Since the 1800s, there have been a variety of health and wellness claims. From the snake oil of early 1900s to the "master cleanse" of the early 2000s.
As a health reporter, I've tried supplements that promised to quell a sweet tooth. (I knew, rightly, that these wouldn't work.) If you have tried sea moss to speed up your metabolism, I will not judge. (That doesn't work, either.)
'People aren't gullible because they fall for false health claims,' said Christy Harrison. She is a registered dietitian, and the host of 'Food Psych,' a podcast. She explained that many of us are trying to fill in gaps within a healthcare system which can make us feel unheard and dismissed.
Harrison's new book, "The Wellness Trap": Break free from Diet Culture and Disinformation and Find Your True Health, is the culmination of nine years' research into the wellness industry. This industry embraces marketing but often ignores science. She outlined a few methods for evaluating wellness claims.
Harrison stated that social media is a platform for harmful advice. She said that while it can be difficult to discern between claims, certain words raise an immediate red flag.
Miracle, breakthrough and secrets. Harrison said that hyperbolic words and any "conspiracy language" that suggests that this information is something that 'they don't' want you to be aware of should be treated with skepticism.
Why would credible sources keep this information secret if there were a "natural" cure for cancer? She added.
Harrison says that the idea of hacking ourselves, like computers or machines, is a myth. She said that the true nature of health is much more than just physical health. It includes everything from your mental health, to your social life and your economic well-being.
Harrison says that the wellness industry tends to see the liver and kidneys like filters clogged up with toxins, which need to be cleaned. But the body is designed for detoxification, she said.
Harrison says that not only is the term vague, it can also have side effects which are comparable or even greater than those associated with standard medical treatment. She writes that 'Wellness Culture' talks about 'Big Pharma', which is not without its problems. But 'Big Supplements' are even more problematic, because they're largely unregulated.
Avoid claims that one food or nutrient can dramatically improve your health. Harrison said that a single food item, in the absence consuming poison, will not make or break you health. It is just a small part of your diet.
Harrison came across S.I.F.T. when she was researching for her book. Michael Caulfield is a researcher from the University of Washington, who studies online literacy. He developed a method for assessing information online. The acronym is Stop, Investigate the Source, Find Better Coverage and Trace the Claims.
Harrison advised that you should take a few moments to reflect before making any changes in your diet or lifestyle. Investigate the source, asking yourself: "How will the person who shared the content benefit?" What are their credentials? What is their agenda? Harrison said.
Harrison advised that you should verify the claim using reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health, and other organizations and agencies focused on public health. She said that if you can, try to trace back the claim's origin, such as a study. A quick search shows that, for instance, 'adrenal exhaustion', a common malady found in alternative medicine is not a diagnosis.
Harrison explained that in some cases there are no facts worth checking. She explained that the phrase "science hasn't gotten up to date" usually means that there is no research.
Speak to your doctor about any concerns you may have.
Harrison admits that many people look for wellness information on the internet because they have had a bad experience with their doctor or don't have access to quality medical treatment.
She said, 'If you can, ask your doctor for information about the wellness claims. If you're going to spend time on the internet, it's a good idea to consult your doctor before doing so.
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