Can You Believe Everything You Read?
How do you know what to listen to with all of the information out there? Anyone can claim to be an expert. Anyone could say anything and publish it on the internet or even write a book. So the question is how do you know what to listen to and how do you know what’s valid?
How do you know you can trust the information you’re reading? The first thing that we have to analyze is – what is evidence based information? Well the definition of evidence based practice is applying the best available research results, which is evidence, when making decisions about health care. Health care professionals who perform evidence based practice use research evidence along with clinical expertise and patient preferences. Systematic reviews are summaries of health care research results which provide information that aids in the process of evidence based practice.
The take home point here is you have to ask the question “where is your information coming from”? Is it just someone’s opinion or is it someone just reporting someone else’s opinion? So in other words I could be saying something and expressing my own opinion or I could have read something on Wikipedia or I could have read something on someone’s blog that stated their opinion, and I could be restating that as my own. So that does not constitute fact. This is just someone’s opinion, so you want to be careful of that because there are so many “experts” out there that are writing books that you could simply be self-published on Amazon. Also the information that they are stating does not have to be valid it just has to be convincing. And this especially becomes important, and somewhat scary, when it comes to advertising and marketing.
So why is evidence based information important?
Well like I said, everyone has an opinion and so you want to know what their opinion is based on. It could be based on a lot of things, like their own experience. That’s the case with the so called “bio hackers”. They test certain things on their own bodies, they see the response and they report the response that they had in their own body.
You have to remember that ultimately what works for one person does not work for another, so you start by trying something out on your own your own body and see if it works. If it does that’s great. Let me give you an example. Some of my prior patients used to tell me that soap underneath a sheet got rid of their leg cramps. Now I’ve never tried it so I don’t know if it would work on me but I know that I can’t necessarily find any scientific basis behind a bar of soap underneath your sheets to get rid of leg cramps. However, I’ve had many patients tell me that it worked so it worked for them and great but then once you write a book about it and say this works based on my own opinion it becomes just that – an opinion – and it may not work for someone else.
That’s fine until you’re dealing with something that could be life threatening such as someone not receiving proper medical attention for diseases such as heart disease, stroke or cancer. So you want to be very careful here. Another reason why evidence based information is important is because anyone can write a book and become a perceived expert, but they have the evidence to back it up.
So how do you protect yourself from that and become a more informed consumer? One thing that you can do is that you can look to see if they’re referencing some type of study. So for instance, there are some books out there that advertise fad diets. Whether it be the Atkins Diet or the Paleo diet. There’s also the diet by blood type and so many others. You want to look in those books and see where they’re getting their information. Are they are they making reference to a source so you can double check and verify that their sources are actually saying what they are reporting? Those are the best types of books to really rely upon because these authors have studied or have reviewed hundreds and sometimes thousands of research papers and they’ve taken that information and they have distilled it down for us and they’re reporting the results of a lot of research papers.
You don’t want to just take the opinion of the results of a research study because that could be biased as well, which will go into a little bit a little bit further. Another reason why it’s important is because companies spend billions of dollars to tell us what they want us to know, not necessarily what’s fact, but what is it going to take to get the consumer to buy more of their product. Some of the best examples are pharmaceutical companies and the food industry.
People also try to influence the information that is put out on the Internet or the media. We see it all the time with T.V. commercials where you have a pharmaceutical company that will advertise a drug and they’ll back their claims up by evidence based research, usually research they have funded. They’ll mention it but they’ll also try to minimize negative side effects, but by law they have to mention them. If you listen to the soft print, when they go in that soft monotone voice, saying this medicine can cause diarrhea loss of memory, chills or fever, you’ve heard those commercials. If the side effect information was the bulk of the commercial, you would never buy that drug. By minimizing it it’s almost like the fine print of the commercial. So you want to be very careful, very smart and ask yourself questions.
So how can you protect yourself from this, how can you be more informed? Well the first thing that you should really look for in a book is the bibliography of any book or article and make sure you can see which research studies are being referenced. The reason why you want to see what’s being referenced is because if I wrote a book and I referenced an article that was on the Internet, well that is not necessarily a study. There’s a difference between a study, a research study and then something that someone has just observed in their own “research”.
With a research study there has to be a lot of people in the study and then must conduct it in a way that minimizes biases. When research studies are referenced, you want to be certain that the research studies show up in very reputable magazines as well. For example the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), the New England Journal of Medicine or a similar publication that is reputable and you know that the study had to meet certain criteria to be able to be in that particular journal. And so now you’re getting the results of multiple people, sometimes thousands of people, and they conduct these research studies in such a way to minimize biases.
What type of biases can occur in a research study?
There are a couple different biases that can show up. One is the Hawthorne effect. This is when the when the results are affected by the behavior of the participants in the study. So for instance, if I was being studied, and it was a weight loss study, and I knew that it was a weight loss study that might influence my behavior so I might eat more vegetables. In all fairness, some of these behaviors are unconscious. So that’s the Hawthorne effect and we have to be careful of that. Then you have the placebo effect which we’re all aware of and that is when the beliefs of the participants affect the results. Then you have research bias. The research bias is when the researcher knows about the study and is influenced by it. So for instance, someone came to me and says Dr. King, I would like you to research this procedure. As we believe that this procedure can cause a certain outcome and we’re going to pay you half million dollars to prove that it does in actuality produce the outcome we expect. Now I’m biased because I know what they want and I know that I’m getting paid a lot of money to conduct a research study that will show their intended result. That’s called a researcher bias.
So how do you avoid these biases?
The first thing that you want to do is you want to make sure that it’s a double blind placebo controlled study. A double blind placebo controlled study does exactly what it sounds like. Double blind means that the participants are blinded as to where they fall within the research. They don’t know if they’re getting the “real thing” like a particular procedure, or they’re getting the studied substance, so they’re blind to that. Now the person that’s conducting the research is also “blind” to that information. They don’t know which participant is getting what. So that’s what’s called a double blinded study.
Then there’s the placebo controlled studies. They take in consideration the placebo effect. And so the results have to be statistically significant, well beyond the placebo effect. So that’s called a double blind placebo controlled study.
So not to get too technical, but these are things that you have to think about when you’re reading information, whether it’s a book, and internet article or a blog. Especially blog posts because people say whatever is on their mind and you have to be careful of these types of things.
So always look for something that’s evidence based, something that’s studied, something that they have research on and something that has a double blind placebo controlled studies. I hope this was helpful for you in your quest for ultimate vitality!
Take care, be well, and stay vital.
Linell King, MD:
Dr. King is an Internal Medicine physician. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in 1997, Dr. King completed his residency at The Johns Hopkins University Sinai Hospital Program of Internal Medicine in 2000. Professionally, he is the author of the #1 Best Selling book “Mastering Vitality”, international speaker, Founder of Ultimate Vitality Partners, LLC, and just recently named the Most Wellness-Focused Physician in Naples, by Naples Noteworthy.
Dr. King is also the host of Ultimate Vitality Radio, which features world renowned experts discussing health & wellness topics. This show appeals to anyone who wants to improve their health and increase their vitality. “The collection of knowledge exposed here is priceless.”