Health Spin

Most of us know that there is important information out there on which we should base our health decisions. It might be the reason you’ve chosen to look over this little article. After all, we make our decisions and form our opinions based on the information we’ve been exposed to along the way. Having been launched headlong into the information age, most of us are already experiencing information overload, the health component of which seems to be growing most rapidly. Our main problem handling all of this information is in separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Having recently gained the benefit of a good spam filter on our computer at home, I find myself dreaming of the day there’s a similar filter for B.S., if you’ll pardon my saying so.

We health care and health product consumers have every right to be cautious about the information we’re given. It seems that most sources have their own "spin”. After all, most sources of information are involved in some "for profit” health activity that they would like to promote. Of course, providing a health care service is how I pay my rent, so from the outset, I can’t claim to be impartial either, and I do have some strong opinions. Information sources that aren’t for profit, such as government agencies and consumer groups are not free from problems either; as they are often the victims of intense and frequently successful lobbying. True objectivity is a rare commodity.

The Internet, which is a "virtual” free-for-all of competing interests, allows us access to unimaginable amounts of information. Many sites of dubious purpose however, are misrepresented under the guise of public information services. Of all places where caution is warranted, the Internet is number one. My personal, least favorite is a site called "Quackwatch”, that of a medical zealot who uses propaganda disguised as truth in order to attack my own and other holistic professions.

Our trusted news reporters rarely have time to tell the whole story and more often now, copy or read press releases from various sources. Personally, I would love to know who chooses, and how they choose what is presented as "health news”.

For example, recently on the same day, I saw two conflicting television reports on health segments that would underscore the problem of partial information. The first report was from concerned dermatologists urging the public to wear sunscreen year round if sun exposure could not be avoided in order to prevent skin cancer. The second report stated that low vitamin D levels were thought to contribute to some cancers as well as other diseases such as M.S. To my knowledge, sunscreens prevent the skin from making vitamin D from sunlight, one of our most important sources. Therefore it would seem that by reducing sun exposure we may help prevent skin cancer, but we may not make enough vitamin D, thereby raising the risks of other diseases, cancers included. Incomplete bits of information such as those above leave us wondering just what the truth is.

A recent investigation showed that many research findings reported in the news are subsequently found by further research to be incorrect or flawed, yet rarely are we informed of this. It is no wonder that there are a growing number of books "exposing” problems and scandal in our health care system.

Unfortunately, natural health products are not free from dubious claims either. As an example, I was recently given a data sheet on a new product, which on the surface seemed very exciting. It turned out, however, that the active components would be destroyed by digestion, yet the supplement was orally administered, rendering it ineffective. I’m sure the manufacturer knew this, but chose to market the product anyway, hoping there would be more than enough gullible buyers.

I hope that all of the above doesn’t seem like fear mongering or finger pointing. My purpose is to underscore the point that making decisions based a single source of information can be risky. It is truly a challenge to find a path through the avalanche of information we are subjected to. Most caveats suggested for other consumer products are equally applicable in the world of health. The following are a few other points to consider when you’re unsure.

• Has this information been confirmed by more than one source [is it well referenced]?

• Is this source well qualified to be offering such information?

• What is the intent of the information?

• Does the product or service make remarkable statements or promises?

• Is the one providing the information also the one who is selling you the product or service?

• Is there a regulatory body overseeing the product or service?

• Are questions dealt with in a clear and knowledgeable manner?

• Most importantly, is there a source, knowledgeable and trustworthy, that you can ask? You know you’ve found one if they occasionally reply, "I don’t know, let me ask someone I trust”.

Dr. Pepperdine is the owner of Southcare Chiropractic in Nanaimo. He can be reached at 755-1554.