Thursday, May 19, 2011

When to ignore the news


I was scanning the latest headlines on womenshealth.gov to see if there was anything new and interesting in women's health  when this immediately caught my attention : "Are coffee drinkers less prone to aggressive breast cancer?" My first thought was, "Um, awesome news for me and my daily cup of joe!"

Ah, not so fast. As I read on here, I realized that this study was way too preliminary in its findings to really have much of an impact on my health behaviors. This seems to happen often - you come across a headline, you get all excited for this new piece of news that is going to change how you do things in order to prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, lose weight, etc. etc. But like most things in life, you gotta read the small print. Yes, I am that person that will actually find the academic paper and read the study to see how it was conducted and whether it deserves any merit. And most studies, unless they are duplicated and are done with a really large and diverse study sample need to be taken at face value - as an interesting piece of information, but not one that will dictate health guidelines.

The author of this particular coffee and breast cancer study said it himself :"There are one or two other studies that have pointed in the same direction as ours -- but not many, just a few," he cautioned. "So before I would go to tell my neighbors to start drinking more coffee than they already do, I would like to know what is the biological mechanism at work here. And that's not yet clear."

My piece of advice - before changing your life to the latest tidbit on the news, do a little more digging and see what the study was all about. Newspapers are meant to sell news, so they often hype and overplay a study finding, so you need to take much of what is written with a grain of salt. If you aren't sure, you can always ask me!

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