Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PSA: Do You Believe Everything You Read on the Internet?

I like to know what I eat. I often hear health claims about certain foods, and I like to research the health claims further.  Blueberries are apparently a super-food that can improve brain health and memory.  Oatmeal might lower your cholesterol and flaxseeds might be an anti-inflammatory. On the negative side—cow’s milk might cause autoimmune disorders and digestive problems.  Soy, since it has estrogen like properties,  could be inducing early puberty in children and might cause infertility in women.

You may notice that I use words such as “might,” “could” and “apparently.”  The reason for my language is—I am not a scientist or a doctor. I do not know with any certainty whether the claims above are true and I am not going to act like I am an expert and tell you what you should and should not eat. Yes, I might try to eat a few more blueberries and may try to avoid soy and I might even have some personal views based on my own research, but I am not going to share them here because the fact of the matter is, I don’t know. I also find many of these claims to be fickle—it was just a few years ago that soy was supposedly the greatest thing ever and was touted as the explanation for the long lives of people in Asia.

Why do I share this with you? Because in doing research, I came across countless blog posts by people with no scientific knowledge making health claims about food as if the claims were the absolute truth.  If I did find links back to “the research,” the links were often to sites that in my opinion have no scientific credibility as “the research” was definitely not from a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  This is problematic and potentially dangerous.  It is like Michele Bachmann saying that the HPV vaccine caused retardation in a teenager—it causes fear and it causes people to make choices that they otherwise would not. For instance, if you cut dairy out of your diet because of a mommy blogger’s claim that cow’s milk is not meant for humans and that it will cause hormonal problems*—I sincerely hope you have done your research in replacing the calcium, protein, potassium and Vitamin B12 that you are no longer getting from dairy.  My worry is that people do not do their research and that they are making rash decisions due to ill-informed people on the internet. I think what some of these bloggers are doing is actually dangerous.

I don’t know about you, but I choose science. I choose to believe the people that had their research published in peer-reviewed journals. I choose to believe the people that are giving information based on much more than just anecdotal evidence.  I choose to believe people that go beyond “correlation implying causation.” I choose to believe the people that know far more than I could ever hope to in their chosen fields.  Maybe science is slow. Maybe scientists make mistakes.  For these reasons—I also choose caution when I hear something about a food that gives me pause. However, I do not choose to go espouse my views on the internet as if they were the absolute truth.

*I am not linking to the blog or blogs in question, as I do not want to draw more traffic to what amounts to an unsubstantiated claim about a food.

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