We all have friends who warn us against dangerous products or forward us cautionary e-mails. But is there any truth to these warnings? Or are they simply common consumer myths? I decided to find out whether these three claims are founded in reality — or based on rumors.
Sodas contain carcinogens
You may have heard about the cancer-causing ingredient in your carbonated beverage. Someone told me orange soda contains a carcinogen. Is that possible? I checked with a scientist at Consumer Reports magazine, Urvashi Rangan, to get to the bottom of this claim. Rangan says it’s true. Turns out, benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, is formed when two ingredients found in some sodas, fruit punches, and juices react together. The ingredients are either a combination of sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, which is vitamin C, or potassium benzoate and ascorbic acid. When a beverage containing these ingredients is exposed to intense light or heat, benzene can form, Rangan says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently working with beverage companies to reformulate their ingredient list, so benzene will not form under any circumstances. However, the FDA says, even if benzene is formed, the levels are very low levels and aren’t a cancer risk. In the meantime, the beverage industry is working with individual companies to make sure their drinks are stored and sold properly without exposure to too much light or heat. If you are concerned about benzene, carefully read the labels on your beverages.
Cell phones cause infertility
A recent study presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine may cause some men to watch how much they talk on cell phones. Using their cell phones endlessly, may have some affect on their sperm. The study, done by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, evaluated 361 men and found the more they chatted on the cell phone, the bigger the impact on their fertility. It can affect their sperm’s motility, mobility, and shape.
The thinking is that the cell phone’s electromagnetic waves may cause the body temperature to increase from head to toe. This study is preliminary. Even Dr. Ashuk Agawol from the Cleveland Clinic, who conducted the research, is not giving up his phone. So for this one, the jury is still out. Studies haven’t been done on women to find out if cell phones affect their fertility.
OTC medicines cause strokes
I received an e-mail from two friends warning me to toss many of the over-the-counter medications I use and give to my three-year-old son. The e-mail claims many medications that you can buy in drug stores cause strokes or bleeding in the brain. Of course, I panicked and wondered what ills I could have done to my son. So we had to check this one out with the FDA. They agreed it was a problem. But that was back in 2000. The FDA called for a recall of cold and cough medications containing called phenylpropanolomine, or PPA. Drug makers complied and took them off the market. Currently, drugs do not contain this ingredient. While it was rare, some people, mostly women, did suffer strokes after taking drugs containing PPA. So check your meds to make sure you don’t have some of older bottles hanging around.
If you have a myth you want “Today” to check out. Write to me below. We’ll try to find out if it is a reality or a rumor.
Janice Lieberman is the “Today” show’s consumer correspondent. She joined NBC News as a consumer reporter in 1999. She is author of “Tricks of the Trade: A Consumer Survival Guide.” She is a graduate of Rutgers University.
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