Boston architect, Brooke Trivas gets tons of emails. She usually
responds to them quickly, replying or deleting as needed. But a recent email,
sent by a friend, was so unnerving it required more attention.
Leading brands of lipstick contain lead, the message warned -- at levels
high enough to cause cancer. The warning cited as its source a doctor from a
hospital breast cancer unit in Toronto. The message included a plea to share
the news, and Trivas did, forwarding the email to 10 friends, worried they had
not yet heard about this bizarre health hazard.
What is acupuncture? Acupuncture applies needles, heat, pressure, and other treatments to certain places on the skin to cause a change in the physical functions of the body. The use of acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM is a medical system that has been used for thousands of years to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Acupuncture is based on the belief that qi (vital energy) flows through the body along a network of paths, called meridians. Qi is said to affect a...
Soon, she learned the truth: the email was a hoax.
Health hoaxes, of course, have been around since time immemorial, but thanks
to the Internet, disseminating them has never been this quick or easy. In
minutes, fearful recipients can forward the warning to their entire address
books, sometimes spreading anxiety unnecessarily.
WebMD talked to experts, including those who investigate the health alerts,
and asked for the lowdown on 6 popular health alerts. We also asked why it's so
hard to ignore them, and got some tips on how to recognize the next hoax before
you click "Forward."
1. Lead in Lipstick Causes Cancer?
The email warns readers that one brand -- Red Earth -- recently lowered its
price from $67 to $9.90 because "it contained lead. Lead is a chemical that
causes cancer," the email says, going on to list seven other brands of
lipstick alleged to contain enough lead to be harmful.
The truth? The claim is false. While lead exposure can be dangerous, it's
not been linked to cancer. And lead levels in lipsticks are low and not
regarded as dangerous by the FDA, which regulates cosmetics, says Rich Buhler,
who checked out the lipstick claim for his Internet hoax web site, Truth Or
Fiction. His verdict on the lipstick claim: baseless.
2. The Supplement Cold fX "Feeds" Women's Hormonal Cancers?
Soon after this over-the-counter cold and flu remedy hit the U.S. market
from Canada in late 2006, the emails began, warning that it could feed hormonal
cancers in women.
False, says Barbara Mikkelson, who with her husband David operates the web
site Snopes, dedicated to unraveling hoaxes, rumors, and urban legends.
She checked in with a variety of sources, including the Canadian manufacturer,
who actually had found in a preliminary study that the active ingredient may
have anticancer properties.
3. Bananas From Costa Rica Make You Sick?
This email, first circulated in 2001, claims Costa Rican bananas were linked
to cases of necrotizing fasciitis -- better known as the life-threatening
"flesh-eating bacteria" disease.
The CDC web site has a page called "Health Related Hoaxes and
Rumors" where it posts information for the public. After an investigation
on the banana rumor, the CDC labeled the emailed warning false, noting that the
bacteria that cause the disease often live in the human body and the typical
transmission route is person to person. The bacteria can't survive long on a
banana surface, the experts point out.