Learning to Think Through Health Claims

A friend posted this link on Facebook recently. It’s entitled ‘Our world is awash in bullshit (sorry about the language) health claims. These scientists want to train kids to spot them.’

As someone who works part time in health, and has done for thirty years (doesn’t that sound a dreadfully long time!) now, it’s something I’m passionate about, but also frustrated.

Day after day I have to explain to people that no, your body isn’t actually put together like that no matter what the CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine) practitioner told you. And no, that isn’t actually how that technique works, because of this physiology. I usually use a combination of images of anatomy, and what I like to refer to as ‘safe sites’ for finding information. But it’s difficult, and becoming harder every year.

This week I also saw multiple memes, posts and comments shared by well meaning (I’m sure) people who have either simply copied and pasted something without actually checking facts, or who actually truly believe whatever inaccuracy they’ve just posted, despite said inaccuracy being completely in denial of chemistry, biology, or physics.

Some of those memes are hurtful, particularly to the sufferers of the disease/condition/injury that such things may often trivialise. They know all too well the hurt that something like a meme that suggests their problem can be cured by something as simple as eating bananas, for example, can cause.

For some reason, there is more and more distrust of conventional medicine in some circles, and an adherence to CAM.

Just recently I was told that the bruises left from  cupping were the ‘bad blood and toxins’ being drawn out. They had been told that the cups are able to discriminate between ‘bad blood’ and ‘good blood.’ Now, if you have even a smattering of biology or physiology, you know that the reason you have a liver and kidneys is to remove the waste products from your body, and that the bruising left by cupping is simply bruising – because of the suction used to hold the cups on breaking the capillaries.If you want a bit more of a breakdown, pop along to Science Blogs.

Reposting dodgy health advice on social media without checking its authenticity is dangerous. In some cases, it may lead to someone’s death. In others, contribute to debility and adverse events. At the very least, posting such things makes my job, and your GP’s job, harder.

Some things may do no harm, yet others will have lasting consequences. My rule is generally: If you don’t know it’s true, don’t post it. And if you don’t know how to find out if it’s true, still don’t post it, even if another friend has.

Of course, there are some telltales to help. If the claims are very wide ranging and apparently miraculous, then you can be pretty sure they’re unsubstantiated. If they claim a cover up for a particular ‘cure,’ then you can also be pretty sure they’re unsubstantiated. Why, you might ask? Because if they were substantiated, they’d already be called ‘medicine.’

It takes time, hard work, and science for something to be substantiated. In the meantime, remember that your conventional health practitioner is a professional who also has a passionate desire to see you get better.

Also, read the first link. It’s a tool for kids in Uganda, but it has application for everyone, and we can all learn something from it. So when you next hear/see a new health claim, be it in meme form, article, comment or post, think about it first, examine the evidence (an anecdote is not enough!) from a reputable place, and then think again.


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