health news

How to Evaluate the Health News

health news
Reading the health news is tricky business

Can Health News Headlines Be Trusted?

Another report came out today about the dangers of using supplements:

By the end of the study, 85 percent of the women were taking at least one supplement daily, the most common being calcium, a multivitamin, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. During a 19-year span, 15,594 of the women died. Overall, the odds of dying in that time were higher for women who took supplements than for those who did not.

When reading these articles, it’s a good idea to skip the headline and read the details of the study being reported. The information that’s being conveyed is usually not as strong as the headline would suggest.

I agree that the benefits of additional supplementation for healthy people is probably slight in a lot of cases. However, this article confuses more than it clarifies.

The best studies are clinical trials that examine the effect of a particular nutrient on a particular health condition in humans over time. The paper used for this article was a survey, where people self-reported their answers every couple of years.

Common Problems With Health Research

Studies like the one cited above have the following problems:

  • You can’t really account for people who dropped out of the study
  • You can’t control for the type of supplements they used….quality can vary a lot.
  • Your ability to control for other factors is weak.
  • Self-reporting is inherently prone to certain inaccuracies.

When you add that all up, I don’t think it’s enough to push the needle in either direction.

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