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You’ve got hoaxed

Email warnings about cancer-causing shampoo ingredients and heart attack-inducing energy drinks clog mailboxes and add to the general paranoia about all those countless health risks that we are unsure about.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2009 23:06 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Email warnings about cancer-causing shampoo ingredients and heart attack-inducing energy drinks clog mailboxes and add to the general paranoia about all those countless health risks that we are unsure about. Using pop scientific jargon, they usually quote credible research organisations or whistleblowers who are out after losing a battle with their conscience. Almost always, they are hoaxes put out by pranksters.

Take the one about the energy drink Red Bull increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke in both the young and the old. The email says: ‘The caffeine-loaded beverage causes blood to become sticky, a pre-cursor to cardiovascular problems such as stroke. It is banned in Norway, Uruguay and Denmark because of health risks.’ On the contrary, the drink does little more than adding to your total calorific intake and is not banned anywhere.

The newest email doing the rounds is the ‘Cancer Update’ allegedly from Johns Hopkins, a renowned public health institute in Baltimore. ‘Cancer cells cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment. Exercising daily and breathing deeply help to get more oxygen down to the cellular level,’ it reads. On being contacted, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center denied any association. “An email falsely attributed to Johns Hopkins describing properties of cancer cells and suggesting prevention strategies has begun circulating the Internet. We did not publish it nor do we endorse its contents...,” it said.

“Such emails often quote a credible source or use technical and scientific jargon to make outrageous claims sound believable,”said Dr G.K. Rath, director of the Rotary Cancer Institute at the All India Institute of Medial Sciences. So, one should always check for links to the source, such as a scientific journal or website.

The scientific journal Pediatric Nursing has reviewed the circulating emails and issued an advisory on how to spot them — by looking for names and links to the author, links to credible organisations being quoted, requests for money, etc. “In the absence of safeguards, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet. For cancers, the only direct causes are tobacco and to some extent, human papillomavirus 16 &18 strain for cervix cancer. And if you spot the request ‘send the email to everyone you know’, it’s probably a fake. So just press delete,” adds Dr Rath.