Information is everywhere. Answers to our questions are all around us, and if we have a health-related question, medical information is easily at our fingertips. Although articles, research and studies are all over the internet, health research can be very contradictory with one study “proving” one angle and another study “proving” another. Knowing how to determine if health studies are reliable and what to believe is certainly not easy.
Here are some important things to remember about medical research:
- New research often contradicts previous research since it is based on the science available to the researchers at the time. Having said that, it is important to note that just because a study is newer doesn’t mean it is more reliable than an older study.
- Not all studies should be trusted, so it is important to pay attention only to those that are reputable.
- Even reputable studies can contradict one another due to differences in the way the study was conducted.
- Context plays a huge role in the validity of medical research. When a lack of information about the existing evidence supporting the study is presented in an article, exaggerations can be the result.
How to Determine if Health Studies Are Reliable
- Evaluate how the study fits in with the evidence presented on the topic. Is it in context? Is there enough information to support the claims?
- Be aware of the size of the study. The more subjects that are involved in the study, the more reliable the results will be.
- Was the study done on humans, animals or test tubes? The most reliable results are those that came from humans.
- How similar were the participants in the study to you (or whomever you are comparing the study to in hopes of getting answers to a health condition)? For example, were they similar in age, gender, income, living environment, etc?
- Was a control group involved? This is a group of subjects that do not receive the treatment being tested in order to compare the treatment against the absence of the treatment.
- What kind of endpoints does the study look at? Examples of real disease endpoints would be heart disease or osteoporosis. If the study instead looks at markers for those diseases instead of the real endpoint, results can be less accurate since those markers don’t always develop into the disease.
- Note the type of the study since some types are more reliable than others. Different types include randomized controlled trials (best), cohort studies (next best), retrospective case-control and cross-sectional studies (prone to biases), small human intervention trials on intermediate biomarkers (good for complementing large cohort studies), and animal studies (results may not apply to humans).
- Make sure the study comes from credible sources and that it was independently funded to ensure accuracy and to remove biases.