Where to Find the Best Info on Wellness

Friday Sep 28 | BY |
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Even doctors can get confused with all the health information out there. Where does that leave you?

In paper, on television, or on the web, you can get health information in many ways. All the major media provide timely and selected health information like updates on West Nile Fever or a new Alzheimer’s drug breakthrough.

But the press isn’t always non-biased and is not the best source of information on wellness. The New Times is the exception with several blogs dedicated to personal wellbeing, healthy diet, and aging, but many other media sources slant the information to suit their particular priorities and biases.

Four Ways to Find Health Info:

  1. Media: newspapers, television, radio, blogs
  2. Internet sites, blogs, and search engines
  3. Membership-based and health center websites and newsletters
  4. Scientific reports

Most people get their health notes on the Internet. But web search engines are optimized, often for a hefty fee, so that sites that market products and sell information come up first. The amount of noise is overwhelming. You get drawn in. Spin appears as fact. Some sites are better than others, but how do you know?

Membership sites fare better because they maintain editorial standards. Life Extension Foundation, for example, makes an effort to publish only information based on scientific evidence and clinical experience. ConsumerLab.com is a membership site that filters news, scientific papers, and distills fact from spin by conducting independent screening on products. Most of the big health centers, like Mayo Clinic or Harvard, have medical information sites, but they are typically weak on wellness.

The best way to get non-biased health information is to skip the noise and spin and go right to research papers. Science journalists write intelligent, yet easy to understand, articles in journals like The New Scientist. And, thanks to new publishing models and the open access movement among many scientists, nearly all published scientific papers are available as abstracts or full access reports. Some journals, like Nature Immunology Reviews, have reader friendly editorial styles that are make science interesting.

But, where do you start?

Best Place to Begin
First stop is the Library of Congress. PubMed comprises more than 22 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites. You can also find links to scientific reports on GOOGLE when you type specific search words to include journal citations, and many of these point back to PubMed.

Science has always been about getting closer to the truth, and anybody who understands this knows that it’s a continual process of evolving knowledge. Sometimes, however, it can feel random and unsettling. So you don’t get lost in translation, keep in mind the following elements.

Causation and Correlation
Just because a report appears in a scientific journal doesn’t mean it’s right. In fact, according to a recent article in The New Scientist, the half-life of facts means that about half of all scientific findings turn out to be useless, or wrong.

In David Freedman’s book, Wrong—Why Experts Keep Failing Us, and How to Know When Not to Trust Them, the author points out that sometimes the experts measure the wrong thing, or look too closely at what is already known, or use inappropriate subjects. This results in a well-designed and statistically significant experiment of no value. Sometimes results are just coincidence—there is correlation, but no causation.

The best way to get useful scientific information is to read meta-analyses. This type of study pools the results from many smaller studies and filters meaningful information from useless scientific noise.

A good example is a recent meta-analysis on acupuncture published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. For decades traditional doctors challenged acupuncture as not scientific. Hundreds of studies have been conducted but results were contradictory and produced more skepticism.

But, acupuncture works. Ask any of the hundreds of thousands of Americans treated for pain with acupuncture. When results from individual studies and systematic reviews were pooled, the data from meta-analysis found that acupuncture not only work better for pain than placebo, but it out preformed conventional drug therapy. Such robust evidence for safe, sustainable therapies like acupuncture is just what we need to support wellness medicine.

True Effect
Watch out for jargon that disguises a study’s true effect—what the results actually mean for you—from statistical language. For example, statin drugs effectively lower total cholesterol and LDL, “bad” cholesterol. However, even though the numbers on your lipid lab report go down, there is little real change in your risk for a heart attack. In fact, only 1% of men who take statins are saved.

Number Power
For a study to be of value, there has to be enough experimental subjects to generate statistically significant outcomes. Look at these two key factors: n and p. The n is the number of subjects. Good studies need a big n. The p value tells you if the results are statistically important—the probability of some thing occurring by chance versus some thing that is actually happening due to the research. Chance is not good enough for my personal wellness, or for my patients.

Conflict of Interest

Peer-reviewed journals publish legitimate science. A board reviews articles to see if they are worthy of being published. There are strict editorial standards. And authors are required to disclose if an organization or company that has a vested interest in the outcome funds their research. A nutritional supplement company sponsoring research is as much a red flag as one supported by a major pharmaceutical company.

Bottom Line: Raise the bar on how and where you get your health information. Check out PubMed and read peer-reviewed integrative medicine journals. Don’t be intimidated. It takes time to learn how to read a scientific report. But, it’s worth it.

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Archives of Internal Medicine Online September 10, 2012, and nicely summarized on Medline News http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/770646?src=mpnews&spon=18.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

Visit Dr. Williams’ Website: https://drjewilliams.com/

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  1. Seppo says:

    Agreed that there’s a lot of dubious health information floating in the web and filling shelves in bookstores. I’m with you on PubMed. That and Google Scholar are my main sources now. But it takes some time to get used to the scientific lingo and all those scary looking words in the search results 🙂

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