OK, so this is a long one, but I think it is important. It may get a little bit ranty, because it is something I am so passionate about and something that can have serious implications. So get ready….
Lately, I have noticed a huge increase in the number of people on social media sharing articles on health that are from an anti-Western medicine standpoint, or that are written by individuals that have misunderstood the data. I think it is great that people are more concerned about their own health and are making an effort to educate themselves, however almost every article I see shared is based on pseudoscience, opinion and anecdotal evidence, and in the worst cases ignores science completely. These articles often put forward “natural” treatments as best practice and claim that modern medicine and treatments are ineffective/dangerous/cause of disease/only used because of profits etc.
This is really dangerous for several reasons:
These articles are generally written by non-professionals (or made-up professionals- see my post on good advice) who have no training and lack an in depth knowledge of the subject matter. This means that the even if they refer to scientific literature it is often misinterpreted and therefore meaningless. Please also bear in mind your own understanding of science, pharmacology, physiology and research before sharing an article; do you truly understand the content? Are you just assuming the article is correct? Can you trust the source/author?
The people writing these articles are selling something too. There is often talk about how pharmaceuticals are big bucks and claims are made that this is why they are promoted in healthcare. “The audacity of the pharmaceutical industry to charge money for medicines that save lives and have taken over 20 years to develop and bring to market”. Yet a so-called “doctor” in the USA is trialling (meaning it is untested, not proven to be effective and not controlled by bodies like the FDSA) a baking soda and vitamin IV on vulnerable cancer patients and charging thousands per treatment. BAKING SODA AND VITAMINS!!! At the end of the day, we live in an age of capitalism and we pay for everything. Why do we feel that pharmaceuticals are all corrupt, yet spend billions buying into diets and diet products that actually don’t work (over 90% of all diets fail)?
Modern medicine has prevented millions of deaths and cases of diseases worldwide, and allows millions more diagnosed with conditions to lead normal lives. Vaccines are receiving the most hate lately with the rise of the “anti-vax” movement. Yet, vaccines are one of the main reasons out life expectancy has increased so much over the last century and are leading to the decline (and hopefully soon extinction) of several diseases. How do we know vaccines work? Science backs up the use of vaccines time and time again. If you need a visual aid, check out the massive drop in measles deaths following the introduction of the measles vaccine and a further reduction following the introduction of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) programme in the UK:
------------- = Notifications of measles cases (per thousand)
--------------= Vaccine coverage (% population)
(Salisbury et al. 2006)
Medicines and vaccines are very safe. They go through years of tringent testing and even after they are brought to market are reviewed and investigated following any patient reports. In the UK this is done through the Yellow Card scheme. Of course a percentage of the population may suffer from side-effects, but the benefit of use usually greatly outweighs the risks.
Pharmaceutical and scientific research is continuous, meaning that new drugs and vaccines are constantly developed and others taken from the market. This is the same as any product out there. The most comprehensive and current research is what influences medical practice. Treatment protocols are recommended for a reason, they are backed up by the best evidence available and the scientific and medical communities have decided that it is the best practice. i.e. the treatment is the best available option for the largest percentage of the population.
There is sometimes a line that goes “doctors are making money from drug X and that’s why they prescribe it”. I hate this type of chat about ANY professional. First of all, doctors study for a long time, as do other professionals, and therefore likely to know more about the topic at hand than you. Secondly, doctors (and again most professionals) are bound by a code of ethics, which states that they must practice with patients best interests in mind at all times. Additionally, in the UK doctors and other independent prescribers are limited in what drugs they can prescribe. Only certain brands and forms of drugs are valid on the NHS, while those not condoned are on the “black list”. This limits prescribers, but ensures only the most effective drugs are used.
By sharing false information based on pseudoscience and/or from unreliable sources, you are part of the problem. This type of information should not be shared, it is potentially harmful and takes away from the authority and trustworthiness of actual medicine and science, as well as adding to the confusion of the population. I know you might think sharing an article won’t kill anyone (I’m going extreme here, bear with me!), but what if the story you share is about a treatment a friend/follower currently receives? And what if this bogus story scares them? They could stop treatment/ have poor adherence to their treatment, which can be serious. I have seen people share false information on the flu and MMR vaccines that has led to individuals refusing it, although they would benefit greatly from it.
How do you know what to believe and what to ignore?
Have a read of my post on “what is good advice?”
Check the authors credentials, and ask for them if they aren’t evident. Look out for where and when they studied, whether they are affiliated with a professional or governing body and whether they are trying to sell any woowoo BS.
You can search many professional registers to check whether someone is qualified or not:
General Medical Council (GPs)
Dieticians, radiographers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists , speech and language therapists and lots more register with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)
Nutritionists can join the voluntary register through the Association for Nutrition
Personal trainers are listed on the National Register of Personal Trainers
Keep on questioning things, but remember to align your opinions with evidence. Please don’t disagree with professionals, or worse still science, unless you have specialist knowledge. Do your own research, but don’t assume a quick look on Google will provide you with the best evidence. Check the source of all the information you treat as Gospel; if your information on medication comes from the Daily Mail, how reliable is it? If you are unsure whether a story is reliable, check source and author and if you still don’t know ask a professional.
If you made it to the end, thank you! I hope you can see my point and will take some of my advice on board.
Take home: Question anything you read about health online, always check qualifications and remember that to become a professional you have to study the subject in depth.
Lots of love,
Little O x