Belief in Conspiracy Theories about Health


        Apparently, nutty ideas, once widely disseminated, are often impossible to dispel. Over the past 50 years, numerous conspiracy theories have arisen about cancer about, cell phones, spread of HIV infection, genetically modified foods, vaccines, water fluoridation, and alternative medical treatments. What remains unclear is whether the American public supports such conspiracy theories or whether they correlate with actual health behaviors.

    A recent study§ found that health-related conspiracy beliefs are indeed common. Researchers who studied the responses of 1351 U.S. adults to an online survey have concluded that conspiracy beliefs are widespread and are correlated with various health-related behaviors. For example, 37% agreed that the FDA is intentionally suppressing natural cures for cancer because of drug company pressure; 20% agreed that corporations were preventing public health officials from releasing data linking cell phones to cancer; 20% that doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know such vaccines to be dangerous; and 12% agreed that fluoridation is really a secret way for chemical companies to dump dangerous waste products into the environment. Overall, 49% agreed with at least one medical conspiracy theory, and 18% agreed with three or more. The study also found that conspiracism correlates with greater use of “alternative” medicine, i.e., treatments that lack scientific confirmation, together with avoidance of scientifically supported medicine. The so-called “high” believers were more likely to buy farm-stand or “organic” foods and use herbal supplements and less likely to use sunscreen or get flu shots or annual checkups.

    Anyone who believes and behaves according to any or all the above nonsensical information is doing so at one’s own risk, possibly even placing his/her own very life in jeopardy!

§ Oliver JE, Wood T. Medical conspiracy theories and health behaviors in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine, March 17, 2014




Myths about Hard and Soft Water

Most folks think hard water is bad in general and it should be replaced by soft water. The “softening” process is usually accomplished by applying various chemical agents to hard water.
But what causes water to be “hard”? Most water from public sources and wells is considered hard because it contains variable amounts of calcium and magnesium. Both of these minerals are classed as “contaminants,” but that’s a poor choice of words, for calcium is essential in our diet, and magnesium is also helpful! Although these minerals promote hard deposits on plumbing equipment and interfere with cleansing of dishes and clothing, drinking hard water might promote better health, as I explain below.
In most water softening devices, hard water flows through synthetic resin beads. Sodium ions (salt) are loosely attached to each bead and the water exchanges hardness ions (calcium and magnesium) for sodium ions. Thus soft water contains variable amounts of sodium, a mineral that may pose a threat to health by elevating the blood pressure, or at least causing more difficulty in managing this problem if present. In areas with very hard water, the process of softening water coming from your tap can actually add a significant amount of sodium to your diet. The harder the water, the more sodium the softening system must add to replace the dissolved calcium and magnesium. In order to figure out how much sodium your softener is adding, your local health department can usually tell you how hard your water is. Generally the hardness of your water is expressed in “grains per gallon.” You can multiply this number by 8 to find out how much sodium (expressed in milligrams per liter) will be added to your water by your water softener. In general, typical softened water contains about 12.5mg of sodium per 8oz glass. If this water were graded according to the same scale the Food and Drug Administration uses for foods, it would be considered “very low sodium.” But if you live in an area with very hard water, or tend to drink a lot of tap water, this extra sodium can start to add up. Studies have shown that significantly decreasing sodium intake can lower your blood pressure by an appreciable amount.
Emerging evidence suggests that hard water may prevent cardiovascular disease, at least in comparison with soft water. A recent study (Int J Prev Med. 2014 Feb;5(2):159-63), deriving data from the year 2010, water calcium content above 72 mg/L was associated with reduced number of cardiovascular events per 1000 population; and similar decreases in 2011 for calcium levels of more than 75 mg/L. The level of water magnesium content ranged from 23 to 57 mg/L. By increasing magnesium levels above 31 mg/L in 2010 and above 26 mg/L in 2011, decreased cardiovascular events were recorded. The researchers concluded that, in all likelihood, water hardness, mainly water magnesium content, could prevent or reduce cardiovascular disease. Further experimental studies are necessary to determine the underlying mechanisms and longitudinal studies are required to study the clinical impacts of these findings.
How should the individual react to this information? Drinking hard water should be encouraged in preference to soft water, especially if the later is high in sodium content. This might be facilitated most easily by hooking up water softeners only to the hot water source, which is used for washing but not drinking, or you may want to consider a water-purification system that uses potassium chloride instead of sodium.