How to Interpret Medical Studies

We are bombarded with news of medical breakthroughs every day. How can you know what studies are valid and important, and which ones are just fluff? Here are some ways to tell the difference:

  • How many people were in the study? The more the better
  • Who were the subjects, researchers and sponsors? The funding source of the study is important and might change the motives. Do the researchers have credentials? Are the subjects like you? A study of Tibet Nuns might not be as meaningful.
  • What was studied? The best studies look at outcomes…such as rates of heart attack or stroke. Other studies focus on test results. Outcome studies are the hardest to do, but the results are the most meaningful.
  • Meta-analysis: The researchers pool many study results to analyze information from hundreds or thousands of patients.
  • Case controlled study: Compares cases (people with disease) to controls (people without disease) to see why the disease occurs.
  • Single randomized controlled trial: patients are divided into two groups. The experimental group receives a new treatment while the control group gets an inactive treatment. The larger the difference in results, the stronger the evidence.
  • Expert opinion: Only as good as the evidence it is based on. Often it is from BOGSAT – A bunch of guys/gals sitting around talking.
  • Single Cases or Testimonials: “I lost 30 lbs in my sleep”. “Loose weight while eating.”

Most studies published in peer reviewed Medical journals are well done. But remember that the dramatic results on the front page of the news, may be refuted by another study a few weeks later. It is always wise to wait and see if the researchers work can be duplicated.

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