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.

Create Bubbles & Heat With Simple Chemistry

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Sarah Toney homeschools four active boys ages 2, 4, 6, and 8 in Tennessee. She recently tried out a simple experiment to help her boys observe a cool chemical reaction.

For Sarah’s experiment you will need:

  • 1 tsp (5ml) dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) hydrogen peroxide (should be handled only by adults)
  • stirring stick
  • thermometer

react1Procedure:

  1. Record the temperature of the hydrogen peroxide and place it in a small bowl.
  2. Add the dry yeast to the peroxide and stir
  3. Watch for changes in the mixture and the temperature

react2Sarah writes:
“The goal of the experiment was to observe a chemical change that produces heat. My boys got to see the different indicators that a chemical change was taking place- bubbling, fizzing and the temperature on the thermometer was going up. They were actually pretty amazed by this one. I keep listing the ways to tell if a chemical reaction has taken place….they’ve seen the bubbling, they’ve seen the gas given off…..I guess they didn’t really believe that heat could actually be created by just mixing 2 things.”

Another great part of this experiment is that the bubbles produced contain oxygen. This can be demonstrated by lighting and blowing out a wood match or splint. When the smoking match is brought near the bubbles, it re-ignites from the oxygen.

react3How does it work?
Hydrogen peroxide is H2O2. Than means it is water with an extra oxygen. The yeast contains a chemical called catayse that releases the oxygen creating the bubbles and it also releases heat (an exothermic reaction.) This is a simple version of our Fantastic Foamy Fountain experiment. The instructions for that experiment can be found HERE.

You can make this a true experiment by adjusting the amount of yeast and peroxide to try to get the greatest increase in temperature. You can also dissolve the yeast in water before adding it to the peroxide to see if that has an effect.

Visit Sarah’s blog post HERE.