Medical Misinformation – Be Careful What You Read & Trust!

by | Jan 3, 2018

Does coffee cause cancer?

Put down that cup of coffee! A recent research study says….

No, wait. It’s ok. Coffee is actually good for you; a new study showed….

But EGGS – eggs are bad. Will ruin your cholesterol…

Oh, hold on, the latest research shows that eggs are ok after all….

I’m sure all of this sounds very familiar – medical “information” is constantly coming at us, on the news, social media, our favorite TV show host…and it will make your head spin if you try to listen to it all. We’ve all noticed the constant yo-yo on whether certain favorite foods and activities are “good” or “bad” for our health. What is going on?

If you have met me or been reading my blog for long, you will know that I read a lot of research papers and that I try to back up my medical decisions and advice with research. That is why I take the time to include the relevant references in my blog posts! But with all the conflicting advice out there, how do I know what to believe and what to ignore?

There are many papers out there; In fact, the National Library for Health has some 17 million trials tagged “human”, and a further MILLION articles are added each year. Much of this research is useless, creates misinformation, or worse, can be used to push certain agendas. It is challenging to look at papers in an unbiased manner and assess their quality; their study design, the appropriateness of their conclusions and recommendations. There is no way that I, or any medical professional or researcher, can stay on top of ALL of that information, but it is important to at least be able to evaluate the quality and reliability of the medical research that we do consume and allow to shape our practice. This is what I try my hardest to do so!

A recent paper1 looked at this issue. It came up with 4 major problems we have with research publication which is shown in this graphic

Four issues of Medical Missinformation

In order to evaluate the quality of a particular research paper, one needs a knowledge in research statistics and how to properly design an experiment. For instance, factors such as the sample size, length of the study, whether a good experimental control was in place are crucial. Also relevant is whether the research was carried out on lab tissue, humans, or animal subjects. Sadly, many times those attention-grabbing headlines touting the latest “cancer-causing” (or cancer-curing) food, etc, don’t tell you any of those things – if you dig deep you might find out that the research was in rats, at much higher dosage levels than human normally would (or even could) experience, or that the research was simply some cells responding in a petri dish and may be decades away from actually being a conclusive result that anyone should base their decisions on!

This is why I take my professional reading seriously and strive to be careful about evaluating the quality of the research that I bring to you on my blog. My educational background has equipped me with the basic knowledge and tools I need to critically review sports-medicine research, and my goal is to break that information down into something useful and applicable for my clients and my readers!

Do you have any questions or topics that you wish I could cover in a future blog? Let me know! I would love to hear from you and report back on the current state of the research. No matter where you find your health information, I would encourage you to consider it with a critical eye; before you let the information coming at you from all directions start to change your lifestyle decisions, consider the source and the quality of the underlying research behind the headline!

Reference:

  1. Ioannidis JPA, Stuart ME, Brownlee S, Strite SA. How To Survive the Medical Misinformation Mess. Eur J Clin Invest. 2017;
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