There are so many reasons to look forward to 2020— an exciting election year, the start of a new decade, and the finish of an old one. This year is a long-awaited favorite of my ophthalmology colleagues—the one claiming clarity, focus, and a clear vision towards the future. The list of allusions to 20/20 vision is endless. It’s also a year of fun calendar factoids: a February 29th (on a Saturday, so it shouldn’t add much to most people’s work weeks), two “Friday the 13ths,” and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays falling on Thursday/Fridays, making for two neat and tidy four-day weekends. But the end of one decade and the start of another is also a time to reflect on the many successes and many foibles advancing science, health, and medicine. There have been so many successes, yet the ones that were supposed to be advances but ended up being quite the opposite are just as important to mention.
While there have been so many pseudo-scientific fake facts filling the internet over the past decade, my top five health recommendations that were the biggest flops are as follows:
- Delaying Vaccines:
In 1998, just before the turn of the millennium, Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent research study which was later retracted from the Lancet, where he claimed that exposure to the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine led to the development of autism. The entire study was later found to be fake, but the notion of vaccines causing autism took off like wildfire. Celebrity voices chimed in, and the modern anti-vaccination movement as we know it was born. In the early 2000’s, many parents were choosing to forego vaccinations altogether, mainly due to this one fraudulent study accompanied by celebrity support. In this past decade, the sentiment has shifted to families and a handful of physicians creating tailored vaccine schedules, despite large studies demonstrating that the vaccine schedules recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Centers for Disease Control have recommended otherwise. The thought process on the part of parents and a few wayward physicians was to somehow keep their kids healthier by avoiding exposure to too many vaccines early in life. However, there is no evidence that this is healthy. Quite the contrary. The result of these delays has been widespread disease outbreaks, both in the United States and throughout the world. The current devastation in Samoa, with dozens of un-vaccinated children dying from a measles outbreak is just one example of how either delaying or foregoing vaccines is bad medicine and bad public health practice.
- Drinking Bottled Water
The bottled water industry certainly did not begin during this decade, but the growing list of supplemented waters, with vitamins, alkalinity, extra oxygen, specific electrolytes, and extracts for energy has really gone off the deep end. Some waters claim to make you smart, some will make you calm, some give you extra energy, and some will give you better focus. What all of these waters will actually give you is a lighter wallet, and more polluted oceans. According to the organization “Habits of Waste” (HOW), over 50 billion water bottles were used last year in this country alone, and fewer than 10 percent of those were recycled. In addition, tap water costs about fifty cents per year per person, while annual individual cost of bottled water is about $ 1,400. There is no evidence that any of these waters really make any difference health-wise, and if your tap water supply is safe, that is the healthiest and best public health way to go.
Juice detoxes continue to be all the rage in many wellness circles, as many people feel that cleansing their body of toxins leads to better health and better well being. But here’s the great reality: we have built-in detox centers working around the clock: our gastrointestinal tract, our urinary tract, and our sweat glands never take a day off, so forget about whether the juice cleanse is a 3-day or 30-day plan. We’ve all signed up for lifetime plans, and only in cases where one of our excretory organs goes on the fritz do we need some intervention, which is best served in the form of a medical specialist. But juices are less healthy than any fruit or vegetable that you’d eat, as the juicing process simply concentrates any sugars (yes, even vegetables have sugars) and removes the healthiest part of the fruit or vegetable— the fiber. And nobody needs mega-doses of any of the vitamins contained in concentrated fruits or vegetables. Extra vitamin C just gets peed out (thanks again to your internal, built-in detox center called the kidneys) and too much of some vitamins such as vitamin A can overload in other detox centers such as your liver. Eat some fruits and vegetables every day, pulverize them with your teeth, juice them in your gut, and you can throw out your expensive juicer. As for store-bought juices? Check out the nutritional labels. The “no added sugar” claim on the front can translate to over 50 grams (10 teaspoons) of so-called “natural” sugar (ie, sugar) in a single serving.
While we now know that vaping is by no means healthy, we may forget that vaping, or electronic cigarettes, were initially designed as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco cigarette use, with many folks having excellent results in safely transitioning from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes to no cigarettes at all. Unfortunately, the last step was a tough one, as addictive nicotine is highly concentrated in e-cigarettes, often times more so than in traditional ones. With e-cigarette marketing clearly targeted to teens and tweens, the vaping rage hit middle schools and high schools hard. Kids were becoming addicted to nicotine, which was a significant problem in and of itself. But the even more serious problems hit in 2019, where vaping-related acute lung failure and deaths began popping up around the nation. Thought to be due to “bad”/unlicensed vaping oil products, laced with vitamin E acetate or marijuana, the vaping industry held firm that these incidents were not from their products. In any event, what was initially thought to be a healthy option for adults addicted to cigarettes soon became a dangerous fad for teens, followed by a deadly endeavor.
- Yoni Eggs (And Other Various and Sundry Vaginal Stuff)
The vaginal jade egg (or “yoni’ egg), popularized by Goop, was and continues to be a source of strength and serenity for some. But for most, including physicians, namely in gynecologists’ offices, it’s a source of infection. False claims about the vaginal jade egg leading to improved sexual energy wound up as a $ 145,000 settlement for false advertising. Along with vaginal eggs came vaginal steaming (burns included), vaginal rejuvenation procedures, and vaginal cleansers. None have any medical or health benefits, but all carry avoidable risks. And back to the bit about juice detoxes being unnecessary to detoxify, vaginas also are built with internal detoxing systems, so all of the extras, unless recommended by one’s doctor to treat an active infection, can do more harm than good. In an era of increasing debates about women’s reproductive rights, the goals towards adding vaginal interventions and products in order to boost a woman’s power is completely misleading. Just as women should be left alone to make reproductive decisions, their vaginas should be left alone, too. Those yoni eggs sure can be nice to look at, but keep them as decorative items, not bodily inserts.
And here’s to a Happy New Year! Filled with real health advances and absent of pseud0-health steps in the wrong direction.