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Health information, how to make sense of it

Posted Aug 13 2012 2:48am
I don’t know about you but most people I meet are confused by health information, and who can blame them. You will not get the bigger picture from most TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.

These are entertainment media, not information media.

Few ‘good news’ health topics are presented as ‘good news’ is not considered news so ‘bad news’ topics are covered.

We are bombarded with what has been found to be bad for us, rather than hearing what has found to be good. We are told about the one poor study that says vitamins are bad for you, while there is no coverage of the thousands of studies that show they are beneficial. No wonder people are confused about conflicting health messages and go on in the same way as they did before.

Do you find health information confusing?

Then you are in the majority. Most people do and the reason is that you are listening to the news and reading newspapers, thinking that what is reported is there to guide and help you. Well, in general, it isn’t. News is there to be entertaining and interesting not to be balanced and to help you live a better life. That’s what books are for, and hopefully some web sites, like mine!

Many people are so confused by the news about health that they use this as an excuse to ignore all health messages.

Yet basic messages about health haven’t changed in the last 20 years. If we actually listened to what our grandmothers and even mothers told us and did what we suggested, we would be healthier.

Eat nutritious foods; take some form of exercise; don’t smoke; be careful how much you drink and live safely. These are the simple messages we all need to follow. The trouble is that these messages are often clouded by the headlines about the latest health report or so-called breakthrough, which if you wait a few weeks will be contradicted by another headline.

There certainly is a huge amount of new health information being produced that I, as a health coach, find it difficult to keep up to date. I get my health information from my studies as a health coach, health journals, from expert speakers at conferences and seminars, newsletters, webinars and books. I then try to fit this new information into the framework of information I already have. Some new information changes the emphasis on older information, some clarifies it, and some contradicts it. I then try to make sense of it and fit it in to the bigger picture.

Fit for Business is a concept to show the bigger picture of health and how it relates to your everyday working life and tie all these ideas together to make a sensible whole. It includes all conventional and complementary therapies, focuses on nutrition, exercise and your attitude to educate you on getting and staying healthy.

Health Information Websites

Health Information Websites

Preventative health is all about doing what is necessary to stay in good health. This is, by far, the best health option, rather than waiting to be ill and then treating it. See my article How To Be Healthy .

Corrective health is putting you right when you are ill.

This usually starts with going to the doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. Once you have a diagnosis you can find out more information by using the Internet, books or magazines. It is always wise to use several sources when gathering information, and you will often find that there are differing opinions over causes and treatments. Some courses of action may work better than others for you, and different ideas can sometimes be combined. What do you do when you just don’t feel well?

Always work with your doctor to find what suits you best, but don’t be afraid of changing to a doctor who is more sympathetic to your own health ideas.  Also, understand that Doctors are General Practioners that see many, many people everyday and even with the greatest skill set and will to help you, they are limited in terms of only being able to deal with the symptoms.

Conventional therapies are what your health care provider will offer. These are evidence and cost based and evaluated to be the best treatments for an illness. They usually involve drugs or surgery and target a particular problem. However, recent drug trials have been shown to give a less than clear evidence base for the relative risks and benefits of some modern drugs. It is worth discussing the benefits and risks of any treatment fully with your doctor and also finding out more about treatments for yourself.

Complementary and alternative therapies tend to be thought of as being the same.

Strictly however, alternative therapies are used instead of conventional therapies, and complementary therapies can be used together with conventional therapies. You should always discuss using any of these therapies with your doctor before trying them, and never stop taking medicines or having treatment without discussing this with your doctor first. I use the term complementary therapies to cover all non-conventional therapies. Complementary therapies are often more holistic in their approach to illness and treatment, and this is more in tune with modern ideas of health than conventional medicine. They are also usually better at preventative health. It is up to you to find the information you need for yourself. Always use a range of sources for such information, and try to assess them for consistency and authority. Exercise similar caution in choosing a complementary practitioner.

Medical claims differentiate conventional from complementary therapies

The problem with most complementary therapies is that large trials haven’t been done to provide an evidence base for their use. The reason for this is that large scale trials are effective and they won’t be paid for by drug companies because there isn’t any money to be made from the results,  it doesn’t end up with an expensive patentable drug, and governments don’t see why they should pay. Medicine regulation is also very strict, and as soon as any medical claims are made a product is treated as a medicine, which requires huge investment to produce evidence for approval. Health care providers are therefore reluctant to offer complementary therapies, though this doesn’t mean that they don’t work or aren’t good for you.

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