Are you playing games with your health with the information you find online?
Where do you get your general health information about what's healthy and what isn't? Doctor Google?? How do you know if that information is reliable? Is is helpful or hurtful? It may be time to evaluate your sources and question what you believe to be true about health and wellness.
The internet has brought health information right to our fingertips, but hopefully you've figured out that everything online isn't true. It's pretty easy for anyone to start a blog or website and spew out words without any substance, science, consequences, or follow-up. In fact, almost anyone can call themselves a "health coach" and give advice.
Thanks to the internet (in part), there has been a lot of popular health dogma that's been questioned lately by the holistic health community. For a long time, it was ingrained in us through popular media and advertising influence by big companies to eat "healthy whole grains", to eliminate saturated fats, and to use chemical sugar substitutes. (These are just a few examples.) Pharmaceutical companies now have an enormous influence on our doctors and overall lifestyle, too. Over this same period of time, the general health of Americans has declined, obesity is rampant, and there is a strong uptick in many chronic diseases related to lifestyle choices. Thankfully, the paleo/primal movement is rebelling against this and getting back to health basics.
So, how can we discern which health information can we rely upon that truly enhances our well-being?
First, start to question the information you peruse by taking a look at the sources of information cited in what you read:
Simply think about where the information is coming from and take a slightly skeptical and analytical view.
Next, when it comes to health and nutrition information, ask yourself if it follows the simple laws of nature. For example, why would I eat margarine (which is just chemicals) versus a pat of grass-fed butter made from a cow? Or, why would I run on an elliptical machine when I could take a walk outside in the fresh air and sunshine? Or, do I want to eat food from natural seeds grown without chemicals or load my body up with genetically modified foods that are sprayed with toxins?
Always try to let common sense prevail.
Listen to your instincts. This takes self-awareness. If it doesn't make you feel good, then it's probably not for you. Or is it? Some things take time to figure out. If something does make you feel better, is it still something that will be healthy over the long term? Some things we can't feel, like many supplements. Do your research. Find experts you trust and who understand the science, whether online or in your community, and do your best with the information you can find.
(See my list of Expert Resources HERE.)
The only thing you can be certain of is that we all have bio-individuality. That is, what is healthy for me may not be healthy for you, and vice versa. Our genes, environment, and dietary needs are different. We each are an experiment group of 1 person (sometimes this is written as n=1). Just because somebody's third cousin across town had a fabulous health breakthrough with some treatment, it doesn't say anything about you. For example, many people thrive on a low-carb diet. However, when I tried it, my health suffered, I stopped menstruating, and my thyroid barely functioned. A moderate-carb diet is what's right for me. And while I think it's easy to go overboard with self experimentation, you need to follow your gut, watch for trends, and do what makes your health thrive.
Do Your Own Research:
PubMed.gov is probably the best place online to find science-based, health-related information. PubMed comprises more than 25 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites. Simply type in a health topic or search words and see what turns up!
Google Scholar is also a place to find scholarly literature about health (and everything other discipline). It enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.
You can easily learn to discern reputable research from hearsay:
Types of Research:
There are basically two broad types of research in the health field:
1. Review papers. This is considered secondary research and is usually in the form of informative articles. For example, the health articles on my website.
2. Original research. This is considered primary research and is done by various types of scientists. They produce original findings through experiments (Experimental Studies) or data collection (Observational Studies).
a) Experimental Studies are intervention studies, clinical tests, experiments, or trials.
Clinical/Intervention trials are used to test a hypothesis about the cause and effect. It is conducted on a group of people with an illness or disease in a clinical or lab setting. The efficacy of a specific treatment or standardized protocol is measured. The outcome is measured over time. They can establish causation between the issues studied and treatments because the scientists manipulate variables. Randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard.
For those of you who like to "geek out" on science: To further analyze the quality of a study, its methodology, and its findings, one must consider its parameters, where the funding comes from, time frame, if it is double-blind, if the results can be replicated, the number of subjects, if the variables are controlled, if the authors use relative or absolute risk to report their findings, if they infer causation from correlation, if their citations support their claim, and how its conclusion compares to other similar research.
b) Observational Studies in the health field are those that are non-experimental. They describe, compare, and explain disease occurrence.
An epidemiological study examines a population of people to determine health patterns over time. The results are broad and general. It examines the incidence, distribution, and control of a disease; plus the total factors controlling the presence or absence of the disease. An epidemiological study is valued in evidence-based medicine for identifying risk factors for a disease. It is the foundation of clinical research.
A Prospective/Cohort study is an epidemiologic study in which researchers assemble the study groups before the occurrence of a disease. Two groups of individuals are assembled. One group has been exposed to a suspected dangerous substance and the other has not. The groups are tracked, the incidence of disease in both groups is monitored, and the results are compared over time.
In a Retrospective epidemiologic study, the groups studied are assembled after the occurrence of a disease. Then, historical data is reviewed applicable to the disease presently being studied.
c) A less formal type of research is called Evidence-Based Outcome Studies.
They are based on anecdotal clinical-based evidence witnessed over time by health practitioners. It is not standardized and instead based on subjective bio-individuality. In clinical settings, practitioners notice patterns of effective treatments among their clients and patients (through trial and error), which leads to effective protocols.
I often rely upon this evidence-based information from my personal health provider. She is someone who knows me well, understands my health history, and whose expertise, wisdom, and experience I trust.
Bias & How to Avoid It:
Bias is any influence that distorts the results of a research study. This could be a personal preference or a tendency toward a particular point of view. Bias in research can be avoided by considering the points during a study where bias could occur. This could be in the study design phase, during subject selection, data collection, data analysis, and interpretation of results. This can happen in all types of studies.
One of the most well known cases of bias is that of the scientist T. Colin Capmbell who wrote the famous China Study, which concluded that the consumption of animal-based foods was associated with an increased risk of disease. However, researcher Denise Minger has spent much of her career highlighting the weaknesses of the study and identified errors in Campbell's interpretation of the original data and flaws in his analytical methods (supposedly to support his hypothesis). You can see the work of Denise Minger HERE and also read her book, Death By Food Pyramid.
We, as non-scientists, can also have bias when we look at health information - or any information. If we're looking for information to support our point of view or hypothesis, we can find it, yet easily disregard the opposing data (if we're not careful). I avoid bias by trying not to jump too quickly to conclusions, not bringing past events into the present, fully listening without thinking about my next comment, and not comparing myself with others. Basically, by having an open, inquisitive mind.
As someone who also studied internal auditing, I am always skeptical and looking for bias when reading blog articles online. So many are paid or "sponsored" posts. (I never do these; I do however provide affiliate links to products I have paid for myself, actually tried, and truly like). While I don't begrudge anyone from earning an honest living, I now know to question the information and look for more unbiased information before relying upon it and experimenting with my own health.
Source: Glossary of Research Terms, Hawthorn University, December 2012
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy my article Is YOUR Body a Bad Science Experiment? Food Additives, Preservatives, and GMO's.
You may also like to read how I applied these principles for my personal health benefit in My Cholesterol Story - with a Thyroid Twist.
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