We all go to the internet to find answers.
Most of us skim and click haphazardly, trying to find the useful information in between the thickets of opinion and marketing.
Valuable health information, even life-saving information, can be found online. Being intentional and systematic can help us find it.
That’s what this post is all about.
This post has a worksheet. Download it here. You can complete it digitally (save it to your computer first) or print it and fill it in by hand.
Start with a Question
Begin at the beginning. You have a health question you are trying to answer.
We suggest you ask it this way: How can I _____________ [fill in the blank]?
Start by crafting your question. It will guide your inquiry.
There are four possible sources of information for any health-related inquiry:
- What has (and hasn’t) worked for you in the past;
- What has (and hasn’t) worked for other people;
- What the subject matter experts think; and
- What the scientific research says.
Our worksheet suggests that you include at least three, but if you want to be extra-thorough, feel free to include all four.
Information Source #1: you
You are an important source of information.
It’s helpful to recall both what has worked for you in the past, as well as what hasn’t.
Keep in mind that you might not remember everything perfectly. You’ve also probably made some assumptions about cause and effect. So, the information you have about yourself may not be entirely reliable.
That why our worksheet asks you to consider how you know that something you tried in the past worked (or didn’t). It also asks you to consider what assumptions you might be making.
In addition to your memory, you may want to consider data from diagnostic testing and medical examinations as additional sources of information about yourself.
Ultimately your healing is about how you respond. Knowing as much as you can about the unique way that your body reacts will help you to identify and fine-tune the healing strategies you use, so you get the most impact for your effort.
Information Source #2: other people
Chances are, other people are trying to find answers to the same question.
They may have tried some of the same strategies to improve their health that you are considering, and might have shared details about their experiments online.
We’re all unique. There’s no guarantee that what worked for someone else will work for you, but it is worth paying attention to the solutions other people are finding.
Important insights can come from others people’s experiences, and sometimes the solutions that self-interested individuals find to address their own health issues are years ahead of medical science. Oxalates are an excellent example.
In the medical community there are two types of information: scientifically-proven facts and… everything else.
Something that works, whether it works for one person or a hundred thousand people, is ‘anecdotal’ evidence, until it has been proven through medical research. If it's anecdotal, it's ignored.
It’s appropriate to treat all information with wholesome skepticism. At the same time, here are three reasons why the experience of other people (‘anecdotal evidence’) may be worth paying attention to:
- Findings from real-deal scientific research aren’t always available to help us answer the questions we have about our health.
- Even when information about treatment strategies is available, it doesn’t always apply to us. Each of us is unique, so what might work for me, may not for you, and vice versa.
- Scientific research is expensive and naturally tends to focus on solutions that will generate profit. Solutions that have no market value can get missed.
Information Source #3: subject matter experts
Subject matter experts are people with extensive expertise with your health condition. When you are filling out this worksheet, you get to decide who is a subject matter expert.
It might be your doctor. If so, you might need to go offline and speak to them in person.
It might be a researcher or health practitioner who is really good at explaining complex science in a way that you can understand.
Whoever you pick, it’s worth taking time to find trustworthy experts who are keeping up with all the freshest science in your area of inquiry.
Scientific research is uncovering new information all the time and none of us can keep up with all of it. That means all of us are working with dated information, including the experts.
Also, everyone makes assumptions and mistakes. No one is infallible.
That’s one of the reasons why we encourage you to look for multiple sources of information. It’s a way of cross-referencing, to help ensure you get the most reliable and up-to-date information that is available.
Information Source #4: scientific research
This is where you open up PubMed and find out what the published literature has to say.
No doubt, some of the papers you pull up will be technical and daunting.
Here are some ideas to help you wade through the scientific research swamp:
1. Get Abstract
Read the abstracts.
All papers are summarized in a short abstract that is almost always available for free, even if the article itself has a price tag. The abstract usually summarizes the findings of the research, so you may not need to dive in to the full version to get the information you need.
Fun fact: If you do want access to a paper that costs money, you can sometimes find a free copy by using the title in a web search.
One of the main things you are looking for is how much agreement there is across the various sources of information.
If your own experience, the anecdotal reports from other people, and the subject matter experts all agree that a particular strategy is effective and low-risk and then you pull up three scientific papers, read the abstracts and find that they also agree with everything you’ve already found, then you probably don’t need to do more inquiry. You’ve inquired and found that there is consensus about the answer to your health question.
Keep in mind, though, that just because everyone agrees, doesn’t mean a thing is true. Remember that (almost) everyone used to think the world was flat.
And just because everyone agrees that a particular thing works for most people, and even if it is absolutely empirically true that it does, that doesn’t mean that it will work for you. ‘Most people’ might mean 53% of all humans. But you and I might be in the 47% who need to do something different.
3. Don’t Be Dated
If you are finding an overwhelming amount of information on your topic, or a lot of disagreement in the research, look at dates.
Refine your search by focusing on articles that have been published in the past year or two.
Learning for Healing
Ultimately, your inquiry is about learning for healing. Learning is the strategy. Healing is the goal.
The Autoimmune Healing Intensive
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