Thursday, November 09, 2006

Don't Believe Everything You Read On The Web

Written by Howard Dratch
Published November 09, 2006

Christopher Wanjek, LiveScience's Bad Medicine columnist, reported recently on a study by the Pew Internet Project about the abundance of unsubstantiated trust many people put into health reports they have found on the Internet. Millions use the Internet to search for explanations, treatments and alternatives to health problems from the minor to the serious, possibly fatal illnesses. They are not always discerning in their reading said the Pew study.

It seems that 25% of the people who search the 'Net for health information do NOT check the sites and statements for date, source information or other indications of veracity and applicability to their needs. It is a dangerous situation. According to these figures 110 million Americans search the 'Net for information on matters of health. It is, writes Wanjek, a dangerous situation because of the plethora of bad or questionable facts and advice available on the Web.

On the other hand, how large a percentage of print media readers checked out each article of health interest by looking at journals and study results? One of Wanjek's suggestions was to use common sense – something which is too often in short supply. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

He specifically offers the example of (he suggests) taking a deep breath and running a search on "urine therapy". I followed his advice and found that Google had pages of links on this “therapy”. I had never even thought of drinking my own wastes, short of being lost in the nearest desert without a canteen or a Starbucks nearby. I hope that my readers will forgive me for not offering myself as a vessel to imbibe this wonderful liquid of my own making. If you, dear reader, want to give it a try, please let us all know your reaction, enjoyment and the eventual benefits to your health - if you find any.

Biomedx's website - one of the search results - sounds scientific but introduces its urine therapy page by stating that, "Urine therapy can be a very effective healing modality. Sometimes when all else fails, urine therapy will turn a person around."

Biomedx suggests two methods of self-administration of your self-made medicine. First, use your own in a "homeopathic fashion":

First, collect midstream urine in a clean cup or container. This should be a clean catch, meaning the genital area (important for women in particular) has been cleaned beforehand. To 1/6 ounce of distilled water in a sterile bottle, add one drop of fresh urine. Cap and shake 50 times. Take one drop of this mix and add to another 1/6 ounce of distilled water and shake 50 times. Take one drop of this mix and add to 1/6 oz. of 80 to 90 proof vodka which acts as a preservative.

Take three drops sub-lingually hourly "until there is obvious improvement..."
The second method is to begin in this oral fashion...
Use fresh urine drops direct. For some cases, sub-lingual drops work well.
(Should always use fresh urine immediately upon collection. You should not boil or dilute the urine in any way. You must use it in its natural form)
...and increase dosage and frequency until you can take "an ounce or two at a time."

Another likely site that includes this liquid treat is Shirley's Wellness Cafe. The name of the site may not sound as scientific as "Biomedx" but , sure enough, it encourages this same "therapy". Take a deep breath and enjoy thoughts of using this cure with newly found faith because it is, after all, on the Internet. Who knows what other fine, medical surprises can be found. I can't even begin to think of other things I can search for to come up with as tasty an idea.

Shirley's Cafe, as distinguished from Alice's Restaurant, touts this cocktail by saying:
Urine is considered to be an invaluable source of nourishment and healing that perhaps has been too controversial or not financially rewarding enough for it to be talked about and encouraged as a potent medicine. One's own urine, a living food, contains elements that are specific to one's body alone. The body is constantly producing a huge variety of antibodies, hormones, enzymes and other natural chemicals to regulate and control its functions and combat imbalances that one may not be aware of.

They go on to imply that the drink will help all manner of serious illness:
Multiple sclerosis, colitis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, hepatitis, hyperactivity, pancreatic insufficiency, psoriasis, eczema, diabetes, herpes, mononucleosis, adrenal failure, allergies and so many other ailments have been relieved through use of this therapy. After you overcome your initial gag response (I know I had one), you will realize that something big is going on, and if you are searching for health, this is an area to investigate.

Perhaps they are right but my view is that you should be careful when you belly up to their bar. This entire article is to remind you that promises are easy to make when they affect other people's health. Mainstream medicine is far from perfect. Don't let that convince you to try any therapy that happens (or streams) by.

One way to check medical sites is to use HONcode, a UN and World Health Organization sponsored site that keeps tabs on immense numbers of medical websites world-wide. The Geneva-based organization was founded after a conference in 1995 to "promote the effective and reliable use of the new technologies for telemedicine in healthcare around the world."

Some seemingly odd and useless treatments are matters of controversy for some people. I consider "chelation therapy", a long series of IV drips to leech "heavy metals" (not the musical variety) from the blood, a piece of expensive, unpleasant and probably useless quackery and left an M.D. who pushed too hard for this (12 years ago) $5000 non-reimbursable series of long treatment. When I wrote this in a BC article, "Health News: The Chelation Therapy Controversy", I heard from people with stories of how much it had helped and how wrong I was. I have read a few books and many web sites on it and continue to survive heart failure without it, but there is, obviously, a difference of opinion. Today, checking the HON website in Geneva, there are articles on the current, major study of whether or not the therapy is valid.

The fact of the matter is that, in much the same way as those nice Nigerian bank people who are kind enough to offer you millions of dollars in a badly spelled email, you should think about what you received, who wrote it and why, who backs them and how to check their veracity. Go to primary sources of original materials from established sources. The Net has made this easier than ever before. Look for corroboration or other opinions and check that often instructive button marked "about". It is surprising how many medical sites are backed by corporate sponsors. However, their involvement does not necessarily mean the advice or resources are not valid. Like everything else: check it out.

Wanjek also complained about many articles that appeared last year after a study about the health benefits of chocolate. He was not very positive about
Countless vapid news articles last year relayed the news about the chocolate-anticancer link. Readers were left with the impression that candy is good for you; it was the kind of ironic story the press loves to report. Yet a simple jump to the source of that report---to Georgetown University and a press release from its Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center---would have revealed that it's not chocolate candy per say that has anticancer properties: It's an ingredient in cocoa, from which chocolate is made, called pentameric procyanidin.

I wrote one of those articles and I must say that it may or may not have been vapid but I was very careful to make sure that it was not misleading. The source materials were identified and I noted that the study did not suggest the addition of M&M's to your diet as being therapeutic but that the basic, active ingredients of the chocolate bean was effective and that the study was done with properly unprocessed chocolate. Checking sources and looking for more information is the writer's job; the reader's is to try to make sure that what they are reading is reliable as well as interesting, truthful as well as convincing.

However, it is the reader's responsibility to understand that cancer, diabetes and heart disease will not be cured by adding Milky Ways to your cheeseburger, fries and milkshake. They will not be medicinal even when added to your steamed rice, vegetables and salmon. There are many new studies and nutrients that are proving themselves to provide valuable nutrients, phyto-nutrients and new classes of elements in foods and spices. A little alcohol can be beneficial, unprocessed chocolate, cinnamon and other spices and as yet unknown elements may be helpful in the battle for health. But your own questions and investigation will remain necessary to isolate that which will help you.

“Don't believe everything you read” remains the same good advice it has always been.