Health Misinformation Kills — Here’s What You Can Do About It

Every day, we find ourselves bombarded with swarms of health-related information from the media. I mean — take a look at the many health claims making their rounds on your social media feed. Essential oils as a cure-all? Please.

Shady health claims on the web

Health claims on the internet are frequently overblown, misleading, based on shoddy research, or completely false.

From headlines about how juice fasting is the cure to cancer (it’s not) to the alleged dangers of vaccinations, the onslaught of news can be downright overwhelming; not to mention potentially harmful.

Medical misinformation kills

How harmful? Well — to the extent that it kills.

According to a 2017 study, cancer patients who turn to alternative therapies — such as diets, herbs, and supplements — in place of conventional treatments are 2.5 times more likely to die within five years of diagnosis.

Parents convinced of vaccines’ role in adverse health effects, such as autism and multiple sclerosis, have refused immunization for their children. As a result, an alarming rise in the number of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases has been observed. And this is all happening despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines, ultimately, save thousands and millions of lives.

Unfortunately, many individuals don’t know where to turn for unbiased, trustworthy advice. And the ease with which propagation of misinformation takes place on the Internet can leave your head spinning; is coffee beneficial to your health, or is it a potential carcinogen?

Searching for reliable health information

Thankfully, you can quickly filter out unreliable health information on the Internet by asking yourself the following three questions:

#1 — What is the source of this information, and is it respected and credible?

When relying on the Internet for medical research, it is crucial to determine the source of information.

In general, websites sponsored by educational institutions, government, or credible professional organizations are more likely to provide reliable and evidence-based information than commercial sites.

Anyone with a little money and time to kill can start their website and start presenting themselves as a ‘health guru.’ Whenever possible, you should avoid getting medical information from personal blogs and websites.

#2 — How current is this information?

Did you know that doctors used to prescribe oral ingestion of arsenic and mercury — both toxic heavy metals — for the treatment of syphilis in the 1940s?

Thankfully, we’ve made significant advancements in our medical knowledge. And we continue doing so, every single day.

Thousands of new medical studies are published every month; health information is continually changing. Don’t assume that the information you’ve just read is up-to-date; sadly, you’ll find that this is often not the case.

A good practice to adopt when sifting through information on the vast web is to check when the website, or content piece, was last updated. You can usually find the date of a webpage’s previous update in the footer (near the bottom) of the page.

#3 — Who pays for the content?

Beware of content bias — what is the purpose of this site? Is it an affiliate marketing website where the owner stands to profit from a cut off your purchase? You cannot trust anything a website says when their purpose of existence is to sell to you: the unknowing consumer.

You should, therefore, always be cautious when clicking on links that are advertisements, or are part of an affiliate program. Remember that high-quality and credible information sources seek to educate; not profit.

The 5 Websites you need to bookmark

But — what if you don’t have the spare time to sift through a dozen conflicting health-related opinions on the web? Is there a short-cut to finding reliable sources?

Well, yes! You can cut your research time by half — or more — by searching for information on the following five reputable websites:

1. MedlinePlus — Produced by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), MedlinePlus has extensive information on over 1000 diseases and conditions; the site offers reliable, up-to-date health information for free.

2. PubMed — A free database developed and maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the NLM; PubMed comprises over 29 million citations for biomedical literature from various reputable sources.

3. — This free search engine based in New York City aims to make high-quality medical information from billions of documents from global health organizations, medical journals, and reference sites easily accessible to everyone.

4. NEJM Journal Watch — The NEJM journal watch summarizes the most critical research, medical news, drug information, public health alerts, and guidelines across 12 specialties, including General Medicine and Cardiology.

5. Medscape — Medscape provides access to medical information through its references to medical journals, MEDLINE’s database, medical news, and Medscape Drug Reference (MDR).

Bottom line

Always use good judgment and common sense when navigating the complexities of health information on the Internet. There are countless websites on nearly every health topic, and many have no governing rules overseeing the quality of the information provided. If needed, fall back on the five sites mentioned earlier to kick-start your health research.

PS: I thought I should let you know that current scientific research suggests that coffee is not a carcinogen. You know, just in case it was bothering you.

Fitness & Nutrition | Evidence-Based | Let’s meet in your inbox:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store