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Know the Science: 9 Questions To Help You Make Sense of Health Research

9. How old is the study?

Look at the date of the study. Was it conducted in the last few years? Have there been more recent studies? You can search the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed for published studies.

Sometimes, new research can dramatically change scientists’ view of a topic. For example, older pilot studies may have suggested that a particular complementary approach may be helpful for a certain medical problem, but a new, large clinical trial might show that it doesn’t have beneficial effects. The GEM study, on Ginkgo biloba for dementia, is one example. This study was the largest clinical trial ever to evaluate ginkgo’s effect on the occurrence of dementia, and although the results failed to show benefit of ginkgo in preventing dementia in older adults, the study confirmed the importance of randomized trials in determining the therapeutic benefit for complementary therapies. From a research point of view, the study also provided researchers with important information about how to design and conduct large dementia prevention trials in older adults.

Exploring these questions, and others you may have about scientific research, can help you be an informed, critical consumer and can help you make better decisions about your own health. For more information about being an informed consumer, check out NCCIH’s resources and take charge of your health.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​