Informed-Health.net is an online magazine that makes scientific research concerning natural and alternative medicine available to everyone.
We often read in the newspaper or hear people say: “studies show that this herb, or vitamin, or essential oil, cures disease X”. But nobody ever shows you the actual studies. This means you can’t verify for yourself: Were the studies high quality? Were they human or animal studies? Did they focus on healthy people or sick people? Children? Women?
I’ll tell you right now that:
Most studies are not very high quality. The best studies are placebo-controlled, double-blind studies. This means that the participants in the study are split into two groups, and half receive the treatment, while the other half receive a placebo (fake treatment). And neither the participants, nor the doctors and nurses who see them, know who is getting the treatment versus the placebo. The results are measured by comparing the difference between the treatment and placebo groups. The best studies are done this way because simply visiting a doctor is known to improve they way people feel, which can affect whether they get better or not. This is the medical equivalent of the Hawthorne effect, and it can seriously affect the outcome of an experiment.
Additionally the Placebo effect (believing that a treatment will work) affects whether or not people get better. So if the patients in a study knew they were the ones getting the real medicine instead of the placebo, then they would have an advantage over the placebo-receiving patients, by simply knowing that they are being treated.
Studies that are not placebo-controlled and double-blind are easier and cheaper to perform, and sometimes ethical issues make these studies impossible to perform, but the best studies, the gold standard, is placebo-controlled double-blind studies.
Animal studies are cheaper and easier to perform, and they can answer questions that cannot be answered with human studies. However, humans do not always respond the same way that animals do, and you have to factor this in when evaluating animal studies. Animal studies are best for figuring out the mechanisms (for explaining why a treatment works), and sometimes for exploring new treatments. But there is no substitute for a human trial.
The health of the participants in the study also affects the outcome of the study. For example, if you already have a diet high in vitamin C, then taking more may not produce a large affect, whereas if you have Scurvy because you don’t eat enough vitamin C, then obviously, taking vitamin C supplements will produce a big improvement in your health. This issue cuts both ways when you read scientific studies, because a study of sick people informs you about what to do when you are sick, but only a study of healthy people can measure the benefit of a preventive medical treatment to healthy people.
Studies rarely use children or women as subjects, and the reason has to do with liability and ethics. It is ethically preferable to minimise the likelihood of hurting someone during a study, and because a woman could be unknowingly pregnant, and children are growing and developing and so side-effects could have a long ranging negative health effect, women and children are usually excluded from studies. (Ironically this means that many drugs commonly prescribed to women and children have never been tested on them.)
This online magazine is about providing you with links directly to relevant research studies, and helping you interpret those studies, so that you can make informed decisions that will have a positive impact on your health.
A Message from the Editor
In the spring of 2011, I caught a cold and a nasty sinus infection. I tried the usual things: chicken soup, lots of fluids, lots of sleep (which was impossible because I felt awful), vitamin C, and zinc. But nothing seemed to be working, and I felt terrible. Then a friend of mine (Hi Marty!) suggested I try oregano oil – he said it had worked well for him and his girl friend, and he recommended it strongly. I guess I’d heard about using oregano oil to treat colds, but had never seriously looked into it before. So I Googled “Oregano oil”, and I also searched through the academic literature (the published scientific papers), and I discovered an interesting thing: there are a few scientific studies that suggest that oregano oil is an effective antioxidant, that it boosts the immune system, and that it kills infectious microorganisms, all of which should help a cold and a sinus infection. But I also bumped into an article in the Toronto Star (Oregano a flu fighter? by Megan Ogilvie) that quoted a medical doctor as stating:
“There’s absolutely no literature that it (oil of oregano) is efficacious in any way and I don’t use the stuff”, says Dr. Robert Kingstone, a Toronto family physician.
Clearly Dr. Kingstone was misinformed – there is literature that oregano is helpful (see our The Health Benefits of Oregano Oil page for a review of the science). He obviously did not check the literature or he would have known his statement was incorrect. Encouraged by the science, I started taking oregano and I felt much better right away.
Now let’s be clear, the fact that I got better after I started taking oregano doesn’t prove anything – maybe the course of the cold was turning and I would have gotten better all by myself. There are lots of other people who also feel that oregano oil has helped them, but this is anecdotal evidence, which is not very scientifically sound. However, the scientific papers I found suggest that oregano is potentially helpful. So it doesn’t seem right for a medical doctor to say there’s no evidence in support of oregano, when there are scientific studies stating that oregano is helpful. This experience made me want to do something about this – so I decided to start this online magazine just to add a little scientific data to the discussion of natural health. If the medical doctors aren’t going to check their own scientific literature, then I guess that means that it’s up to us to do so.
Issue #1 – The Health Benefits of Oregano Oil
It’s been a long way from there to here, but finally, after much ado, we are ready to launch our first article, The Health Benefits of Oregano Oil.
Issue #2 – Pregnancy, Infertility, and Alternative Medicine
We are very excited that a guest author has joined us for our second issue: Pregnancy, Infertility, and Alternative Medicine, by Dr. Lena Serghides Ph.D.
Have an idea for an article? Got an alternative / natural health treatment that you’d like to know the scientific scoop on? Then contact us.
Our next issue is almost ready, so check back with us really soon. And in the meanwhile, Stay Healthy.