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Know the Science: The Facts About Health News Stories

Checklist for Understanding Health News Stories

Senior citizen reading a paper

To figure out if a news report about a complementary health approach is giving you the full story, you should ask yourself these questions.

9 Questions to Ask

1. Was the product, procedure, or device tested on people? Findings from animal or laboratory research may not be immediately meaningful to your health.

2. Are there alternatives to the approach being discussed? You want to know what is already available, so you can compare your options.

3. Were enough people studied? When the number of people in a study is small, the results aren’t as strong.

4. Were the results big enough to be meaningful to you? A small difference between two approaches might interest scientists but be of little importance to your health or quality of life.

5. Did the researchers consider the many things that can influence results, such as participants’ general health or health habits, or discuss the limitations of their results?


6. Were the study participants similar to you in ways that may matter, such as age, race, or gender?

7. Was the study lengthy enough to show long-term benefits or risks? Natural products may take time before they show benefits; some side effects may take months or years to show up.

8. Have other researchers had similar results? One study rarely proves anything.

9. Was the study funded by a group that would profit financially from the study findings? If so, you should be wary of the results.