Want to learn all you can do to take care of yourself during COVID-19 pandemic? By all means, do your research. Knowledge is power, after all.
With the bombardment of Coronavirus stories, it’s a lot of information to take in. Can you read it all? Would you want to read it all? Which stories should you be taking seriously and which ones should you scroll on by?
Chances are you’re nervous about COVID-19, as are many right now. Don’t let fear cloud your judgement, so I am going to help you step back, take a deep breath, and figure out how to weed out the junk.
I’m not going to tell you specifically what to believe and what not to believe, since information is changing so fast and there’s simply too much to cover.
Health “breakthroughs” are nothing new and, it hasn’t taken long for people to jump on board to offer their unique solutions.
People are touting special diets (and foods to avoid), fancy oils, herbs, supplements, places to avoid (even if they’re not crowded) and step-by-step routines. How wonderful it would be if we could trust everything we read.
We’re also hearing some things that are hard to tell if they’re of any value or not. People are certainly taking the opportunity to pounce on our fears, but don’t assume it’s all fake. The key is sorting out the good, the bad, and the “keep an open mind, but don’t jump in with two feet” . Here’s what you need to consider:
How Did You Find It?
How did you find the article? Was it a popup with a sensational headline and a shocking photo, or were you searching for it? If you searched for it, was it at the top of the results with this “Ad” logo? Does it directly speak to your question or is it a little off-topic? Be clear on what you want to know, so you can sort through and toss the results that are irrelevant.
Consider the Source
Different types of publications have different goals. Many are trying to generate clicks, so their information is more about grabbing your attention. Others are legitimately aiming to educate. As you read through the information you found, is it pointing you to a specific product or service? If so, the author may be laying the foundation for a sale. Some of it may be exactly what you need, some may be a waste of your money, and some might be dangerous. Remember, the goal of the source should weigh into your takeaway.
Now, not all sources are in it for the money, they are just geared toward different things. Is it a blog based on opinion or someone’s experience, or a website describing scientific studies? Keep in mind, if someone is obviously sharing their experience, that’s all it is. The motive isn’t necessarily to deceive, but what they’re offering is definitely different than someone with an expertise in a field.
What’s The Basis For The Claim?
I’m going to give all purveyors of health advice the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they all truly believe in their message and want to promote it for the good of mankind. That is fantastic. Unfortunately, the best of intentions aren’t good enough when it comes to your health and what you put into your body.
Understanding why they want you to believe something is very important. Do they claim to be more enlightened than “experts” because they have thought it through in depth? Did they do their own research? Did they gather other people’s research?
Is it Valid?
Some “solutions” are based purely on a theory, or a set of ideas that seem to make sense in explaining something. Theories can range from the far-fetched to those with compelling logic based in well-established knowledge. Theories, are not, however, definitive answers, and need research to back them up.
In some cases you will see the claim is that ABC will “prevent” your problem, and XYZ is the cure. The reality is rarely that simple, and it’s easy to attribute an effect to something when it was really something else. Without controlled studies to identify those things, you are reading about a theory. That’s all. That’s where clinical studies come in.
How Research Works
In a nutshell, researchers will test a theory by establishing a specific question to answer that would logically be true if the theory was true. Good studies will do everything possible to isolate the variable of interest from any other possible influences, and control for any other things that could explain the result.
When they crunch the numbers, they will be able to say if it is likely or not (through statistics) that X influenced the outcome, and it wasn’t just a fluke of chance. This will be described as strength of a relationship, but not a cause. Research demonstrates when there’s compelling evidence, but those statistics will never say without a doubt that the result was caused by X. There will always be a sliver of a chance that something else came into play that wasn’t on their radar.
This is why you should be wary of terms like “prove”, “clinically proven”, “fool-proof”, “proven method”, etc. Quality research won’t use those words.
Does your source throw around scientific-sounding terms that you can’t find in any mainstream publication? Is it a real term but taken out of context? If that substance, thing (or whatever the fancy word is) were really so powerful, why wouldn’t the big-money research organizations already know about it? Wouldn’t they want in on such an earth-shattering breakthrough? There’s probably good reason you don’t find big name organizations talking about it.
The Telephone Game
When you read the article, check the links (if any) they point to. Is it referring directly to an original study or someone’s take on it, or a summary, linking to another summary, etc.? The farther away from the source, the more skeptical you should be. Remember the telephone game? Passing a story from one person to the next to the next ends up with something totally different.
Case in point: “Chocolate Cures Cough”. How many times have you seen that one circulating? I realize many people shared it because wishful thinking makes this one funny, but the original author of the research that sprang from even said the claim is a complete fabrication. The story that was floating around was someone’s take on a summary of a summary, and so on.
Best case scenario, you might use something that does absolutely nothing but waste a little money. Worst case scenario, you do something that really endangers you.
The wisest thing to do is to follow credible sources and take steps that are recommended by known experts in the field of infectious diseases.