First we read that alcohol is the root of all medical evil; then we're told a daily drink is good for your health. One week butter is bad; the next it's margarine that does you in. How do you sort out such conflicting medical assertions?
"The public has a right to be confused," says Dale Ogar, managing editor of the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter. To separate the wheat from the chaff, Ogar urges a common-sense approach:
Don't rush to change your health habits with each new report, especially if it flies in the face of everything you know.
If the research was an animal study, be cautious about generalizing.
Beware of hype.
Consider the number of study participants and its length. Pay attention, too, to who funded the study (a factor that may bias it).
Watch for key words. "May" does not mean "will." "Contributes to" does not mean "causes."
Check out the following newsletters, which look at new studies with an experienced and skeptical eye:
Consumer Reports on Health, monthly 8-pager, $24 annually, (800) 234-2188.
Environmental Nutrition, monthly 8-pager, $30 annually, (800) 829-5384.
University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter, monthly 8-pager, $24 annually, (904) 445-6414.