Clinical Studies – Marshall Democrat-News

Dear Coach,

I keep seeing advertisements on the web and on TV claiming all kinds of wonderful benefits of different nutritional supplements and pain relievers. All boast of having “clinical studies” to back up their claims. Is there any truth to
these claims and studies?

Coach sees all these ads and wonders the same thing. A “clinical” study is the lowest level of substantiation of an efficacy claim for any concoction sold. For example, a company has a product to sell but needs “scientific” support to back up its claims. In a simple form, a group of people are given the product and then asked if it was beneficial. Often, the product is promoted to remedy this or that problem that someone is having. Most people, when given the product, develop a bias because the person supplying the product has promoted it as beneficial for their needs. So when asked if there was a benefit, eight out of ten said yes. This is the type of “study” that is promoted to make the sale. It is the least reliable source to determine whether the product is effective or not.

A real study must have some basic criteria to claim its validity. It must have at least thirty participants, (preferably many more) to “study”. It should be “blinded”, so participants don’t know if they are getting the real product or not. This blinding controls for promoter bias. The last and most important element is that an independent researcher copies the procedures of the original study and produces the same results. This is how a study is validated in terms of its conclusions. This is essential because a “study” can easily be manipulated with poor quality data.

Years ago, a study was done to ask if “gluten” was a problem for people in general. The conclusion was that gluten was horrible and people were negatively affected by it in their diets. This triggered a tidal wave of negative gluten publicity. Suddenly everything that was wrong with the world was caused by gluten. People went crazy for gluten and promoters of gluten-free foods spent a field day selling their product based on this study which was promoted by the media as the cure.

Little problem. The original researchers knew their study was not well controlled and was not validated by other studies. So the original researchers repeated their own study and made sure it was well-controlled with blinded participants and with a large enough number of participants to reach valid conclusions. The results? Completely random. Gluten had no effect on the participants’ sense of well-being or the symptoms of distress that led participants to believe that gluten was the culprit.

The bottom line? These studies and the products they promote are 97% B***S***. You buy the product anticipating the benefits and often feel better after taking the concoction. Unfortunately, the positive feelings often fade and the product is abandoned by the user while the promoter has your money in the bank. Good luck getting the guaranteed money back that was promised.

Don’t take health ads literally. You must realize that you are most likely sold a bag of poop. Do not fall into the trap. There are many reliable sources of information on these matters that you can find on the web. Check out “Quackwatch” and the American Council on Science and Health for generally unbiased health and fitness information. Don’t fall for the sales pitch.

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