Health Column: Getting all the truth about health myths

Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Don’t sit too close to the TV or you’ll need glasses. Put down that spicy chili dog or you’ll give yourself an ulcer. These are health claims so pervasive that it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. What should you believe? We asked local medical professionals to weigh in on some of the most popular myths.

1. Spicy foods cause ulcers

You can rest easy after eating that bowl of curry or cayenne pepper-laced chili. Spicy food won’t give you a stomach ulcer.

“Spicy foods, and in particular capsaicin, do not cause ulcers,” said Dr. Joseph Duva, a Riverhead gastroenterologist. “Spicy foods may aggravate symptoms, but do not cause damage themselves.”

Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Duva said, ulcers are usually caused by a form of stomach bacteria. And while the method of transmission isn’t completely clear, he said, the germs appear to spread from person to person. The infection is cured with antibiotics.

2. Local honey can cure allergies

Allergy season is once again upon us — and some people say eating a daily tablespoon of the local variety has helped ease their hay fever by gradually exposing their bodies to nearby allergens, thus immunizing them against allergies. But you should think twice before taking a spoonful, said Dr. Myron Zitt, a Plainview allergist and immunologist.

“As far as I know, there is no evidence-based information supporting the anecdotal benefits reported for the use of honey in treating or preventing allergy symptoms,” Dr. Zitt said. “There may even be some downsides, as people with pollen allergies or bee venom sensitivity could experience adverse reactions to ingesting honey.”

3. Sitting too close to the TV will hurt your eyes

“What you’ll do is you’ll strain your eyes, but it’s pretty rare to harm them or do any kind of permanent damage,” said Dr. Louis Pizzarello, an ophthalmologist with offices on the North Fork and in Southampton. “But you’ll get headaches and achiness.”

It’s not all good news, though: Eye doctors have noticed an uptick in the number of children age 5 and older who are nearsighted, Dr. Pizzarello said. The culprit? Propping smart phones and iPads too close to their faces. To decrease your child’s risk, put the tablet away and head outside.

“The more time you spend outdoors the more you minimize the risk of nearsightedness [in children],” he said. “So encouraging outdoor play, getting kids to look at things from a distance — that really makes a difference.”

4. For optimal health, drink at least eight glasses of water a day

This isn’t a myth, per se, said registered dietitian/nutritionist Lara McNeil of East End Nutrition in Riverhead. But people should keep in mind that current guidelines recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

“It’s not as much water as it seems,” she said. “I think that’s maybe misunderstood sometimes.”

In addition, Ms. McNeil said, recommended water intake is largely individual and can be calculated based on weight. For a rough idea of how many cups per day you need, multiply your weight by .5 and then divide by 8. You can also visit

If you don’t like drinking water outright, Ms. McNeil said, you can up your intake by eating foods high in water content, like celery, watermelon or soup.

Have a health column idea or question for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected].