How to Read a Health Article

While the popularity of the internet has made it possible for anyone with information someone might consider valuable to share it with the rest of the world, the internet has equally made it possible for every half-baked opinion to find its way onto your desktop. The same applies to the endless stream of magazines coursing through the marketplace. Today, anyone with a voice can make themselves heard. But then how are we to know who to listen to? How are we to gauge fact from fiction in this environment, with no clear authority to guide us on our never-ending journey of self-diagnosis and self-medication? How are we to separate the viable from the suspect?

And that’s not our only concern. Even if the information we read in a health article is 100% accurate, the question remains, for whom? No body is built alike, nor is any article advising how to better care for it. Yet nearly every human being living in a body (and that’s all of us, as far as I know) yearns to live as long and healthy a life as possible. Thus each one of us is susceptible to any new hint, tip, suggestion, or advice on how to best achieve that common, and coveted, goal. How are we to know that what makes you stronger won’t kill me, for example?

Then, once we’ve identified information that is both reliable and applicable to our specific circumstances and physical condition, it still remains to be seen whether said health advice should actually be taken.

Let’s say you’ve just read a health article that seems to resonate with you. It describes your symptoms and offers a way out. What next? Well, before semi-haphazardly taking on a whole new habit, in essence turning yourself into both guinea pig and scientist, maybe you should take some extra time to really examine what you’re considering getting yourself into. The following are 9 simple guidelines on how the average Joe and Jane consumer (like myself) can evaluate the veracity and suitability of any health claim read in a publication, online or off.

One final note before moving on to the checklist; the last item on the list is the most important of all, whether you like it or not. In fact, it might be more important than all the other items in the list combined. Keep that in mind when you apply this checklist to the next health article that seems to be speaking directly to you.

1. Who wrote it? A doctor, nurse, surgeon, psychiatrist? If so, what’s their specialty? A pharmacist, holistic practitioner, naturopath, homeopath, massage therapist? Is the information you’re reading in the author’s area of expertise? CEO of a major pharmaceutical company? A medical device manufacturer? Are they simply pushing their own product (see more in question #4) Or is the author a simple freelancer like me? Most of us, with definite exception, write about a variety of topics, gathering our data from extensive research through a variety of sources (or maybe not). What are the author’s credentials? Is he or she really in a place to know whether the health advice they’re touting has any basis in fact, and how much?
2. Where’d they get it? What are the writer’s sources? Do they even list any? Run each of the sources through the same evaluation process you’re putting the original article through.
3. How current is it? We as a global culture are learning at a breakneck pace, accelerating our understanding of the world and our place in it like never before. Because of that, discoveries of yesteryear are constantly being revised and rewritten. Today’s cure-all could be tomorrow’s public enemy number one. Make sure that anything you’re considering doing to your body for the benefit of your health is based on the most current data available. If the information you’re reading is not current, and yet still intriguing, then do some additional research on whether it’s been further backed-up over time or completely invalidated or, worse, proven harmful.
4. What are they selling? I know, it sounds like a cynical standpoint, but consider this; every article you read is selling something. Not necessarily something tangible, that you could put a price on, though that’s certainly possible too, but selling something nonetheless. In the case of health articles, maybe they’re selling a drug, an exercise regimen, or a new medical device or procedure. Maybe they’re selling their services as a health practitioner. Maybe they’re selling a particular modality of healing or a school of thought. Maybe they’re selling an idea. This article, for example, the one you’re currently reading, is selling discernment. Figure out what the author is selling you in any health article that piques your interest and then, really ask yourselfâÂ?¦
5. Are you in the market for it? If the health article espouses a product, are you willing to go out and buy it? If it recommends visiting a professional, are you willing to set up an appointment, whether once or on an ongoing basis? This is one area where you can really determine if a tip you read is right for you. If you’re not willing to shell out the dough or time (because whatever the tip, it’ll undoubtedly demand at least one or both), then the health advice, however good, is not relevant for you.
6. Will you do it? Will you really do it? This question examines how realistic the advice in the health article is for you. So far there is no one-stop, cure-all, magic bullet for any significant health concern. Most any suggestion you come across will involve repeated uses, doses, visits, etc. Following the advice in a health article usually entails taking on a new habit. Do you have both the time and the inclination to follow through with the steps suggested in this great-sounding idea you’ve just come across long enough to be able to see real results? Or will this just become the next fad to come and go in your life that didn’t work for no other reason than because you never gave it a chance? Don’t set yourself up to lose – that’s no fun at all.
7. Who doubts it, and why? For every article promoting a health-related course of action there is another article decrying it, warning you vehemently against it. Before taking any health advice you read, make a concerted effort to look up the contrary opinion(s). You must weigh both sides of an issue in order to properly determine where you stand on it. Then, when you decide to try out a new habit (doctor, diet, or such) you can go into it in full awareness of all the reported risks.
8. What else are you already doing? What other actions are you taking towards improving your heatlh, whether related to this specific condition or another, or to your overall health in general? Sometimes, one part of your health program may impede another part (such as a supplement that makes you sleepy in the mornings sabatoging your other goal of waking up early each morning to go jogging). Make sure the steps you decide to take towards improving your health aren’t counterproductive to one another. If you don’t know, then it’s time to do a bit more research.
9. What’s your doctor think? You thought you could get away form him or her, didn’t you? But alas, there is no escaping the single most valuable asset you have in your quest for wellness. If your doctor is not the sort of authority to whom you would turn for guidance when considering new methods of achieving well-being, then it’s time to search for a new doctor. You should be able to run ideas by your doctor, knowing that their knowledge of your body is somewhere on par with yours (at least), and that they’ve got nothing but your best interest at heart. Maybe you’re considering something outside your doctor’s area of expertise. Fine. Discuss it with them anyway. You don’t have to take your doctor’s health advice any more than you have to take the health advice in an article you read, but you should at least be armed with the information and opinions of a trained medical expert, particularly the one to whom you’ve entrusted the better part of your program of health.

And that’s it! With this handy checklist by your side, you should be able to properly evaluate whether a change you’re considering making to your health program, something could have a profound effect on your life, is truly right for you.

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