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Beware of medical advice from the mainstream media

Kevin Lomangino of Health News Review explains how you and the rest of America may end up duped by medical advice from the mainstream media. Even the medical correspondents in the big media outlets are often not delivering evidence-based advice. And, while they may be spinning an interesting story based on a study of one sort or another, question what you learn before taking action.

Medical studies abound to support the value of all kinds of treatments. And, it seems worthwhile to let people know when a study shows that a treatment works. What’s the downside, especially when the treatment sounds benign. Unfortunately, if the sample of people studied is small, the length of the study is short, or the design of the study is flawed, the value of the study is questionable. And, in some cases, the proposed treatment may have harmful side effects.

At Just Care, where possible, before reporting on a study, in addition to speaking with medical experts, we check with Cochranean independent non-profit that does meta-studies, before we offer health advice. Cochrane’s meta-studies dig deep into as much of the research as possible to determine whether a particular finding can be trusted; and, if so, to what degree. But, Cochrane does not always have an answer, so what to do?

If the proposed treatment is based on independent peer-reviewed evidence and there is no harm in trying it–such as “exercise” or “eat green leafy vegetables”–there are likely only benefits to trying it. And, Just Care might write about it as we did with one study on exercise and memory. It could be another reason to take a brisk walk or eat a Mediterranean diet or not eat foods with processed sugar.

But, if the proposed treatment is any type of supplement or complementary medicine, it is potentially unsafe. And, you should likely avoid it. You certainly should not take it without first consulting with your doctor. Much like new drugs and medical devices approved by the FDA, the treatment may not be worth the risks, as less in known about it.

Health News Review reports, for example, that ABC News’ Good Morning America’s medical correspondent advised viewers to take “complementary natural” remedies for the flu without any compelling evidence that they work. Without evidence on benefits and toxicities, the ABC News medical correspondent has no business recommending to viewers a cocktail of supplements to treat the flu and how to take them. The medical correspondent even acknowledges that there is no evidence that these “remedies” work and no data on their toxicity. What is she and ABC’s Good Morning America thinking?

Similarly, Sharon Begley at StatNews writes about a rash of media reports on the value of aerobics and other exercise to help the brain. But, as Begley explains, experts disagree on the value of the studies underlying these reports. Even when advice is evidence-based, there is generally more to the story.

The American College of Neurology recently began recommending aerobics to patients with mild cognitive impairments as a way to help their memory, thinking and judgment and to prevent dementia as they age. And, there is evidence to support this recommendation. But, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has completed a meta-study of 262 studies, and it did not find a link between exercise and dementia prevention.

Interestingly, the studies showing a link between exercise and dementia prevention were randomized-controlled studies that were peer-reviewed. But, the NAS found that many of them were flawed in one way or another.

Of course, lots of us want to learn about ways to stave off the flu, forestall dementia and live longer healthier lives. So, we are sure to continue to read and hear about new findings as to what we can do. If the recommendations are exercise and good nutrition, following them will most likely help you. But before buying and taking a pill, an oil or some complementary medicine remedy, look deeper into the research and talk to your doctor.

Here’s more from Just Care:

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