Biomedical Data vs Myths

Alexander Sirotkin

 Ph.D., Dr.Sc., Professor, Constantine the Philosopher University, Nitra, Slovak Republic.

Address: Nabrezie mladeze 91, 949 74 Nitra, Slovak Republic.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Abstract: Attention is drawn to some health-related myths believed as factual by consumers for enhancing the quality of life. They include beliefs ranging from environmental contaminants as inhibiting reproductive functions, to a fat-reduced diet supplemented by botanical protein and carbohydrates consummates along with breakfast skipping as aiding in the prevention of obesity, to a link between plant phytoestrogens and antioxidants to increased reproductive activity and fertility. This paper contends that such mythic beliefs or consumer tendencies have no biomedical basis. They persist for a) they are satisfying psychological and physiological requirements forms an imagined quality of life or image of one, b) they contribute to economic growth and circulation of money, and c) they await socio-scientific investigations to ferret out any scientific truth that has escaped attention so far.

Key words: health, quality of life, environment, animal, plants, reproduction, obesity, contaminants, genome and industry.

Received at April 20, 2020.

How to cite: Sirotkin, Alexander (2020). Biomedical Data vs Myths. Researcher. European Journal of Humanities & Social Science. 2 (3), 117–125.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.32777/r.2020.3.2.7 

Introduction

Admittedly, we adhere to rules and sage advice for a healthy life for we desire to be healthy and beautiful. Rules may include medical doctor’s directions or advice or nutritionist recommendation or hat of other certified healthcare practitioners or professionals. And for a variety of reasons the advice, recommendation, or treatment may be dropped, especially if in the short term no result is forthcoming to encourage staying on the path or treatment. Both the young and the old may resort to suggestions offered by social media and magazines to maintain a healthy life. Or consumers may succumb to glancing at the supermarket healthcare ads or product label which may have eye-catching images or carry claims relating to improved heath performance or recapture the pallor of youth and glow of good health. The labeling or lifestyle narratives, whether in social media or on the product or through word of mouth in the marketplace, feed on myths about health and well-being. And in fact, the myths get confirmed because of a thriving industry. Competitive marketing gives economic advantage and provides for employment by comingling fads and facts on improving quality of life through consummates such as tablets, drinks, lotions, creams, gels, and powder, or physical activities. Some are botanical-based and held out as having a biomedical basis. In this COVID-19 pandemic or epochal shift, mythic claims of connection appear quite appealing psychologically, economically, and in the face of social isolation for the public good, as a last resort for some sectors of communal life.

Mythic Interconnection

We are witnessing that today. The contemporary development of economics and resulted growth of wealth and individualism are turning people’s interest from the problems of simple survival and reproduction to problems of maintaining the quality of life, especially of health. The industry reacts to this demand by the production of several medical preparations, diets, and bits of advice towards a healthy way of life. Their production and promotion meet the physiological and psychological requirements of the people and their imaginations. On the other side, producers actively form common repute. The careful analysis of products and imaginations related to health from biomedical viewpoints brings to light, that a substantial part of these imaginations represent common prejudice who have never been validated by biomedical studies or that they don’t correspond to the available scientific data. We draw attention to some of the questionable health care claims about health grounded more in desire and imagination, hence mythical, rather than on scientific evidence.

One of the common-sense facts that is more a mythical given is expressed by the claim that environmental contaminants jeopardize life, health and reproduction. On the other hand, despite extensive study and public discussion of the adverse effects of environmental contaminants, there still no strong experimental evidence for it. This opinion is based mainly on the indirect indices ― association between health disorders rate and occupational exposition of the limited number of people to environmental contaminants (Sirotkin and Harrath 2017; Tarko et al. 2020; Tenailleau et al. 2020) or presence of these contaminants in tissues (Bocato et al. 2019). The available data concerning the association between exposure to contaminants and objective physiological parameters are few, contradictory and usually inconclusive (Louzen et al. 2019). These data failed to demonstrate causal interrelationships between environmental contaminants and health. Experiments on humans are unacceptable for ethical reasons. Therefore, the available evidence concerning the effects of contaminants on health-based mainly on animal experiments with supraphysiological doses of contaminants. Moreover, sometimes even this evidence is ambiguous. For example, there are indications, that benzene and xylene, which are commonly considered as a dangerous oil-related environmental contaminant, cannot suppress, but promote ovarian cell functions (Tarko et al. 2019; Sirotkin et al. 2020).

The increased prevalence of obesity is another problem, especially among the wealthy, including children and youths. For it is recognized to have an adverse influence on human health, self-esteem, outlook on life, and one’s professional and social status. Some popular diets intended to reduce fat accumulation recommend eating less fat and more carbohydrates and proteins. On the other hand, they ignore the fact, that obesity can be facilitated not only by the consumption of fats but proteins and carbohydrates as well. Lipids can be produced in the metabolism of proteins (Schutz 2011) and carbohydrates (Schwartz 2017). Additionally, carbohydrates trigger the production of insulin, which activates the storing of fat (Bray 2013). Therefore, fat stores can grow not only from fat intake but from carbohydrates and proteins as well. For example, high protein intake from protein diets during bodybuilding can lead to obesity instead of weight loss (Bray et al. 2012; Popp et al. 2019).

Many people are sure, that obesity could be prevented by skipping breakfast. Nevertheless, the majority of studies did not confirm this hope. Some authors even state that skipping breakfast was linked to higher obesity rate, worse quality of nutrition (Ahadi et al. 2015; Monzani et al. 2019) and increased levels of fat and risk of cardiovascular diseases (Monzani et al. 2019; Paoli et al. 2019). 

Some anti-obesity diets recommend the consumption of medicinal or functional food plants. On the other hand, some of these recommendations are made mainly based on animal or in-vitro studies. Our critical analysis of the most popular plants and their components used in weight loss showed, that only 33–43% of they were more or less scientifically proven and have an anti-obesity effect in clinical studies. Ríos-Hoyo and Gutiérrez-Salmeán (2016), examined in detail the clinical tests of 10 recently discovered plants, which are actively advertised by marketers ― beans, Garcinia cambogia, bitter orange (Citrus Aurantium), Hoodia gordonii, forskolin, green coffee, glucomannan, beta-glucan, chitosan, Guar gum (polysaccharide from guar beans, Cyamopsis tetragonoloba), and raspberry ketones (Rubus idaeus). They concluded that none of these preparations can be conclusively considered efficient in the treatments of obesity in humans. According to the authors, the clinical tests of these preparations were either not carried out yet or they were carried out on an insufficient number of patients, or the results were either insufficient or contradictory.

Another example of myth can be the application of plants for improvement reproduction. The folk traditions, influence of eastern medicine, lack of satisfaction with synthetic pharmacological drugs and food producers are promoting the wide application of some plants containing phytoestrogens and antioxidants for improvement of not only metabolism but also of reproduction and fertility. The corresponding studies however demonstrated the ability of popular green tea (Baláži et al. 2019), turmeric/curcumin (Kádasi et al. 2017), rooibos, ginkgo (Štochmaľová et al. 2018), fennel (Tarko et al. 2020), flaxseed (Štochmaľová et al. 2019), and their constituent phytoestrogen quercetin (Tarko et al. 2018, 2019; Sirotkin et al. 2019a,b) not improve, but directly suppress animal and human ovarian cell functions. These unexpected data should be taken into account by the consumption and overconsumption of these popular plants.

Myths concerning health can be exploited not only for promoting some health-related products but also for complications of selling of concurrent’s products in competitions between the producers. For example, the current EU regulations concerning restricted production, distribution, and obligatory labeling of genetically modified products (mainly of USA origin) are based on the common aversion against all “artificial” biological products including genetically modified organisms. These organisms could have some specific or non-specific differences with common ones due to alterations in specific target genes or non-specific genome destabilization (Sirotkin et al. 2008a,b). On the other hand, foreign DNA and RNA cannot be transferred to consumers due to nucleases ensuring degradation and digestion of all the foreign nucleic acids. Decades of investigation, production, evaluation, and consumption of genetically modified plants and animals did not reveal any negative, but only positive features of such organisms (Karalis et al. 2020).

The myths, examples of who were listed above, can be unsafe for a society that is generating them. Propagating fake information is a distraction from the use of the correct medicine and therefore delays the use of what medically necessary for true health improvement. Sometimes disinformation can induce incorrect steps that cannot improve but worsen the current health status. In this case, disappointment with the undesirable results of treatment can result from disappointment with the medicine and science at all. The psychological and consequent administrative concerns against genetically modified organisms can complicate competition between the food producers, progress in agricultural “green revolution” and solution to the problem of hunger in the world.

Nevertheless, the myths listed above do not get discarded easily. There is a plus side to them. They lend support to creating new consummates and producers, and therefore they support economics, development of technologies and creation of job positions. Furthermore, sometimes myths may have a useful role in health and health care studies concerning autosuggestion and placebo effect. Finally, validation of common myths can promote biomedical studies and knowledge-demanded technologies based on scientific data.

Conclusion

Healthcare myths, as with myths relating to other aspects of our humanity, do have to be considered with caution, in the quest for an improved quality of life or either to prolong or recapture the vigour of youth. Myths have negative sides when annexed to serve consumer desires for an enhanced quality of life. It is the application or interpretation of myths that get confused with factual claims, and not the myth or sage advice itself. Despite that, an objective analysis of myths concerning health by specialists from different disciplines can provide moral and material benefits both to science and to the whole society. Hence, this discourse may serve to strengthen the resolve to exercise caution about health care preventative measures at both a personal and societal level, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic situation. At the same time, it urges for further socio-scientific investigations, research-oriented work in bioscience, to ferret out in the healthcare myths any claim or fact that may be of benefit to society.

Acknowledgement: Gratitude is expressed to Prof. A. H. Khan for his help in editing this manuscript; to the Slovak Research and Development Agency (projects no. APVV-15-0296), and the Scientific Grant Agency of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport of the Slovak Republic (project VEGA 13-ENV1321-02) for support of the present studies.

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