Googling for your health

Do you google your symptoms or conditions to find out more about them? 

 are not always backed by evidence- traditional or scientific- let alone common sense. 

are not always backed by evidence- traditional or scientific- let alone common sense. 

How do you know whether you have the best information, or whether it is even correct? It doesn’t take much googling to realise there is a lot of conflicting health information on the internet. I have been studying this very thing for the last two years, learning how to discern good information, and what is likely biased. Both the medical and the alternative health world have biased information, and there are pitfalls to be watched for. 

Have you ever had anyone tell you, or rather scoff at you, that there is no evidence for natural medicines?  There are tens of thousands of randomised, double blind, controlled studies (RCTs) looking at different complimentary medicines, thousands of them published in respected mainstream medical publications. However doctors and nurses, the established medical personnel, are not trained to research, to integrate or rely on natural medicines, as we know. Some people love to spend all their time refuting natural medicine- I wonder what they do when they accidentally stumble across evidence for their efficacy in esteemed journals! 

The research is there and expanding- evidence based information, covering hundreds of nutrients and herbs and complimentary therapies. However, while we know that the medical profession is biased conservatively towards RCTs and the pharmaceutical medicines marketed to them, have considered that the marketing of natural medicines may lead to similarly biased information? 

How about those memes that come through Facebook telling us that this amazing fruit can kill cancer. There is some truth in many of these memes, but if something claims to be 10,000 times stronger than chemotherapy...well, perhaps it would kill us, or cure everyone of cancer...its a simplistic approach which is really not very beneficial, especially in complex illnesses such as cancer which need a multi-faceted, individualised approach. Often these memes play upon information from a study done in a petri dish in a laboratory, rather than in real people in clinical situations. Sometimes, a particular one thing does seem to be the key for a person, but it is rarely generalisable to everyone with that condition. 

Studies done in petri dishes in science laboratories, or in animals, are meant to be preliminary studies giving some direction to potential areas for exploration with studies on real people. They can also warn of safety issues. Rats do not have the same body type as us, and isolated cells in a petri dish are not the same as cells in our body.  

The health world is full of self acclaimed experts who mix good information with poor information or poor analysis. One of the first things to look for is, are they selling the product they are promoting? Or selling products related to their opinion about, for example, weight loss? Then it is biased information- it may or may not be correct, but it will almost certainly be presented in such a way as to promote, even exaggerate the good and downplay the bad. 

A couple of very popular websites are worth mentioning. Mercola.com sells products, therefore there is bias. I do check it out now and then as one source of information- mainly for the references, which are often of poor quality anyway. Another is GreenmedInfo.com, which I consider a little better as it critiques many mainstream studies. However it is also fairly biased.

It is important, whether a doctor or a Naturopath or a layperson just trying to find good information, to have a truly open mind. True Science is based on true curiosity and an open mind, and recognises or lacks bias.