Fact or fiction: research reveals the truth about common medications

The Bottom Line

  • Misconceptions about medications can have negative impacts, ranging from disappointment (that the treatment doesn’t work) to serious side effects.
  • New research findings contradict beliefs about six common medications
  • Check with your doctor and pharmacist to make sure you’re following evidence-based, up-to-date recommendations for all your medications.  

People believe all sorts of things that aren't necessarily true. Do we really need to wait an hour after we eat before swimming? Will we catch cold if we go outside with wet hair? Many times, there is no harm in believing common myths about our health. However, when it comes to the medications you’re taking, myths and misconceptions can potentially be harmful.

Research reveals that some drugs don’t live up to their claims and in fact, may cause other health problems. Here are six recent examples. Click on the links to find out more about the research and the myth-busting results.

1. Heart health benefits of hormone therapy for menopause?
For many years, women happily signed up for hormone replacement therapy believing it would not only help with those annoying symptoms of menopause, but would also provide some protection against heart disease. Evidence from large-scale studies found that HRT actually increases the risk of blood clots and stroke (1).

News 'flash' for women: the latest findings on hormone therapy for menopause & heart disease

2. Opioids for chronic pain?
Opioid drug addiction – and the resulting healthcare costs and tragic overdoses – have reached epidemic proportions. As a result, the tide is beginning to turn on the widespread prescribing of opioid drugs for relief of chronic pain. Research evidence suggests opioids may actually only provide limited relief and physicians are urged to recommend alternative treatments first, to manage chronic pain, including antidepressants, exercise, acupuncture or mindfulness (2;3).

A closer look at opioids for chronic pain

3. Cholesterol pills to lower risk of dementia?
Promising research evidence suggested that taking statins – cholesterol-lowering pills that improve heart health – could also reduce the risk of dementia. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Do cholesterol lowering drugs help prevent dementia?

4. Antipsychotics for people with dementia?
The distressing behaviours associated with dementia – including aggression, agitation, hallucinations, delusions and wandering/exit-seeking – are the most challenging for caregivers. Antipsychotic drugs help to a degree, which is why they’re widely prescribed, but there are many side effects. Research evidence suggests that non-drug approaches should be considered first. Person-centred care, sensory stimulation and listening to music are three evidence-based drug-free treatment strategies to help ease challenging behaviours (4 ).

Treating behavioural problems of dementia: When confusion leads to controversy

Dementia and antipsychotic medications

5. Vitamin supplements for vision?
Common age-related vision issues include cataract and macular degeneration. Vitamin and supplement companies often claim that taking antioxidants will help you avoid these conditions. But buyer beware! Research evidence shows conclusively that these supplements do not prevent the development of cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (5). However, in those with AMD, antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplementation may slow down the progression of the disease; more research is needed to confirm this (6).

Antioxidant vitamins for eye health? Research evidence provides clarity

6. Prescribed treatment for heartburn?
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – drugs that suppress the production of stomach acid – are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the world. That’s beginning to change as they are recognized as not necessary for many people. Current recommendations are to avoid PPIs altogether, and if they must be taken, to take the lowest dose for the shortest time possible (7).

Got heartburn? Avoid these common acid-blocking drugs

Stay informed to avoid unnecessary medications
Sure, go ahead and drink warm milk before bed and avoid reading in low light. But don’t be so trusting when it comes to the drugs you’re taking.

Medical researchers are always working to test the effectiveness of drugs and treatments as well as assess their risk of side effects, and new findings can contradict long-held beliefs. Staying in regular contact with your doctor and pharmacist will help ensure the drugs you’re taking are up-to-date and appropriate for your needs.

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Author Details


  1. Boardman HM, Hartley L, Eisinga A, et al. Hormone therapy for preventing cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015; 3:CD002229. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002229.pub4. 
  2. Chou R, Turner JA, Devine EB, et al. The effectiveness and risks of long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain: A systematic review for a National Institutes of Healthy Pathways to Prevention Workshop. Ann Intern Med. 2015; 162(4):276-86. doi: 10.7326/M14-2559. 
  3. Chou R, Deyo R, Friedly J, et al. Noninvasive treatments for low back pain. AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews. 2016; Report No.: 16-EHC004-EF. 
  4. Ueda T, Suzukamo Y, Sato M, et al. Effects of music therapy on behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ageing Res Rev. 2013; 12(2):628-641. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2013.02.003. 
  5. Evans JR, Lawrenson JG. Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for preventing age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017; 7:CD000253. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000253.pub4. 
  6. Evans JR, Lawrenson JG. Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017; 7:CD000254. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000254.pub4.
  7. Haastrup P, Paulsen MS, Begtrup LM, et al. Strategies for discontinuation of proton pump inhibitors: A systematic review. Fam Pract. 2014; 31(6):625-630. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmu050. 

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.