Fake Health News and Advice
When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2006, seemingly news about it spread like wild fire among my friends and aquintances. Facebook was only two years old then and I started receiving information volunteered by friends about different natural treatments using different plant products that many of them said were used by their friends and relatives who got cured from cancer. In advent of the internet there is tremendous amount of health information decimated. How does one discriminate which is true from fake health news and advise?
Physicians are inundated with studies after studies about effectiveness of drugs in treatment of illnesses especially by drug sales representatives trying to promote their products. A good number of times these studies are sponsored by the manufacturers of the drugs being promoted..
How do you check websites of health news or advise?
First, check the source. In the internet looking at the URL gives you some clues. Sites that end up in .org, .gov, or .edu (non-profits, government organization, universities) are more reliable. Prominent news organizations such as CBS, NBC, Newsweek, and other established national and international news outlets can be a good source. However, some folks would use .co instead of .com at the end of for example NBCNews.com.co instead NBCNews.com to fool people to believe that they are affiliated to national media conglomerate when they are not. Some of health websites looks so legitimate and their presentations looks so credible. The important questions are who runs and pays for the website.
Beware of faulty statistics
Physicians are required to study statistics to aid them in analyzing research data in a critical manner. A good number of researchers have been caught extracting false conclusions from studies to favor the products of those that sponsored their studies.
For example a drug to prevent stroke is tested. They chose a group that has a 2 percent chance of having a stroke. The result of the study shows the group just has a 1 percent occurrence of strokes when they take the drug. So, they come up with the conclusion that the drug is effective in dropping down the risk of stroke by 50%. An impressive number.
But that may not be completely true because it is not the whole story. The relative risk may have drop 50% compared to the placebo group but the absolute risk of preventing a stroke just dropped only 1%. Considering the side effects and the price of the drug it may just be worthless. Remember even physicians could be fooled by sales representatives using relative risk reeducation instead of absolute risk in the effectivity of drugs.
People who sell multivitamins and food supplements are not controlled by FDA and many times they come with claims about how effective their products are using the same statistical maneuvers to support the effectivity of their products. So, they the use words like significantly or overwhelmingly showed to do what they claimed their products could do.
Another faulty conclusion is confusing association with causation. For example, a study showed that people who took multivitamins were noted to have 20% less Alzheimer’s disease. So instead of saying people taking multivitamin is associated with 20% lesser Alzheimer’s disease they would mistakenly claim taking multivitamins prevents Alzheimer’s disease. There may be other factors that maybe making the difference, people who take multivitamins may have a healthier life style, maybe more financially well of or have better nutrition and other factors.
Who is sponsoring the research.
Studies shows that smokeless tobacco does not cause lung cancer or drinking red wine prevents heart disease. Well, many of the studies that come out with those conclusions were financed by the industries that benefit financially from the sale of these products. These are blatant examples of manufactures sponsored research to promote their products. Many medications and health products came to market because of results of research sponsored by manufactures which were later found to be defective and some instances outright dangerous and had suddenly withdrawn from the market.
Health Guru’s making a fortune
I am sure many of you have received e-mails from self-promoting health gurus directing you to their websites. Some of them unfortunately are physicians presenting themselves as specialists, researchers, scientists, authors who offer free advice. They then present products such food supplements that enhances one health or that detoxifying the body and etc. that they offer for a trial period which leads to membership to get their products at discounted rate on a monthly basis. We could say many of these peddlers are just a more sophisticated version of the snake oil salesmen of the past with wider outreach because of the internet. Yes, it all about the money and in a multibillion dollar industry.
Objectives of fake news and advise
Fake news articles are posted in the internet to appear as real news by folks making a living from it. It’s not only in politics that fake news is used but some industries to use it to destroy or discredit their competitors or promoter their products.
In the food industry like the dairy or the poultry industry may pay someone to develop some fake news to promote their products. How do we fact check these articles? One could do a quick internet investigations using Snopes.com a website that investigates rumors and claims for validity.
Know the author
If you read an article say about vaccination and the author is an anti-vaccination advocate immediately you will know you are receiving biased information. People who advocates for certain causes usually presents one side of the story and not the whole picture. You will find then if you google them. They could be folks against use of microwave oven because it causes cancer, use of chlorine and fluoride in water. They could be paid by the companies they right for.
Discuss with your healthcare providers
If you are considering an alternative healthcare approach after finding information on the web, it’s a good idea to share the information with all your healthcare providers and get their opinions. This is important especially if you are under treatment for some health issues. Some food supplements may be contraindicated in certain illnesses or may not be compatible with your medication to render it ineffective or may even result in an adverse reaction.
In this day and age with all information out there and folks using a baits to promote products through world wide web we need to be educated healthcare consumers to know what is fake information and what is for our own good.
Your Fitness Doc