Evidence based versus misleading science
Evidence-based practice is a way of conducting clinical care in which a doctor or other health professional will treat their patients using a combination of experience, knowledge, and information from the most up-to-date, reliable research studies.
In the same way that your doctor and dietitian analyze and critically judge what they read, you can choose the most accurate and relevant information for yourself by knowing what (and who) to look for [i].
How to identify quality science
The first way to guard yourself against questionable claims is to brush up on basic health and nutrition information. Becoming familiar with government health websites such as the National Cancer Institute and the USDA’s MyPlate can help you to more quickly spot inaccuracies when you are reading elsewhere [ii][iii].
Whether the information is coming from a magazine, television program, or online, there are certain key factors to keep in mind [iii].
- Look or listen for the source of health claims.
- Be critical of diet book authors, supplement companies, and other for-profit sources, or of data presented with no author.
- When evaluating research studies, read through the entire article. Critical details of the study may not be included in the summary, or abstract.
- Look at the length of time of the study, as well as the number and type of participants: animal or cell culture studies are not as strong as those with human subjects.
- Be sure that the research has been carried out by a reputable, unbiased institution, and that the authors discuss any weaknesses of the study.
When evaluating online information, carefully consider the source. Websites ending in .gov, .edu, or .org indicate non-for-profit organizations. When exploring for-profit websites, ending in .com or .biz, be sure to look for information about the author and sponsor. Make sure the website has been updated recently, and that it does not include old or non-functioning links.
All research studies should be published in an outside academic journal or website with a working link, rather than self-published by the sponsors [iv].
When shopping, be on the lookout for “red flags” such as a product promising a quick fix, guarantees based on little to no actual research, research paid for by a biased sponsor, or any warnings of health-threatening side effects.
Many supplements are not required to be tested for safety and effectiveness by the Food and Drug Administration, so always consult a health professional before beginning any regimen.