Forget Those Old Wives Tales
Five facts about women’s health
By Elyse Notarianni

Going to bed with your hair wet will give you a cold, shaving your legs will make the hair grow back thicker. Some of the “truths” you’ve grown up hearing may just be old wives tales passed through the generations. Some may be helpful, but some are outright wrong, and following them could hurt you. That’s why we checked in with SJ doctors about these popular healthcare myths (sorry, mom).


MYTH: Urinary incontinence only happens if you’re over 60.

Raise your hand if you ever peed a little when you sneezed but didn’t want to talk about it. Don’t worry – it’s more common than you think.

“Urinary incontinence is a sensitive, personal issue for most women,” says Woojin Chong, MD, an Inspira Health urogynecologist. “It can be difficult to discuss this, even with your doctor, but it’s important to seek care when you need it.”

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to experience incontinence, especially after childbirth or some surgeries. Though it is more common in older women, incontinence can happen at any age. Even things like medications, caffeine and infections can cause incontinence.

“By practicing pelvic-floor exercises, such as Kegels, at least three times a day, it’s possible to significantly improve the strength and stability of pelvic muscles that may have weakened over time, or due to pregnancy,” says Chong. “Women should focus on staying active, eating healthy and avoiding habits like smoking to prevent a whole host of health issues, including incontinence.”


MYTH: You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding.

It is true that it’s unlikely, but don’t let that fool you.

“If you’re nursing exclusively before the baby is 6 months of age and you haven’t gotten any periods, then you likely won’t get pregnant because you aren’t ovulating,” says Lauren Weissmann, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Axia Women’s Health Management. “There is a little truth to this myth, but what makes it dangerous is that it’s hard to tell when you start ovulating. You can concieve before you ever miss a period.”

That means you don’t necessarily have to stop breastfeeding to have another child.

“If you’re getting regular periods, you may have no problem conceiving while breastfeeding,” she says. “But it can make it more difficult. Especially if someone is seeking fertility treatments, we recommend you do stop breastfeeding.”


MYTH: People who get cosmetic surgery only care about their looks.

A nip here, a tuck there – cosmetic surgery changes your appearance, but if you think it’s just for aesthetic reasons, you’re missing the point.

“People equate the word ‘appearance’ with ‘vanity,’ which simply isn’t true,” says Lyle Back, MD, a plastic surgeon at the Cosmetic Surgery Center of Cherry Hill. “It’s about emotions.”
Let’s say, he continues, a woman comes into his office for a nose job.

“She may tell her friends and family that she just wants it to look a little cuter,” he says. “But in my office, she’ll say she feels so insecure that it keeps her from stepping into the public eye. A little change can bring a lot of confidence.”

There are also reconstructive surgeries, like when a woman gets a breast reconstruction after cancer, or surgery to remedy a birth defect, like a cleft chin.

“In these situations,” Back says, “the primary reason for getting plastic surgery is more medical, but at the end of the day there’s still a huge emotional impact.”

“If you start digging into the real reason people are getting these cosmetic procedures, you’ll see very deep emotions at the heart of their decision,” he adds. “That’s not something to judge, and it’s definitely not vain.”


MYTH: If you have digestive issues, it must be a gluten allergy.

It seems like everyone has a gluten allergy these days, but despite the ever-expanding selection of gluten-free food, not all stomach problems stem from the same cause.

“Gluten allergies are becoming more mainstream,” says Krysta Johns-Keating, MD, a gastroenterologist at Virtua Health. “People sometimes reach for the first answer to explain their symptoms instead of the right answer.”

Many common gastrointestinal diseases have similar symptoms, so it’s best to see a doctor for testing.

“Come in with facts as opposed to a predetermined diagnosis,” Johns-Keating says. “Know your symptoms, when they started and how often you’re experiencing them. Also keep an eye on dietary changes, bowel movements or your weight.”

If you’re intent on altering your diet, discuss it with your doctor first, especially before undergoing any medical testing. The sudden change could alter test results, Johns-Keating warns.

“I think it’s wonderful that people try to be involved with their care and do their own research, but it’s also important to talk to your doctor about all your symptoms and concerns,” she says.


MYTH: Vitamins lead to the fountain of youth.

There is no magic pill that will make your skin look like you’re Forever 21, so don’t believe the hype. Vitamins and supplements are good, but they won’t transform your skin in one bottle.

“Taking vitamins orally and hoping it’s going to affect a specific area of your body is reaching,” says Steven Davis, DO, a plastic surgeon at Davis Cosmetic Plastic Surgery. “When it goes through your GI tract, your body may not absorb it at all.”

You’ll see quicker, better results in the little glass jars on your nightstand, he says. “Vitamin A is great for your complexion, but you’re going to need to eat a lot of carrots to start seeing the effects. Whereas something like a retinol cream will show results in a matter of weeks.”

“That’s not to say that a trip to the health food store won’t do wonders,” he adds. “But that’s a long-term commitment. If you’re looking for noticeable change, stick with creams and serums.”

May 2020
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