It seems as if a day doesn't pass without the announcement of a new medical ''breakthrough'' or warning, many of them confusing, misleading or contradicting a prior one.
Without a map to guide us through this health information labyrinth, we can get frustrated, if not disillusioned, and make misinformed medical choices.
To start unraveling this info snarl, we need to address the source of most medical news – the research study.
There are two major types of studies: One scrutinizes the relationship between different factors, for example, breast implants and cancer. These studies, however, are rarely definitive and sometimes the results are coincidental and not a matter of cause and effect.
A second, more definitive, study is a controlled experiment (also known as ''randomized and double blind'') in which one group is given a new treatment and a second group gets a placebo.
How to Read Medical News
Use common sense. If a story sounds wrong or illogical, it probably is.
Study the factors involved in any studies mentioned. Was it randomized and double-blind? How large was it? Were there other factors involved that the story/study left out?
Trace the source of information (where, when and by whom). Was it published in a reputable medical journal?
Follow the money. Find out who funded the study. If it's not in the story, seek the original research in the library or online.
Check to see if the study reports a first-time finding or one that's been duplicated, and therefore, more valid.
Look for a debate about the product or treatment. Find out who's pro and con and what their motives are.
Be wary of products that haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These stories are almost always hype.
Ask your physician for his or her opinion.
Source: Navigating the Health Information Maze by Jim Gerard, ACE Fitness Matters, Volume 9, Issue 3 (May/June).