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Snake Oil

I get a lot of health news online. Why are traditional media so slow in reporting new medical trends?

With health and nutrition trends changing often, your question is always timely. Social media dominates how people get their news and updates every day. By its nature, it may not be a reliable source for science and fact-based medical news.

According to research, over 65% of Americans get their news from social media. Most prefer Facebook over other platforms and use it for current affairs, news and increasingly health-related information. One thing you see on social media are posts offering miracle diets, best ways to lose weight, super foods, and herbal cures. There is advice about what you should and should not be eating, and a lot is contradictory.

There is an inherent risk in taking health advice from something you have read online. Social media is completely unregulated, so anyone can make a claim with little evidence to back it up. Bloggers represented as nutritionists are often just digital marketers trying to push a product.

Many claims say that avoiding a specific food has led to increased energy or weight loss. But it is highly likely they are eating less processed food or feeling a placebo effect, rather than having discovered a nutritional breakthrough.

Restricting a food type following something you read on social media is not recommended. Diet advice may claim to restrict caloric intake, but will probably lead to nutrient deficiency in other areas. It is unlikely that those prescribing diets online are scientists or experts.

Every person has a different metabolism and body type, so a diet that works for you may not work for another person. There is no single easy fix to healthful eating, and blogs and webpages that claim otherwise are misleading. Naturally, a well-balanced diet and plenty of exercise will make a difference, but do not believe fake blog posts that claim it will happen within a set number of days.

From diets to medical cures, the internet offers them all. New medicines for addiction treatment have been touted online. This resulted in one clinic legally dispensing buprenorphine (for addiction treatment), but without the results promised online. Patients in need were steered away from recognized methods ranging from AA meetings to rehab clinics.

Healthy eating and living is a long-term goal, there are no quick fixes or magic diets. Sustained health needs to be nurtured for a prolonged period with a lot of effort. Bloggers on Facebook are largely trying to boost traffic to their own websites with catchy headlines. This is just click-bait, enticing you to follow these links.

Your health should not be used for experiments, relying on unsubstantiated online posts. These fads change frequently so traditional media, which has a lot more editorial control and public scrutiny, will not publish such claims. Scientific journals are a better source for reliable advice on health and nutrition supplements, diets and treatments.  

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not,” Mark Twain.