Making Sense of Medical Advice
If seemingly conflicting health news has you confused, it's time to learn how to read
between the lines.
You can do so by keeping the following recommendations in mind the next time you hear
or read about a new health tip in the media.
Check it out
Be suspicious of advice that sounds too good to be true — because it probably is too
good to be true. Watch out for "experts" who say they can do what healthcare providers
Look into the advice before following it. Closely examine who's giving the health
Watch out for the all-too-familiar sales tricks of the multi-billion-dollar health-fraud
industry — including word-of-mouth approvals, sensationalized advertising, and emotional
In print and on the tube
Look at the author's credentials. Where did the author go to medical school? What
professional groups does the author belong to? Is the author board-certified in the
specialty about which he or she is writing or talking?
Don't believe the first thing you read or hear. Look for similar articles or books
on the same subject and compare what they have to say.
Look for a list of references at the end of the article or book that confirms the
ideas that have been presented. Was the article published in a medical journal or
a popular magazine?
On the Web
Check the information you find on the Internet against articles in medical journals
Look for the credentials of the author or the organization sponsoring the website.
Missing credentials should be a warning that the information may be questionable.
Information on the Internet is not controlled, and anyone can set up a website making
Good sites to explore for information are those run by medical colleges, health foundations
and organizations, and government agencies.
Sites to read with a critical eye include those selling or promoting medicines or
health products. Be careful about giving out personal information online, particularly
credit card numbers, unless you trust the site.
Be aware that information you find on Internet bulletin boards and in chat rooms is
personal opinion and stories, and not necessarily medically true.
Put the advice in perspective. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are good sources for sound medical advice. Also,
most studies don't call for changes in established guidelines for healthful living.
For instance, instead of worrying whether butter or margarine is better for you, concentrate
on whether you're getting enough exercise and eating the suggested number of servings
of breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables every day.
Don't follow advice because you want to believe it's true. Desperation can make people
open to believing lies or bad information. Too much distrust can be a bad thing, as
well. Deep mistrust of traditional medicine can blind you so that you'll accept less-than-believable
Watch for attacks on standard medicine. Scam artists want you to believe there's something
wrong with standard medicine in the U.S., or that healthcare providers and drug companies
have plotted to keep secrets from you. For reliable information, turn to reputable
sources, such as the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, or
similar groups. And check whether medical studies have appeared in credible journals,
such as the New England Journal of Medicine or Pediatrics. These journals publish studies only after a panel of medical experts reviews them.
Run the advice past your healthcare provider. In most cases, healthcare providers
keep up to date on new developments or discoveries. Your healthcare provider knows
how to look at new health information with a critical mind and put it in perspective
Here are several reliable sites for health information:
National Institutes of Health, www.nih.gov
National Library of Medicine, www.nlm.nih.gov