brene brown on gratitude
Photo: Leann Mueller
Whether you rely on the evening news, the morning paper, or Twitter, it's hard to miss grabby health stories about all the things that are going to lead to your untimely demise—a daily diet soda, vitamins, your dishwasher...the list goes on. But take heart: The truth is often less scary than the headlines would have you believe. Here's the real story behind some of 2013's most buzz-worthy health scoops.

Headline: There are bugs in your yogurt!

Reality check: Actual bugs? No. Some rosy-hued foods and drinks (think strawberry yogurt or red grapefruit juice) do get their color from carmine, a bright red substance extracted from insects, says Luke LaBorde, PhD, associate professor of food science at Penn State University. But while a small number of people may be allergic to carmine, it's generally safe, and the FDA doesn't consider it a major allergen like peanuts or shellfish. If you can't get over the yuck factor, the ingredient is easy to avoid: It's listed right on the label.

Headline: Air pollution is giving you heart disease!

Reality check: Pollution can increase your risk for cardiovascular problems, though not by much. In a 2013 study in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers estimated the levels of particles from smoke, dust, cars, and, in some cases, power plants in six U.S. communities over more than two years. Those living in the most polluted areas had the most arterial thickening, equal to a 2 percent higher stroke risk than those living in places with the best air quality. "The particles are small enough to reach your lungs, which may trigger inflammation that may then lead to hardening of blood vessels," says study coauthor Sara Adar, assistant professor of public health at the University of Michigan.

Next: Will there be enough doctors next year?
Headline: Come January, there won't be enough doctors to go around!

Reality check: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 14 million Americans should become insured next year, compounding an existing physician shortage. (We already need about 16,000 more doctors, according to one estimate, and the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortfall of 45,400 primary care physicians by 2020.) But if you already have insurance and an established relationship with a doctor, you likely won't notice any change. The newly insured may simply face longer wait times (averaging one to two months) for an initial visit, says Elbert Huang, MD, associate professor at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Headline: Your dishwasher is brimming with toxic mold!

Reality check: One 2013 study tested kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms in 177 homes and found that dishwashers were the number one place for black yeast mold. But that doesn't mean your dishes are covered in microscopic specks of the icky stuff—black yeast was found on the rubber seal of the door, where food gets splattered but doesn't wash away with each cycle. True, the mold can produce toxins that trigger lung infections, says Kellogg Schwab, PhD, the director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Water and Health, but unless your immune system is already weakened, the levels found in the average dishwasher won't make you sick.

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