A student at The Avicenna Institute brought up a good point in their paper the other day. They mentioned that a lot of studies that are done on the benefits of different foods are done by the government or by the food industry itself. They wanted to know how they could tell which studies were valid and which were not. They cited a website that had claimed many benefits of a product they were selling.
Their question was very perceptive. In fact, last week I was doing research on artificial food colorings and I found the official European government site that stated that “of course these are not harmful”. I had to chuckle a bit. “Of course” if the government makes something legal they want to reassure us that it is not harmful. This is one example of how false information can be propagated to large groups of people.
However, in using the Internet as a research tool (along with books, interviews, studies, etc…) I have found that in many cases positive information is quite accurate on many websites. If you go to a website that sells honey their quoted studies on the benefits are often accurate. When you check on the journal references and studies they are usually easy to find and “check out”. If you go to a website that talks about the benefits of aromatherapy, homeopathy, brown rice, or any health food I have found that much of the time their positive quotes stand up to a background check.
However…not always. And when you are using natural healing always is important. So how do I sort through all the information that is posted out there?
First, what I am most cautious about is the lack of negative information or the abundance of negative information. If a website I see contains lists of positive studies I also make sure to check on some of the negative studies or less than positive information about that product.
A person should always cross reference everything with at least one impartial source or at least three different sources. Perhaps check out Snopes. Although they seem to have a bias that runs against natural healing, they tend to use “tried and true” methods of research – two professional research librarians run Snopes out of their trailer and use the library, journals and phone calls as their main research methods.
However, you also need to be cautious about what “journals” you are referencing. Be sure that they are respected and qualified journals.
Somehow I got on a mailing list for Triple Crown Health Newsletters. They appear legitimate because they put a big banner ad for Blue Cross at the top of their header. Only on close inspection can one tell that it is an ad and the newsletter is not coming from Blue Cross. For months I thought they were newsletters coming from Blue Cross and I found it interesting that Blue Cross was putting out so many herbal newsletters so I didn’t opt out. However, today was the first time I have read one of the newsletters and this is why…
As I was skimming through the newsletter I saw the words “Kava Kava”. Kava Kava makes me very ill. So ill that I would even consider visiting the emergency room. This is not unusual. Just like every herb, not all herbs are meant to be consumed by everyone. Although Kava Kava is advertised as a relaxing herb it actually makes many people’s heart race and can induce panic attacks or worse. I was curious what they had to say and then horrified that the newsletter didn’t mention anything about side effects at all. In fact, in closing, it said,
“Many people ask themselves, how do I know that herbs are safe for me to take? Herbs are all natural, so in most cases herbs are very good to take. Herbs rarely cause side effects like many other drugs sold.”
This is entirely false and is one reason why herbal medicine sometimes gets a bad reputation. Herbs should be taken in a responsible manner and be considered just as carefully as you would any medicine. Many herbs have side effects and many people have contraindications of taking certain herbs. Some of these side effects can be confusing and uncomfortable as well as harmful.
So this is the second way in which I tell if a source is valid – are they making outrageous claims? If they say things like “All herbs are safe and you never have to worry” I must then question everything else they say.
I’ve had clients complain of horrible headaches and dizziness because they steeped teas for too long. One client came to me with a range of complaints. When I asked him about supplements he consumed it turned out he was taking about 30 different herbs that someone at GNC had recommended for him. When he stopped taking the herbs his complaints went away. Another client spent days in bed with horrible cramps before they called me to ask advice. It turns out they were taking senna on a weekly basis without balancing it with cumin or another herb to calm the intense cramps it can cause.
When I was in labor with my third child I accidentally took too much skullcap to calm me after the birth and put the nurses into a panic because my blood pressure went so low. Luckily I knew why it was so low, I stopped drinking the tea and avoided the costly and perhaps painful tests they had in store for me.
The best way to decide what herbs to take, of course, is to consult a resource or a person you trust and the best way to tell if you can trust them or not is to ask them, “Do herbs have side effects?” If they say no, then find another resource.
Last, but not least, a good way to check the information you find is to check with a professional. Many of my clients send me long e-mails with questions about supplements, products, and foods they are consuming. I can often save clients hundreds of dollars and many hours of wasted time, simply by helping them go through their “cupboards” and sort through all the “hype” attached to the products they use. Many times there are less expensive products that are available that can show the same results or benefits. If you would like assistance sorting through all the conflicting health information you have register for a consult HERE.