Beware of Getting Your Health Advice From The News

Separate fact from fiction


As the old adage says: Take advice with a grain of salt. 

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In today’s continuous news cycle, consumers are constantly bombarded with health advice from a variety of sources. One day a news report sites a study telling us that coffee helps fight depression. The next day’s study finds that it causes certain cancers. But before we accept any health sound bite as fact and begin to make changes because of it, it’s critical to consider a few things. We need to separate fact from fiction. We should read more about the topic at hand. And most importantly, we need to talk with our physicians to find out if it applies to us or even merits consideration.

Questions to ask yourself

According to Steven Nissen, MD, Department Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, here are some of the key questions to ask:

  • Did the media reference a study with the information?
  • How many people were part of the study? (What was the sample size?)
  • How tightly controlled was the study? (Was it a randomized control study or one that was observational?)
  • Is the information documented in a published article in a respected health journal?
  • And most importantly, does the information apply to us in our current health situation?

When in doubt, talk to your doctor

Dr. Nissen says before making any significant changes, we should always talk to our doctors. We need to find out if the study findings apply to us. We also need to see if they are reliable, and if any new treatments or change in treatment would impact our current medical regimen.

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The media will always want to get our attention with health advice, and more often than not they will exaggerate claims. We must be smart consumers who take advice with a grain of salt as they say. Because there is always more to a story – and a health study – than meets the eye.

In his book, Heart 411, coauthored with cardiovascular surgeon Marc Gillinov, MD, Dr. Nissen dedicates an entire chapter to the topic of health reports in the news.

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