Our experts tackle claims about women's health
It’s National Women’s Health Week, and we want you to know that small steps toward a healthier you can make a big difference. Check out these tips from the Office on Women’s Health. And, for something that is helpful and fun, read on as OHSU experts tackle women’s health myths.
Claim #1: Going to bed at the same time every night helps with insomnia.
Teni Davoudian, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at the OHSU Center for Women's Health
This may sound right but it’s completely wrong. If you’re dealing with insomnia, it's time to trade in your bedtime for a wake up time. Really.
According Dr. Davoudian, forcing yourself to go to bed at a certain time every night can actually make insomnia worse.
"Women tell me all the time that they make themselves get in bed by 9 or 10, but then they lie awake for three hours," she says. This is a problem because hours of tossing and clock-watching bring stress and anxiety into your bedroom, which should be a calm and comfortable space.
A consistent wake-up time is also what helps regulate your sleep cycle. This makes it the best –and only – place to start when treating insomnia.
"When you first wake up, your body starts to build sleep drive," says Dr. Davoudian. "The more sleep drive you build, the sleepier you get at the end of the day. If you wake up at the same time every day, then your sleep drive will build consistently. This helps get your body clock in sync, and over time you'll start feeling sleepy at a reasonable time in the evenings."
So this means no more sleeping in on weekends for a while. But the good news is, your days of having a bedtime are over. "If you have insomnia, don't go to bed until you're so tired that you can't keep your eyes open," Dr. Davoudian says.
Claim #2: Deodorant can cause breast cancer.
Zahi Mitri, M.D., M.S., medical oncologist at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
This myth is based on concerns about our skin absorbing aluminum from deodorant. Dr. Mitri sets the record straight.
“A study that looked at women with breast cancer found no real difference in the concentration of aluminum between the cancer and the surrounding normal tissue,” Dr. Mitri says. “Other studies have shown no increase in breast cancer risk for women using deodorant.”
The bottom line is that we don’t have evidence that using deodorant increases the risk of breast cancer. If you are worried about your risk, talk to your health care provider about proven ways of preventing and screening for breast cancer.
Claim #3: You can’t get the HPV vaccine after age 26.
Katie Au, M.D., OB-GYN at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health
This used to be true, but in 2018 the HPV vaccine was approved for adults ages 27 to 45.
“It’s ideal to get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, but adults who missed it can still get the vaccine if they are at risk for HPV infections due to their job, health conditions or medications they take,” says Dr. Au.
She recommends that anyone over age 26 who is interested in HPV vaccination talk to their health care provider.
Claim #4: The chemicals in sunscreen are bad for you.
Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Melanoma Research Program at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
This one is tricky.
Dr. Leachman says that we don’t have enough data to decide for certain on this claim.
“We don’t know how much of the chemicals in sunscreen get absorbed, and we don’t know that how much absorption would be bad for you,” Dr. Leachman says.
What we do know, for certain, is that exposure to the sun damages the DNA in your skin cells and increases your risk of getting skin cancer.
“There’s no doubt about that,” says Dr. Leachman. “And one of those skin cancers, melanoma, can be deadly.”
So you have to weigh that certain risk against the potential risk associated with chemicals in sunscreen. Or, as Dr. Leachman does, you can avoid both risks by sticking with mineral sunscreen. Instead of chemicals, mineral sunscreen uses a physical barrier to protect you. It’s less comfortable and less elegant, but it’s very safe.
“Look for sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredient,” Dr. Leachman says. “Zinc oxide, in particular, has been safely used for generations without any problems.”
Claim #5: Brain games can prevent dementia.
Lynne Shinto, N.D., M.P.H., OHSU professor of integrative medicine and neurology
Probably a MYTH
The evidence is not conclusive. Some studies show some games may help a little and others show they make no difference. But there are things you can do that definitely decrease your risk of dementia.
“It’s about lifestyle,” says Dr. Shinto. “Eating a healthy diet, physical activity and social engagement make a big difference.”
There’s one other important element. Dr. Shinto calls it “active brain.”
“People who are still challenging their brains as they age through work, volunteering or learning something new like playing an instrument have a lower risk of dementia,” Dr. Shinto says.
You might think this is where brain games come in. Think again. “It’s not that games can’t challenge your brain, but if you play the same games all the time, you figure them out. You can anticipate what comes next and your brain is less engaged,” says Dr. Shinto.