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How to do health research online
Let’s face it – as a health professional, you have a lot riding on your shoulders! The weight that your nutrition, supplement, fitness, and lifestyle recommendations hold to your audience and your clients is big! Many people will change what they eat and do based on what you, as their trusted expert, say.
But, we all know that new, bigger, and better studies are being published every day. We’re finding out more about short- and long-term effects of health advice. And I know that even if you make an effort to keep up with the research, it’s impossible to know all of the latest and greatest.
So, how can you be confident that you’re recommendations are as recent, credible, and effective as possible? What’s the best way to keep a pulse on your specific area of expertise? How do you answer the million-dollar question:
- I heard this health news, is it true?
Well, let me help you find credible sources of health information quickly. Here’s how to do health research online.
First, you need a topic (and not necessarily a position)
This may sound obvious, but it’s not. Here’s what I mean:
I’m currently researching a new “done for you” health article on the topic of detoxification. I have a BSc in Biomedical Toxicology and my MSc covered both toxicology and nutrition. But . . . that was a few years ago, so I definitely want the latest and greatest for the next product in my shop. So, of course, I search for some recent, credible articles on detoxification. I want to include the many natural processes our bodies use to detoxify, as well as some of the “do’s” and “don’ts” for safe and healthy detoxification.
But, what if I thought I already knew everything about it? What if I was convinced that my position on these questions was true before verifying?
- How the liver, kidney, lungs, and skin detoxify,
- What happens to toxins that aren’t detoxified
- When to get medical attention,
- What nutrients your body uses to detoxify
- What kinds of “detoxes” and “cleanses” to avoid (and why)
- How to reduce exposure to some of the most harmful toxins.
If I was convinced of my position on the details of all of these topics, how would I handle seeing new articles and studies that challenged my knowledge because they said something different?
I know that the vast majority of what I learned at university back in the 1990s still holds water and gave me a great understanding of the basics. But, since then, I’ve found so many very interesting things that I had never learned about. In fact, I wrote a blog post summarizing a bunch of popular nutrition claims that were either never true, or new research has added more to our understanding. I also co-host the rEATsearch podcast where Lindsay and I casually chat about a new health study each episode. We dissect studies and comment on how strong and applicable they are based on how the study is done (the “methodology”), not based on the conclusions.
Stepping back for a second, if I was most certainly convinced that I knew my topic inside and out, and only looked for research that supported what I already knew (my position), then I wouldn’t be doing research. I’d actually be looking to support my position on my topic and creating “confirmation bias” where I’m being biased only to things that confirm my prior beliefs.
The idea is to NOT begin with the end in mind. Accepting or rejecting information based on what it concludes is not the right way to do research.
The real thing to look out for when looking at studies is more than just who’s sponsoring the study. Some other important factors are how big is the study, what did the researchers measure, and what/who was studied (studies done on rodents or cells are far less applicable to people than ones done with human participants).
Do you see the difference?
Having a “topic” is not the same as having a “topic + a position.”
“Researching a topic” is not the same as “finding support for my position on a topic.”
Accepting a study based on the results is not the same as accepting a study because it’s a strong study.
We all know that new research is being done every day. Our clients, blog readers, family, and friends often ask us about the latest health headline. And that’s the million-dollar question. Amirite?
So when we research a topic with a touch of open-mindedness, we might actually learn something! We may learn more details about what we already know. We may learn that our position is still spot-on. Or we may learn that there are new and improved hypotheses that make more sense of what we previously knew.
In fact, research shows that people who are not overly confident in their position on a topic are actually more competent. That’s right, people who are experts know what they don’t know, so they seek out newer and better information. That’s why experts include caveats and disclaimers when they communicate. They understand the nuances and the grey areas of their topics—it’s not just black and white. That’s why researchers have to write up an entire section about the strengths, limitations, and applicability about each new study. You can find this under the “Discussion” section in most published studies.
The way to expertise is to always see what research is out there, decide whether it’s good enough or not (based on how it’s done, not what it concludes), and see what you can learn from it.
In fact, I wrote all about where new research turned my “knowledge” about the gut microbiome on its head! (Figuratively, of course… microbes don’t have heads). 🙂 I read a newly-published study a few years ago and it made me re-evaluate my position on the topic. Blew my mind at the time, but honestly, I’m better for it! I wrote all about that time here.No shame in changing your position with new and improved information. #Research #Health Click To Tweet
Right now I’m reviewing what I know about detoxification and learning new things as well. In fact, I’ve so many health professionals say detoxificaiton is totally BS and others who recommend it to everyone. Who is right? Or maybe, instead of that black-and-white approach, by learning the nuances I’ll soon be able to share what I learn in a brand new done-for-you article in my shop.
It’s not easy to consider another position to be valid. Many people feel super-strongly about their position. They may have a ton of experience on it and keep seeing news and information shared that only re-iterates that position.
Even if these are true, don’t you think it’s good to understand different (but reasonable) positions on the same topic?
I do! If you’re like me, you may be curious and want to find the latest and greatest in order to be the most up-to-date, credible, and effective professional in your field.
Now that you have a topic, and are pretty curious as to whether your position is still the best one, let’s find you some articles.
Second, you need trusted sources
The most trustworthy sources of health information may not be intuitive. In fact, they can be downright boring.The most trustworthy sources of health information may not be intuitive. In fact, they can be downright boring. #Trust #Credibility #Health Click To Tweet
Don’t you find that listening to someone’s compelling and captivating personal story is far more interesting than reading a systematic review of multiple randomized clinical trials?
Ya, me too!
What about listening to a passionate presenter who is so sure that their explanation of how something works is the only reasonable explanation, and anyone who doesn’t see it their way is absolutely 100% wrong?
Fearless and passionate leaders are not always right (especially if they speak with unwavering confidence).
What about an expert who can clearly and articulately simplify something to the point that it seems so obvious, there cannot be another explanation.
This is truly empowering to hear.
Sincerity, passion, and confidence sure are convincing!
BUT, they’re not necessarily the best evidence we have on whether something works or not (or how it works).
You might think science is science, but some evidence is ranked higher in the scientific community than others, and having an awareness of this can help you sort the science from the pseudoscience when it comes to various internet claims. (Ref)
Plus, as professionals, we KNOW that what works for one person may not apply to everyone. Even if it seems to work for many (or most) of our clients. I mean, we’re all slightly different from each other, right?
Sure there are some fundamentals that apply across the board: Just about everyone can use a few more veggies and a bit less stress each day. Of course! But when it comes to details of food or supplement choices, what works (or doesn’t work) for one person is not going to be the “one size fits all” prescription for everyone’s health.
Here’s a perfect (and personal) example:
A Brazil nut, which is a super-healthy nut that I recommend, has literally almost killed me – more than once! My anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. BUT, my reaction to it, even though it’s shared by thousands of people, is not likely going to affect everyone else.
So, I’m not on the “ban Brazil nuts for everyone” bandwagon. I know that I need to avoid even minute traces of it in a serious way. But, it’s fine, if not healthy, for most people.
Here are some of my favourite websites for reliable resources for health information.
And, don’t worry, it doesn’t include PubMed which I know is for super-nerds. If you have ever read, understood, and fully critiqued a health study, you are bilingual because those bad boys are NOT written in English! Here are a few tips how to skeptically read a health study, if you want to get nerdy like me. 🙂
If you do health research, you need a topic (a bit of an open mind – or lack of attachment to a position) and trusted sources! That’s how you can answer the million-dollar health question, “I heard this health news, is it true?”
Keep learning. Keep being open-minded. Know where to go to do health research online!
Signing off and toasting: To learning about health topics online!
Over to you
Did you have a time where new information blew you away, and you realized you had to change your position on a topic? Do you remember a time where a compelling story, a passionate leader, or empowering expert was so convincing? Do you want to learn more about PubMed and finding, understanding, and critiquing studies (which is another course altogether)?
I’d love to know (in the comments below)!
Featured products for your credible health blog:
I’m Leesa Klich, MSc., R.H.N.
Health writer – Blogging expert – Research nerd.
I help health and wellness professionals build their authority with scientific health content. They want to stand out in the crowded, often unqualified, market of entrepreneurs. I help them establish trust with their audiences, add credibility to their services, and save them a ton of time so they don’t have to do the research or writing themselves. To work with me, click here.