Just like most of you, I’m often preoccupied with important thoughts. Should I go on a 5 day beet juice detox? How does my shampoo know if I apply it to the roots or the ends of my hair? Why doesn’t my bottom look like Beyonce’s, despite my regular trainings? I search for answers to these, and many more, questions in the source of wisdom that has been acquired by civilisations over the centuries – on the Internet. Frequently, while doing so, I experience a state of slight irritation, sometimes it even gets my goat.
Therefore, today I prepared a short guide on how to avoid being deluded. With its help you will master the ability of distinguishing between articles that provide scientifically justified facts about health and beauty and articles which grounds are as shaky as Britney Spears’ moods.
The functioning of your body is not piss-easy
At school, we were taught that the body is composed of cells and that cells are like tiny bricks. The bricks are stuck together with blood, bones and skin which function as cement . We were a bit fooled by that. A cell is one of the most complicated and advanced machines in the world. It controls its own activity and proliferation. Moreover, a cell knows not only when to produce or assimilate a substance but also what’s the appropriate amount of it. There are specialised fragments in every cell responsible for storing and copying information, energy production or secretion of substances which structure is so complex that all attempts to reconstruct them in a lab have failed so far. My thesis may be a bit of a controversy, but I’d say that all the mechanisms and reactions taking place inside this inconspicuous lump are closer to perfection than Martha Stewart ant Anthea Turner put together.
What am I getting at? Human body is a complex machinery and governing its proper functioning is definitely not piss-easy. I advise you to develop internal sensitivity to extreme simplifications and suspicious solutions. Say, claiming that one single factor has tremendous impact on the whole organism can only express speaker’s stupidity, ignorance or misinterpretation. No magic fruit preventing cancer exists, just as there’re no bad molecules that pose a single cause of cancer. Your wrinkles won’t disappear if you put a magic Indonesian mud cream on your face just as applying conditioner to the ends of your hair won’t stimulate its growth. DNA contained in food won’t built into your cells, and detoxification foot pads cannot suck toxins out of your liver.
Scientific reports are not sexy
Such works are written in a difficult and incomprehensible language. They’re full of numbers, footnotes, explanatory notes, complicated terms and specific scientific niceties. For an academic publication to make the papers its necessary to give it a serious facelift. They’re extremely oversimplified, given catchy titles and edited in a way that they‘re just asking for a click.
As an example, recently certain website published news that red wine drinking reduces cancer risk. Great, right? Pour it up, pour it up! After all, they say it’s healthy! However, the above mentioned experiment looked as follows – isolated cancer cells grown artificially in a laboratory (no real human body parts involved) were treated with grape skins extract (and that’s not what we rink, duh) and, as a result, cancer cells growth and proliferation has been hampered. Wine and human cancer tissue, you say? Of course, they might be somehow connected only the scientific experiment didn’t tell us anything about that. Whenever you read such revelations, always think how the experiment might have been conducted and pay attention to signs indicating that the author might have given free rein to his/her imagination.
Correlation doesn’t imply causality
Correlation means that certain phenomena co-occur. Causality, on the other hand , indicates that one phenomenon won’t occur until the other appears. It is a substantial difference. Establishing a correlation is fairly easy, because there’re lots of phenomena which co-occur just like that, with no particular reason. I suppose that showing correlation between Justin Bieber’s popularity growth and cancer incidence in Congo would be quite easy. Demonstrating a cause and effect relationship is, however, more challenging than making it to the end credits of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The aim of such a study is primarily proving that one factor influences another, in other words, that manipulation in one variable causes significant changes in the other.
Let’s always be vigilant when reading studies or articles based on them. There really is a difference between “It has been proven that Awful Thing and Ominous Occurrence are related!” and “The cause of X is Y”. From a scientific point of view the latter is way more interesting and valuable.
Exotic doesn’t mean better
Goji berries, chia seeds, Arctic algae, bison hooves and many more. Products with intriguing, foreign-sounding names. Names that are to arouse our interest and suggest that what’s in front of our eyes is a magic specific, previously unknown to humanity. We’re likely to forget that sunflower seeds, beets and carrots – even though they’re full of healthy fats, beneficial minerals and miraculous properties – are too folksy, cheap and easily accessible to have an effect on consumers’ imagination. Isn’t it better to say:
Chia seeds – the ancient Aztecs’ secret to improved health and beauty!
Onion – an infallible cough remedy! Even the medieval Peasants took advantage of its healing power!
Miracle diets are no miracles
Yes, yes, I know, you’ve already heard that. But still you’re tempted to go on an amazing 3 day cleanse diet plan. Let me repeat it once again: 99% of all crazes and pseudoscientific sensations that have their day on blogs and in the press were taken right out of the depths of Kim Kardashian’s behind. Apple diet, cabbage diet, tomato diet, wheat-free, DNA-free, brains-free, whatever.
I have no intention of depriving anybody of anything – go on whatever diet you choose. However, the fact that you feel better afterwards is not yet a scientific evidence supporting its legitimacy. Possibly, despite the diet, your activity increased or your mood is boosted just because you started paying attention to what’s served on your plate, and your meals became regular. This is your subjective opinion not objective fact used by science. Your bff’s impressions and makeup forum users’ theories aren’t the revealed truth as well.
Not every supplementation is good
Most frequently it is completely unnecessary. Vitamin supplements are recommended for women during and right after pregnancy, the elderly and people seriously or chronically ill. In all other cases giving yourself vitamin deficiency it’s really challenging (with the exception of vitamin D, or in cases you try going vege) – we don’t live in caves anymore, we don’t have to chase our food and supermarket shelves are groaning with veggies and fruit all year round. Second thing is the quality of supplements – often dubious and practically unverifiable, because they’re not considered drugs, therefore aren’t put through strict safety requirements as it is with drugs.
So, if you still wrestle with hair loss, dry skin, pimples and other problems, despite eating properly, don’t look for remedies at a chemist’s nor on eBay. Consult a doctor. A printout with your basic blood test results will tell you more about your health than a post about herbal pills magic powers on some blog.
Study results that are not replicable can be as well thrown into a bin
The real science is not an all-hurray-hurray-optimistic type and it requires that scientists repeat their experiments over and over again before they can get sprinkled with glitter and confetti.
It’s wise to approach the latest trends with deliberation. As long as an experiment doesn’t give the same results in numerous, independent laboratories we cannot talk about any demonstrable regularities nor scientific grounds supporting some theses. Whenever you come across an article touting a new diet/exercise trend/care routine/anything wait and after few months check if the results are still valid. Be like Cruella de Vil and look down on all the media hype. Keep a level head and maintain your coldness.
I had a dream. I dreamed about a perfect world, without wars, stinky trains and mendacious pseudoscientific articles on the Internet. I hope that with this post I will make your life at least a bit better.
And tomorrow I will crack down on trains!