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Chewing gum, spiders and jellyfish stings -- all with a dose of skepticism

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Thirst is not a signal that you’re already dehydrated. Dog mouths are not cleaner than human mouths. And spinach doesn’t get extra credit as a strength-enhancer. Ha.

So say Drs. Aaron E. Carroll and Rachel C. Vreeman in “Don’t Swallow Your Gum: Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health,” released this week.

The physicians, both at the Indiana University School of Medicine, combed through medical research to assess the evidence, not the anecdotes, behind various notions and misconceptions.

Some of their conclusions won’t be a surprise: Flying while pregnant is safe. The best way to cure a hangover is not to drink too much. Yeah, yeah…

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And they spend considerable time clearing up misconceptions I didn’t know people had: The belief that an average person swallows eight spiders a year, for example. Or that one’s eyeballs will pop out if the eyes aren’t closed during a sneeze. (How could I have missed these? I’m on all sorts of e-mail lists.)

And of course, they weigh in with actual studies on some of the more controversial health-related topics: co-sleeping with infants, fluoridated water, vaccines and autism, the possibility that Halloween candy could have been poisoned…

But much of their research is useful in either a “so-now-I-know” or “ha-I-suspected-it” kind of way. Among them:

* Double-dipping with chips really can transfer bacteria into the dip, especially if the dip is runny (as with salsa – and no, the acid level won’t save you).

* Mayonnaise-containing food such as potato salad is far less likely than unwashed fruits and vegetables – or undercooked meat – to make you sick at a summer picnic.

* The five-second rule won’t protect dropped food from germs, but then germs aren’t the only issue.

As for swallowed chewing gum, unless you’ve downed a pocketful of change as a chaser, it will simply be eliminated along with more traditional waste.

Some things, they admit, they just can’t answer. There just aren’t data. Letting someone urinate on a jellyfish sting, for example…

They conclude: “Our motto in this situation would be: ‘When in doubt, don’t let someone pee on you.’ ”

Skeptical and practical.

-- Tami Dennis


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