By Wendy Winn, PT, OCS
Oh, Wellness, what a concept you’ve become!
For many years, I viewed wellness as the opposite of sickness. If you’re not sick, you are well.
Now, #wellness is symbolized by collagen peptides people put in their coffee on Instagram. Where did we go astray?
There are SO MANY products in the health and wellness market that it is often difficult for consumers to understand what is actually good for them! Even our trusty friend “science” gets roped into the mix. More than ever, businesses and Instagram influencers are using and abusing the idea of science to sell their products.
So how on earth do we as consumers know what is actually good for us, and what is simply spin? Let’s discuss how to discern sound advice from faux science.
First, research the referenced article. ALL “wellness science” should have at least one study referenced in an article telling you what to do with your health. Studies should be published in peer-reviewed journals (not just magazines) with actual scientific data using the scientific method.
Using this method, a hypothesis is formed about an outcome, but there is never any direct tie to that outcome. An experiment (preferably with a randomly sampled controlled and non-controlled groups, both blinded to the subject of the test and the hypothesis) is performed in an environment with as many internal and external variables controlled as possible. Collection of data, results, discussion, and conclusion are then formed and summarized in an article. Many of these articles can be found in the database “PubMed” from the National Institute of Health.
Following the aforementioned process yields the second highest level of scientific inquiry, a randomized controlled trial (RCT). The lowest level of evidence is a case study, or essentially a retrospective report on something that occurred to one person without controlled circumstances. The highest is a systematic review of RCTs on a particular subject.
If there is no article cited, this is just either “expert opinion” or heresay, and not based on real science. While expert opinions can be valuable, unless they are backed up by science, it is really just personal opinion. You might as well ask your gym buddy how they feel about compression socks.
If there is a cited article, we need to examine the following:
Date and Journal - How new or old is this research? While citations from the 1980’s through the 2000’s provide insight into the foundations of certain areas of research, the likelihood that more studies have been done since then is good and more recent articles could be cited. Is the journal reputable (like the British Journal of Sports Medicine) or does it have an obscure name you’ve never heard of?
Sample and Investigators - Who are the researchers and who did the researchers use as samples? How many are there? Was it a random sampling to get a more accurate representation of the demographic, or was it literally one subject (a case study). Are the subjects not even humans at all (mice?) For example, a study using ten collegiate male runners aged 18-20 may not be applicable to an everyday athlete aged 35-40 with a desk job.
Bias - This is a big one. Two ways to spot bias are through the introduction of the article and through the funding source of the research. If in the introduction the authors offer opinions about the outcome, that’s a sign that the research might not be substantial. Further, if a study is done about a product, and the research is funded by the producer of that product, the odds of the study showing ineffectiveness are low.
“Myths Debunked” and the “spinning” of results - In an effort to create “Breaking News” in health columns, authors will often take a piece of a research article and magnify it beyond recognition to create controversy. An example of story-spinning was when the New York Times told us that stretching was bad for runners. False. Not true. What a study did find was that a prolonged stretch (greater than 60 sec) of the achilles tendon decreased explosiveness of a sprint when done right before it. That is true and makes total sense when applied to kinesiology principles and the idea of potential stored energy in a tendon. This is a far cry from “stretching is bad for runners,” and has created a legacy of controversy in its wake.
The point of inquiring if your #wellness data is actual science is to understand where the science is coming from. Any information presented should not be treated as the final solution to a problem. Any science about a subject should instead open one’s mind to further research that can be done to investigate health claims. Educate yourself and see your wellness improve!
See below for some examples of “science spinning!”