While YouTube videos about the flat-Earth model and how Stanley Kubrick shot the moon landing at Area 51 are a fun way to pass an evening, conspiracy theories aren't so fun to think about when they detail actual threats to your health. Here are some of the more notable health-related conspiracy theories, and how credible they are.
Zika was created by the Rockefellers and spread by genetically modified mosquitoes
Zika was not created by the Rockefellers, nor is it a biological weapon, nor is it caused by vaccines. Zika is an old-school virus first isolated in 1947, when it turned up in mosquitoes researchers were studying for yellow fever, another mosquito-borne disease. There's some uncertainty around Zika -- scientists aren't 100% sure it causes microcephaly in babies born to women who have the virus, for example, though they're 99.9% sure. Add to that the fact that scientists are still figuring out all the ways it can be transmitted, and the uncertainty creates a breeding ground for conspiracy theories.
It's true that genetically modified mosquitoes exist, but they're a strategy to prevent Zika… needless to say, this makes some people uneasy. Uncertainty and a lack of information also make it difficult for people in the US to get a Zika diagnosis. "[It's] impossibly hard to get tested in this high-risk area," says a Gulf Coast resident who recently tested positive for Zika. "Most healthcare providers have zero clue what the protocol is and asked me how to go about testing for it. I literally spoke to 12 healthcare professionals before I made [the blood test] happen. The [Centers for Disease Control] knows so very little about this illness -- due to mishandling of cases, perhaps -- that there's no telling what kind of damage I've inflicted."
Truth-O-Meter: Total myth. Healthcare conspiracy to get people sick and benefit Big Pharma? Or gross incompetence? You be the judge. (My money's on the latter.)
Breast implants are toxic bags full of poisonous chemicals and mold...
... but plastic surgeons put them in people anyway, because there's so much money to be made.
Silicone breast implants have a turbulent history: embraced in the 1980s, they were suspected of causing autoimmune diseases in the 1990s and yanked from the market. After reviewing exhaustive meta-analyses, the FDA concluded silicone breast implants were safe and approved them for the market. However, more and more people are choosing implant removal (the procedure's popularity has tripled since 1997), even women whose boobs arguably helped make their careers. Viral sensation Sara X and Playboy playmate Crystal Hefner both cite breast implant illness as their reasons for explanting, saying they have suffered from a host of autoimmune issues post-breast augmentation.
The science says there's no correlation between implants and autoimmune diseases. But silicone implants can rupture, causing silicone to migrate to other parts of the body, possibly causing fibromyalgia. And saline implants can harbor mold, which sets off a host of reactions in the body, including neurological symptoms, weight gain, and vision loss. In rare cases, implants can cause large cell lymphoma.
Truth-O-Meter: A kernel of truth. Autoimmune diseases are probably out, but breast implants aren't exactly health-promoting devices.
Vaccines cause autism
We get it: autism is on the rise, we don't know why, and that's scary. In 2012, one in every 68 children born in the US was diagnosed with autism -- up from one in every 150 in 2000, according to the CDC. But one thing we do 100%, absolutely, positively know for sure? VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM.
There's no debate about this. The misconception started when (former) doctor Andrew Wakefield falsified data in a 1998 study that hypothesized a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and autism. Though Wakefield has been stripped of his medical license and his (finger quotes) research has been totally discredited, the anti-vaxx movement he spawned lives on, in the form of 37,000-member-strong Facebook groups and the occasional celebrity spokesperson.
Truth-O-Meter: Nope. But this persists to the point that some people even think there's a conspiracy to conduct mass vaccinations via aerosols… which brings us to the next point.
You may not have heard this term before, but you've almost definitely seen the criss-crossed, linear clouds it refers to. They're innocent little jet trails of condensation from commercial jets, right? NOPE. They're CHEMTRAILS. And depending on the person you talk to, the "chem" in question is either a vector for group inoculation, a way to dope the masses up with lithium, a visual barrier for hiding alien aircraft, a tactic to control the weather… you get the gist.
That's a lot of different theories, but pretty much all believers agree chemtrails contain toxic chemicals. I don't have to go into detail about why this is wrong, do I? If you remain a chemtrail truther, check out weather blogger Dennis Mersereau's blog. Then relax and take a walk in the sunshine. It's fine to do that, because aliens aren't actually hiding behind a wall of opaque neurotoxins, waiting to harvest your flesh.
Truth-O-Meter: I mean… are you willing to see through the lies?
Kidding, this is fake.
Doctors and factory farmers are dishing out antibiotics unnecessarily, creating superbugs
Got a cold? Have some antibiotics! Allergies? Take some antibiotics and call me in the morning. Acne? Antibiotics will clear that right up! Yeah, doctors are extremely antibiotic-happy, which has contributed to the rise of new, drug-resistant bacteria that kill 23,000 people a year, according to the CDC. What's more, large-scale meat production has contributed to the problem, thanks to farmers' habit of indiscriminately dosing their livestock with antibiotics. Yep, it's a full-blown crisis.
"The world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill," Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization's assistant director-general for health security stated in a 2014 press release.
Truth-O-Meter: Maybe this isn't exactly a conspiracy, but we're heading for the age of "super gonorrhea," so it warrants a place on your radar.
Big Pharma suppresses natural cures to diseases like cancer, AIDS, and more so it can get rich peddling its drugs
This is the granddaddy of health-related conspiracy theories, and some variant of it exists in every controversy I've listed so far. You can't really disprove it, because who knows what's going on in those board rooms and laboratories and private jets -- maybe it really is evil drug schemes and orgies 24/7. After all, the pharmaceutical industry isn't exactly known for its virtue.
"Much of what the drug industry does fulfills the criteria for organized crime in US law," Dr. Peter Gotzsche, author of Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare, stated in an interview. "They behave in many ways like the mafia does, they corrupt everyone they can corrupt. They have bought every type of person, even including ministers of health in some countries. … The drug industry buys the professors first, then chiefs of departments, then other chief physicians, and so on, they don't buy junior doctors."
But is it intentionally withholding the cure for serious diseases like AIDS and cancer? Well, depends on how you look at it. Take HIV/AIDS as an example. HIV-positive people are living longer and longer, but that's mostly true for wealthy populations, which tend to be better able to follow lifelong antiretroviral treatment protocols. If HIV-positive patients in Africa receive proper treatment, they have life expectancies similar to their HIV-negative peers. But that's a big if, dependent on cost and logistics and politics and all sorts of other factors that probably have their own conspiracy theories. So there's not really a cure for AIDS that's being withheld, but there are people who could use the available treatments, but fail to get them.
Truth-O-Meter: It's pretty unlikely that anyone's discovered an herbal tea that can cure AIDS in one fell swoop, but there are all sorts of systemic issues that make the drug delivery process look a whole hell of a lot like a conspiracy.
In conclusion, don't swallow every pill a doctor wants to give you until you Google the conspiracy theories surrounding it. And think twice before swallowing those, too.
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