Depending on your point of view, this week's health news was either a triumph of science over conventional wisdom or a confusing mish-mash of findings and reports that had people wondering whether they should purge their homes of supposedly healthy vitamin pills, antibacterial soaps, blood pressure meds and chicken breasts. Even Santa came in for some scrutiny. Here's what you need to know:
You probably don't have a major vitamin deficiency.
Despite our so-so diets, most of us manage to get adequate vitamins in our food. That's why you don't see a lot of scurvy these days. But it's also one reason studies that attempt to find health benefits from multivitamins and other supplements often fail to do so. When the latest such studies came out this week, a group of doctors editorializing for a leading medical journal said "enough is enough" and urged Americans to stop wasting their money on the pills. Others say more study is needed. And everyone agrees certain supplements make sense for certain people – including women of childbearing age, who need adequate folic acid to prevent birth defects.
You should keep washing your hands.
Hand-washing is a powerful weapon against colds, flu and stomach bugs. But many consumers were probably surprised to hear to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan have not been proven any better than plain soap at preventing illness. The popular soaps may even carry some health risks, says the Food and Drug Administration. So the agency is asking manufacturers to prove their safety and effectiveness.
You should keep taking your blood pressure medications.
New guidelines suggest the risks of blood pressure medications – such as dizziness and falling – outweigh the benefits for some people over age 60 who have numbers in the lower end of the range now routinely treated with drugs. But experts from the American Heart Association disagree and no one is suggesting that people stop any medications they already are taking This is a case where the advice to "talk to your doctor" is crucial.
You can still eat chicken.
But it's not unreasonable to be a little freaked out by the news, via Consumer Reports, that 97% of raw chicken breasts in grocery stores harbor some kind of bacteria that could make you sick and that 11% carry salmonella. Bottom line: you need to handle and cook raw chicken with real care, which means keeping it away from other food, scrubbing up afterwards and using a food thermometer to make sure it reaches 165 degrees. (But, no, mom was wrong: you should not wash the chicken before you cook it -- that just tends to spread the germs around).
Santa has been naughty
Florida drivers spotted the jolly one atop a billboard smoking not his traditional pipe (which is absent from many modern depictions), but a Vapor Shark e-cigarette, ABC News reports. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids was not amused and called it "a new low" in marketing the nicotine delivery devices to young people.