Busting Three Summertime Health Myths

Last week, we heard that the first case of West Nile virus is upon us here in Baltimore.

The story comes after plenty of alarms about Zika, Lyme disease, and a tick that makes you allergic to red meat.

We wrote about these pests a few times in our sister publication, Health & Wealth Bulletin (here and here). Specifically, it’s still a slim chance you’ll get any disease, particularly if you use some common sense and a good bug repellent (like this one).

All this misinformation about summertime diseases got us thinking… With thousands of folks swimming, camping, and indulging in summer treats – what other sources of misinformation are out there?

That’s why today we’re busting three popular summertime myths…

Myth No. 1: Chiggers lay eggs in your skin.

Our managing editor, Chris, suggested this creepy-crawly myth thanks to the high number of pests we face each summer. I’ve heard this one too, and the associated ways to “kill” these eggs. Think: bleaching your skin. Please don’t do this.

Chiggers are little red mites or “berry bugs” that live in grassy and wooded areas. They don’t burrow into or lay eggs in our skin. However, they like to climb onto our skin and drill into it – they don’t bite specifically, but they do eat away at our skin. The enzymes they use to break down our skin for a meal are what cause the resulting itchy bumps that are enough to drive you crazy.

These bites are essentially open wounds, so you don’t want to introduce bacteria. Wash the area completely with soap and water. Apply anti-itch creams like cortisone and take some Benadryl or other antihistamines to help with the itching. Whatever you do, don’t scratch. That’s why you can forget nail polish – there’s no bug in there to suffocate. You can try something like New-Skin, which has an antiseptic. Sealing the bites this way can help keep itching down while still cleaning the area.

Myth No. 2: You’ll drown if you swim after eating.

The whole idea of waiting at least 30 minutes after a meal before swimming stems from blood flow. Many might think you need more blood for digestion and therefore you could experience severe arm and leg cramps because of reduced blood flow to your limbs.

That’s simply not true. Cramping is more often due to dehydration. And a main cause of drowning is actually alcohol, not eating beforehand. So if you’ve been drinking a lot, steer clear of the water.

You are, however, more likely to experience heartburn or nausea if you overdo the exercise after eating. That means if you go back to the water, just take it easy.

Something our boss, Dr. David Eifrig, loves to recommend is the 20-20 rule. Wait 20 minutes after eating and then go for a 20-minute walk. Light to moderate exercise like this helps keep blood sugar regulated and will make you feel much better. It’s a pretty good rule for swimming, too – ease your way back in, but save the diving and more vigorous activity for later.

We think this is a pretty good rule for swimming, too – ease your way back in, but save the diving and more vigorous activity for later.

Myth No. 3: Low-cal ice cream is “healthier.”

Low-calorie ice cream isn’t a healthy alternative. The problem with ice creams like Halo Top or Enlightened is that they use artificial sweeteners like Stevia or sugar alcohols like erythritol.

Erythritol can cause annoying symptoms like gas, diarrhea, and headaches… and more concerning, there is no evidence on its long-term safety. It’s only been around since the mid-90s (remember Olean and Olestra?), and it can lead to weight gain. When our bodies taste something sweet, they expect calories. If you don’t consume calories, you’re left hungry and wanting to eat more. That’s why many sugar substitutes still contribute to weight gain. Having fat in your ice cream, like you get with the real thing, helps you feel fuller as well.

Despite having fewer calories and little to no “real” sugar, the health benefits of low-calorie ice cream are minimal… It may sound healthier, but it’s not.

Regular, full-fat ice cream, particularly types like gelato with less sugar, will keep you feeling full instead. What’s more, sharing some with friends helps cut the calories you’d get from a large serving yourself.

So if you want some ice cream on a hot summer day, try the 20-20 rule here, too. Go outside and support a local business or even your neighborhood ice-cream truck. Enjoy a scoop with friends, relax, and take a 20-minute walk. It gets you out and social, which is important for both your mental and physical health.

Have you heard any summertime health stories and want to know if they’re true? Send them our way at [email protected].

Here’s to a fresh start,

Amanda Cuocci & Laura Bente
July 29, 2018