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Coffee is good for you, and eggs are going to cut years off of your life. Or is it the other way around? Wine, tuna fish, chocolate — it seems like no consensus exists as to whether or not these foods pose a health risk. It isn’t just food either; sit-ups, running, and even standing have fallen victim to medical myth and misinformation.

While the decisions you make regarding what foods you put into your body are definitely important, they don’t exactly pose an immediate medical crisis. What does constitute a medical crisis, however, is the disinformation shared widely on social media and other internet avenues that promise cures for cancer, or implicate life-saving vaccines in the development of autism in children.

This type of misinformation is rampant and can do serious, lasting harm. Giving false hope to sick people and stoking fears in order to sell a product is not only dangerous, but immoral. We are all susceptible to being duped now and then, but if we educate ourselves we can make that a bit less likely.

Public Health Research Separates Fact and Fiction

In the world of healthcare, data is king. By collecting and analyzing all sorts of data, healthcare professionals and innovators are able to pinpoint problems and find solutions, as well as make incredible advancements in medical technology. This process is called public health research, and the main goal that it sets out to fulfill is to keep us as healthy and safe as possible.

Like all good research, any claims made are supported by evidence, reviewed by peers, and successfully replicated and verified. The importance of public health research cannot be understated, as it verifies that any particular medicine or procedure is not only safe, but also actually effective. Unfortunately, the power of hearsay and word-of-mouth can often sway an individual far more than factual research.

If you look at several common myths, you’ll find that there is usually no research to back up the claims being made. The idea that X-rays give you cancer, your heart stops when you sneeze, or that coffee can sober you up to drive after a night out drinking are absolutely unsubstantiated. The most popular of these medical myths —  the concept of vaccines being linked to autism — stands on incredibly shaky legs as the single piece of research making this claim has been thoroughly debunked by the Center for Disease Control multiple times using multiple sources.

Snake Oil Salesmen in the Internet Age

Though Dr. Oz, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Alex Jones all live very different lives, they do have one very problematic thing in common. These individuals are the prime examples of the modern day snake oil salesman, but instead of riding their cart into town to sell their shoddy wares, they take to the internet. If you go to any of their respective websites, you’ll see them peddling miracle cures that will do just about anything you might ask of them.

Feeling less masculine than you used to? Try this supplement. Love life taken a sour turn? Here is this porous jade egg for questionable use. Are you overweight? This drink will make you lose twenty pounds in twenty days.

These claims are not just unreasonable, they are immoral. Preying on the insecurities and fears of those who respect you to sell a product is bad enough, but doing so with the promise of a healthier life, to solve a serious medical condition, goes beyond the pale. This is the opposite of evidence-based practice, and endorsing these products that make false claims and give false hope is quackery at its worst.

Trust Your Doctor, Take Care of Yourself

Instead of taking your medical advice from illegitimate TV doctors, actors, and conspiracy theorists, trust your primary care physician! It is obvious advice, but taken all too infrequently these days. Healthcare professionals are bound not only by duty but by law to provide you with the best possible medical service within their capability. Your doctor will also be able to listen to you directly, making it more likely that they will be able to correctly diagnose whatever may be ailing you.

Disinformation can come from just about anywhere, even just passing conversation with a friend or family member. If someone offhandedly says to you that it is impossible to get corrective laser surgery if you suffer from astigmatism, don’t immediately accept that as fact. Do your own research and call your eye doctor, as they will be able to answer any questions you might have and you can trust that they are knowledgeable in their field. Doing so can result in a lifetime of healthy vision that you may have been denied had you bought into the hype.

This disinformation can start alarmingly early in life as well. Children can be notoriously afraid of going to the dentist because they are painted as boogeymen by other children their age. This is dangerous because a startling number of serious and preventable conditions are directly connected to oral health. If you sit down with them and talk to them about what they can actually expect during their first dental exam, you will not only assuage their fears but set them up to question the validity of hearsay. This inquisitive nature and willingness to search for the truth will set them up for healthy teeth and gums, as well as good health overall.

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to go against the grain, but make sure that if you do that you have all the facts and what you’re doing isn’t dangerous or ineffective. Encourage your friends and family to look towards factual, evidence-based research when considering medical advice. Most of all, just staying aware of the fact that even today we are still at risk of swindlers can be enough to help keep you safe!

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