Hot hot topic here. From the idea that ‘gluten is evil’ down to supplements like collagen, algae and bacteria… what can you really take to heart? In this post I am going to break it all down for you. You will learn how you can do your own health food research, when to be skeptical, and how to make the best decision for your own personal body. We are definitely moving towards individualized medicine. In which case, algae supplementation just might be the trick to cure your IBS. However, evidence-based-medicine is absolutely essential when making claims for an entire population. And that is the key. Be skeptical when a health claim is posed to work miracles for everyone. Some of these crazy new ideas might work… for that one individual person. But the truth is that we really don’t know why it works in that individual person, so it can’t be recommended for everyone.
First let’s talk about individualized medicine. Brace yourself for this one: everyone’s body is different. Crazy concept, I know. Okay okay… I poke fun, but if I am being honest, this concept is actually pretty amazing. You have so many genes, and there are so many different alleles and different sub-types of certain genes. And while we may be able to figure out how each individual gene works, we are starting to discover that certain genes work together with other genes in more ways than we thought. But your genes are only one piece of the puzzle. Your microbiome is a whole other piece. There are 7 trillion bacteria living in your gut as we speak. On top of that, the average person has about 100-300 different strands of bacteria, too. Each strand composed of their own unique genes and ability to effect your health in different ways. (Side note: after taking antibiotics, it takes your gut THREE YEARS to grow back to its natural flora to it’s pre-antibiotic state).
“Sorry Doc, I’m allergic to that, I need Morphine”
When a patient tells you they are allergic to a weaker opioid and claim they need a stronger one… your drug-seeker red flags go off. However, we have actually discovered that carrying a certain gene does indeed prevent certain opioids from doing their job. If you want to dive into the science of why, check out this article from the NCBI. But basically, we are starting to see actual proof that everyone’s body is different and responds to different treatments and diets in different ways. An important doctor skill is listening to your patients. They know their body and we don’t know or understand every aspect of medicine [although, some docs would beg to differ ;) ].
Now this is even cooler: the ratio of the type of bacteria that is living in your gut has been linked to diseases like obesity, IBD, and even asthma. Mayo Clinic has a whole Center for Individualized Medicine where they study human genes, gut bacteria genes and make links between disease states like arthritis, infections and cancer. It really is fascinating. In the future (who knows how far) it is looking like we will be able to tailor treatments for every disease state and develop specialized diets for each individual person.
But for now, how can you decide what will work for you?
Start with Evidence-based Medicine
Evidence-based medicine is what has been proven time and time again to be advantageous through credible medical research and trials. And I mean lots and lots of trials. One study with 50 people doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about an entire population. (Thus, one internet claim with one personal experience basically tells you nothing about medical recommendations for an entire population of people). Right now we use evidence-based medicine to determine what treatments have been proven to work for certain disease states. For example, Vancomycin is effective at killing MRSA infections. Oral NSAIDs or glucocorticoids are the first line treatment for Gout (if the patient doesn’t have any contraindications to these meds). Same goes for nutrition.
Doctors learn these evidence-based practices and recommendations in medical school. However, medicine is changing constantly and guidelines for screening and treating are changing constantly too. Resources like UptoDate (which is updated… daily) are awesome for looking up the current guidelines. When a research article is published, it doesn’t just make it into a guideline. Many many articles must be published all pointing towards the same claim before a new idea becomes standard of care. So you can find a research article on pretty much anything. Even on credible databases like the NCBI. But deciding if the research is credible and if there is enough evidence to back up a claim is the tricky part.
How to Do Your Own Health Food Research
As a non-medical professional, this can be tough. You often don’t have access to expensive resources and journals that have the latest research. It also can be hard to decipher what these research articles are saying if you are unfamiliar with the lingo. On top of that, there are SO many non-credible claims out there on blogs and on the internet so it is hard to know what to believe.
I encourage everyone out their to do their own health food research! But instead of just a google search, search credible sources. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, Merck Manual Consumer Version, a and the American Academy of Family Physicians are good places to start. If you feel comfortable (or willing) to search actual published journals, head on over to PubMed. Search for ‘review’ articles. These are the ones that pull together all of the research articles on a particular subject and analyze the outcomes collectively. But… I still recommend talking to a doctor even after doing your research. Doctors have spent 11+ years in school (and however many more years practicing) learning about the human body and what to make of those published journals. Their training covers how the entire body works together and how different variables influence other parts of the body.
A quick note on the amount of years that it takes to become a physician. A minimum of 11 years (4 undergrad, 4 medical school and 3+ years of residency). 11+ years of sacrificing social lives, sleepless nights, blood, sweat and tears pouring one’s self into mastering the art of medicine. Beyond that, it is still not mastered. Doctors are constantly learning and have to continue education for the rest of their lives if they want to keep their license.
Take that as you will. But just a little reminder that doctors spend over a decade learning the science and art of medicine. Granted, this doesn’t mean that all doctors are good at being doctors, but they had to learn the medicine to pass all of the grueling and excruciating tests.
Health Blogger Advice
There are some pretty amazing health food bloggers out there. Some of my favorites are Lee from America and the Minimalist Baker. These health bloggers understand that everyone’s body is different and are talking about what new and natural products are working for them. They talk about their own personal experiences and what they do to be the best versions of their selves. And I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to try this beautiful blue algae latte?!
I am all for health bloggers and I love reading their blogs. However, I do urge you to listen to your body and don’t jump at every health claim that comes your way. Read up on these health blogs (I certainly do!). But just understand that new health claims might work, but if there are no credible research articles supporting their claims then it’s not a guarantee for you and your body.
Give Your Body Some Credit
The human body is more resilient than people think! Our bodies can handle a lot. This doesn’t mean you should torture it with fried foods or cigarettes… but some fries here and there isn’t going to kill you if that is your guilty pleasure. Obsessing over fitness, nutrition and health food can actually be more harmful. Micromanaging your inputs and outputs can cause anxiety when things go wrong or lead to eating disorders. Jut make healthy choices, give your body some credit, and give it the rest it deserves when you feel it needs it.