I’ve always been interested in the basis for understand how ‘we know’ things that we know. As a result of this, I became a philosophy major at Arizona State, and although I focused most intently on the Platonic Dialogues, and the Philsophy of Science, Epistimology (theories of knowledge) was an area of fascination.
How do we know that the earth is round? I believe it…I’m sure you do, and perhaps I could give you some arguments to prove my case, but much of what we believe turns out to be based on commonly held wisdom that has been proven true by scientists, or explorers, or some other person, and then become among the general knowledge that we all carry around with us.
In medicine, there are lots of popular thoughts about different topics that are just plain ‘false’, but due to popular acceptance, they are perpetuated as true, despite little basis or proof or even when there is a great deal of data to the contrary. It is hard so shake a popular held belief. Even when I say them to my close friends and family, and swear that it’s true, they will no believe me as it is so ingrained in popular mythology.
What are some of these ideas? Below are just a few instances of beliefs about specific chemicals that we ingest, and how they affect us, despite little of no evidence.
1. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) is bad for you and causes people to get sick
Not true. MSG has a fascinating history, developed in Japan with the discovery of UMAMI, the ‘savory’ flavor of taste. It is safe to use and other than it’s sodium (salt content) does not cause issues with health. You can read this Wikipedia article to read some unbiased information on the topic.
2. Sulfites are common in wines (and are not found in other food items). This wine preservative causes headaches in many people.
Not true. There is very little evidence that it is Sulfites that cause issues with drinkers, it is more the alcohol content or dehydration that lead to trouble. Read this article from the Wall Street Journal, that was recently written on the topic.
3. Gluten sensitivity is common and causes a variety of symptoms that bother most people’s digestion. It should be avoided.
False. Gluten is a protein found in wheat. When I was in medical school, we learned about Celiac Disease, an immune disorder of the small intestine that is 100% caused by gluten in the diet, but there is no evidence that gluten sensitivity exists to any major degree outside of this small group of patients with true Celiac Disease. Sure, eating a lot of grains and starches may not be the best food choice for most people, and they may notice improved digestion when they avoid such substances, but there is no scientific evidence that gluten itself is causing major issues for people’s health or digestion. Despite this, the food industry is using this perception to help sell a whole host of products. Read more about this topic in these two articles from SLATE MAGAZINE>>>