Medical Myths from Dr. Oz Explained

Was Everything Your Mother Told You Wrong?

The Dr. Oz Show recently took on the topic of whether or not the common guidance that your mother gave you was actually wrapped in myth. You can check out the segment HERE. I was happy to get the call to try to add some visual demonstrations to bring home the concepts of these myths. The segment was a lot of fun, and everyone a the show is amazing. Despite all the big demos, there was some interesting medical science discussed. I spoke with some audience members after the show that had a lot of questions about the myths. While I’m obviously am not a doctor, I thought I’d share my explanation of some of the science behind these interesting myths from the show:

MYTH #1 Eating Too Much Sugar Will Make You Hyper
It seems to be a common idea that when children eat a lot of sugar they quickly become active and energetic. The demonstration with the celery and the gummy bear shows just how much energy can be released from foods. It also showed that, without a doubt, sugary foods pack quite a punch when it comes to releasing energy. Here is where the myth comes in: simply eating sugar does not make you hyperactive. It just gives you a source of energy to tap into. You could eat a candy bar and use that energy to run around the block, but it will not MAKE you want to run around the block. If you decided to read a book, the energy from the candy bar would be stored as fat. As Dr. Oz  pointed out, kids tend to eat a lot of sugary snacks in environments that would get them excited and give them reason to run around and be active such as a birthday party, Halloween, or just having a friend over after school.

MYTH #2 Breathing in Helium Will Kill Brain Cells
This was a fun demo. The audience was laughing so much from Dr. Ozs’ Barry White voice, I’m not sure they heard all his explanation. In case you missed it, here’s a recap: At some point in our lives, we are all likely to breathe in a balloon full of helium and enjoy the comical Daffy Duck voice that follows. When I was growing up, I was told that this was a bad idea and that brain cells were being destroyed. The good news is, breathing helium does not kill brain cells. The bad news is that breathing helium can, in fact, kill you — but not because of the helium, rather because the lack of oxygen when you inhale the helium. As you breathe in a balloon full of helium, you are not breathing in any oxygen, which your cells need -  usually we get this from the air we breathe. The lack of oxygen that comes from breathing in helium can cause fainting or even asphyxiation and death. This is especially likely if you were to breathe several balloons full of helium without getting enough oxygen in between. The bottom line; avoid breathing any gas that is not already in the air around you.

But why does your voice change with helium? Helium makes your voice sound higher pitched because helium is six times lighter than air and sound travels through helium faster than it does through air. The result is that the low sounds of your voice get “suppressed”  by the less dense helium and you hear the high tones of your voice. Our sulfur hexafluoride demo had the opposite effect; because it is more dense than air, it drowns out the higher sounds sounds and emphasizes the lower pitch (really timbre) of our voice. On a sulfur hexafluoride side-note, there is a great guy that I get my liquid nitrogen from that NEVER smiles, I mean, never. That all changed when I visited him with the tank of sulfur hexafluoride, took a breath of it from a balloon, and did my best evil laugh…we got a smile from him.

Myth #3 Bundle-Up in Cold Weather or You’ll Catch a Cold
Well this makes sense, after all they must call it a “cold” for some reason. The producers of Dr. Oz had seen talented science educator Steve Spangler make smoke rings during his appearance on Ellen and they really liked the visual. Since you catch a cold from bacteria and viruses, and NOT a cold environment, we used the smoke ring vortex generator as a way to visualize the germs that were spread out during a cough. It ultimately demonstrated that despite whether you are bundled up or not, germs that cause a cold and flu can still get to you – so wash your hands regularly with a moisturizing foam soap soap.

Myth #4 – Hydrogen Peroxide is a Good Way to Disinfect a Cut?
Before we started this demo, Dr. Oz  asked how many people in the audience have used hydrogen peroxide to clean a cut. We were both surprised to see that almost the entire audience raised their hands. Perhaps we should not be surprised, after all, it says right on the bottle that it can be used to disinfect a cut. Hydrogen peroxide works as a disinfectant by releasing oxygen when it comes in contact with an enzyme in the body called catalase. That is why putting hydrogen peroxide on an open cut will create bubbles — the bubbles  are actually filled with oxygen and in some cases that oxygen-rich environment can kill bacteria. The downside is that it can also harm healthy cells surrounding the cut. Some evidence also points to the fact that the reaction happens to fast in a cut to make much of a difference.  For that reason, hydrogen peroxide is not a good choice for disinfecting most cuts although it is used in other applications for disinfecting. The larger demonstration with the flasks showed a very fast release of oxygen from a 30% hydrogen peroxide solution (store-bought hydrogen peroxide is 3%.) During rehearsal, the flask shot foam so high into the air and it hit the lights above, and we were hoping you would do that during the show.  It turns out the bottle of hydrogen peroxide that was used during the show was slightly older and less powerful than the bottle used during rehearsal, but it was still just as messy nonetheless.

Hopefully that explains the myths a bit more. I hope you enjoyed the segment and that it made some medical and not so medical science fun to watch.

Comments

7 Responses to “Medical Myths from Dr. Oz Explained”
  1. pgh1nc says:

    As a chemistry teacher for 36 years, I always gave my students a spelling list the first week of school. On this list were the names of the elements sulfur and fluorine. Obviously, the producers of the recent Dr. Oz show didn’t take my class. They had sulfur hexafluoride spelled sulfer and I think hexafluoride was misspelled as “hexafouride.” In fact, that word is spelled correctly and also incorrectly in the text above.

    If we can’t trust the spelling on the show, can we trust the information?

    How about soluable, percipitate, phosphorous, (*the element) . I forget the rest.

  2. ScienceBob says:

    You are so right! I wish I had caught that. The art department of the show is amazing, but clearly they missed that one.

  3. iac16 says:

    Peroxisomes contain enzymes that work by transferring hydrogen from a substrate to oxygen, thereby producing hydrogen peroxide as a by-product. Hydrogen peroxide is toxic to the cell, but peroxisomes also contain an enzyme that is capable of converting hydrogen peroxide to water. So is H2O2 still dangerous

  4. Teter1468 says:

    Hydrogen peroxide is okay to disinfect cuts, and it doesn’t sting badly like 70% alcohol. It disinfects cuts, but it stings badly. Is H2O2 dangerous?

  5. meyer1234 says:

    the valcano one was awsome!

  6. Jim587 says:

    In regard to myth # 4 Hydrogen peroxide is a good way to disinfect a cut?

    I have to say I’m pretty surprised by the lack of study on this question. Hydrogen peroxide is superior in killing infection. Every kind of infection. So is ozone. They both work similarly by a powerful release of free radical oxygen atoms. The free radical oxygen atoms tear holes in bacteria and viruses killing them, however cells that comprise living tissue in humans and animals are are more resistant and are not affected this way. The key is giving the hydrogen peroxide or ozone sufficient time to work.

    Hydrogen peroxide is produced naturally by our white blood cells. When a person takes a large dose of high quality vitamin C it instantly stimulates white blood cells in a powerful manner.

    With a little research the writer of this blog would have found that hydrogen peroxide and ozone have already been used by doctors, externally and internally, on patients with different kinds of diseases, successfully. It has even been used to irradicate HIV from the body.

  7. ScienceBob says:

    Thanks for the comment. The segment really aimed to point out the fact that hydrogen peroxide, in general, is not effective in killing bacteria in small wounds. This was based on a number of documented studies including a study published in The Journal of Family Practice in 1987, one from the American Medical Association, and another study in The American Journal of Surgery that examined over 100 appendectomy patients and found that hydrogen peroxide did not reduce the risk of infection. Dr. Oz himself, uses hydrogen peroxide from time to time in surgery, but on cuts and scrapes, hydrogen peroxide has very limited value. Most journals recommend bacitracin as an effective replacement.

    http://www.jfponline.com/index.php?id=22143&tx_ttnewstt_news=172190
    http://www.jprasurg.com/article/S1748-6815%2809%2900523-3/abstract

Add a comment...

Is there something you would like to share about this post? Here's your chance.
Rule: Be sure to keep all comments positive and useful. (Comments are reviewed before getting posted)
Kids should check with their parents before signing up.