Anyone for a tongue scraper – or a light to stick up your nose We look at popular products to see if they're worth buying
23:06 GMT, 7 May 2012
23:07 GMT, 7 May 2012
Most of us are keen to preserve our health and when a new product comes on to the market that claims to do just that, the temptation can be great.
But which of these are true health essentials and which are just hype, destined for the back of the bathroom cabinet
A recent report in the Drug And Therapeutics Bulletin claimed that even insect bite creams — a staple of most people’s first aid box — are a waste of money. The researchers said there was little evidence these products work and suggested people use a cold flannel to treat a bite instead.
Here, we look at other popular products to see if they are worth buying — and the simple, home-made alternatives that work just as well.
Mouth about that: Tongue scrapers are a waste of time, said one expert
These plastic hand-held devices are marketed as a way to keep the mouth clean and the breath fresh. Most have a circular loop on the end that you drag across the tongue to remove the furring — debris and bacteria — that may build up there.
‘They aren’t really necessary,’ says Professor Damien Walmsley, science adviser to the British Dental Association.
‘There are a number of different causes for bad breath, such as having a dry mouth — which allows bacteria to concentrate around your teeth — or not cleaning and flossing correctly, but having a dirty tongue is not high on the list.’
Expert view: Dirty tongues generally don't cause bad breath
What to use instead: ‘For most people, brushing the teeth twice a day and flossing at least once a day to remove any bacteria around the tooth or the gum line will be enough to keep the mouth fresh,’ says Professor Walmsley.
If you really want to de-fur your tongue then gently run your toothbrush over it after brushing, he adds.
VITAMIN C TABLETS
‘Double dose’ or ‘high dose’ vitamin C tablets are a common sight on the pharmacy shelves. Vitamin C is needed to keep cells and connective tissue healthy.
Adults need around 40mg a day but many supplements contain 1,000mg or more, and some people take them believing they will maximise their chance of fighting off colds and other infections.
‘The problem is that the body cannot store vitamin C so taking extra does not give any benefit — it will just get passed out of the body in urine,’ says Neal Patel, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
‘In fact, in 2007 the respected Cochrane Collaboration reviewed the evidence from 29 trials involving more than 11,000 participants and concluded that vitamin C does not reduce the incidence of colds in most people. Therefore, taking high doses as a preventative measure was not justified.
‘Although it is an essential nutrient, vitamin C does not stop you getting a cold.’
The Department of Health recommends that only children aged six months to five years need take supplements due to smaller appetites and fussy eating habits.
What to use instead: Eat a diet with a variety of fruit and vegetables. An adult can get the recommended daily amount of 40mg from one medium-sized orange.
ALLERGY LIGHT PROBES
Costing in the region of 30, light probes consist of two probes which are inserted up the nose and emit a red light at a special frequency. This is said to help overcome allergic rhinitis — an allergy to, for example, cat hair, pollen or dust mites that leads to sneezing and a runny nose.
The idea is that you insert a probe in each nostril for around five minutes a few times a day. It’s claimed the light affects the metabolism of the cells in the nose, slowing down the immune response and reducing the release of histamine, the chemical that triggers allergic type symptoms.
‘I have been dealing with allergic rhinitis for more than 20 years and I cannot see anything about these that would indicate they would work,’ says Dr Adrian Morris, a specialist at the Surrey Allergy Clinic.
‘They do claim to have trials that show they are effective but I would think there is probably a big placebo effect. These would not affect the release of histamine and even if they did, the effects of these probes would, at best, be local to where the light is shining.
‘There are lots of nooks and crannies up the nose — the sinuses are like a system of caves — and I don’t see how shining a light in one spot could desensitise the whole area to an allergen.’
What to use instead: ‘Antihistamines are effective — and if, in the case of hay fever, you take them early in the season, before the symptoms start and regularly, then they will work,’ says Dr Morris.
‘The other alternative is a nasal filter. These are like tiny corks that you put up your nose that contain a small filter to prevent allergens getting into the nose.’
These promise extra cleaning power with more convenience than an electric toothbrush, which needs to be kept charged by the mains.
‘The problem is that they don’t have enough power,’ says Professor Walmsley. ‘An electric toothbrush will give a more thorough brush.’ The other issue is that as the battery starts to run down, the power will fade, but not enough for you to notice it, meaning you don’t clean as well.
Smiles better: A manual toothbrush can be just as good as an electric one if used properly, said one dentist
What to use instead: A hand-held toothbrush used correctly is just as good as a battery-powered one, says Professor Walmsley.
‘I always say it’s not the cost of the toothbrush that matters, it’s how you use it.
‘However, studies show that an electric toothbrush with a round head that works with a rotation/oscillation effect [where the brush head spins a quarter-turn in one direction, then a quarter-turn in the other] is slightly better than a manual one.’
There is no doubt that hand washing is an important way of insuring yourself against illness. Many of us fork out for antibacterial soaps or hand gels that can be used without water, which claim to contain antibacterial agents that kill germs.
‘When you wash your hands it is the detergent action of the soap and the agitation of rubbing your hands together that is most effective at removing dirt and cleaning your hands,’ says Dr Ron Cutler, director of biomedical science at Queen Mary, University of London. ‘And so you don’t really need to use antibacterial soap.’
Furthermore, antibacterial gels without water generally won’t help to dislodge the dirt, he says. ‘And in the case of something like colds or norovirus — the cause of the winter vomiting bug — these are viruses and not bacteria so can’t be eradicated by antibacterial products.’
What to use instead: ‘Just use a normal bar of soap and warm water as soap works best in warm conditions,’ says Dr Cutler. ‘Rub your hands together for 20 seconds, rinse, then dry them thoroughly. If you leave your hands damp, this enables bacteria left on your hands to flourish.’
Body washes have become popular among women as a way to deodorise and keep clean — some are also marketed as a gentler way to wash as they maintain a healthy pH balance, unlike soap.
However, not only are these not necessary, but they could do more harm than good.
‘The inside of the vagina naturally has some bacteria but if you wash these away you create an imbalance,’ says Dr Hugh Byrne, a consultant gynaecologist at the Lister Hospital in south-west London.
‘Without these bacteria to keep their numbers in check other organisms such as the yeast that lead to thrush can then take hold. These products are pretty pointless.’
What to use instead: ‘Just wash the external surrounding skin on the upper part of your legs as you shower or bath but don’t worry about doing any more than that,’ says Dr Byrne.