Additional Questioning

In my last post, I shared questions that came to my mind regarding using a case study of one individual to highlight the possible association between saturated fat, elevated LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and heart disease.

On a weekly basis, we read or hear about various health studies, and the media sometimes uses bold, sensational headlines to reveal the results.

As my previous post points out, I read any research with a series of questions in mind. The following are some of those queries:

  • How many people were involved the study? Were there six people, a hundred, or a number in the thousands? Which results would you be more comfortable with—research conducted with twenty individuals or five thousand?
  • How long did the study last? A month, six months, a year, or x number of years? Remember it can take considerable time before the negative effects of a drug come to light. Think about the prescription drugs pulled from the market, such as Baylor (cholesterol reduction), Vioxx (pain relief), Fen-Phen (weight loss), because of their dangers.
  • Who participated in the research? Men, women, minorities, and/or a combination? For far too long the medical model used the results of males and applied the findings to both men and women. Faulty thinking. Even though the National Institutes of Health’s Revitalization Act of 1993 calls for the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical trials, these populations still tend to be underrepresented in studies.

(Concerning the above point, “who participated in the research?” I just read an article regarding research comparing the use of stents to the use of drugs for the treatment of chest pain. In it, the author mentions a 2007 federal study, Courage. The conclusion of this research, heart attacks and deaths were not prevented by stents. These findings were questioned because doctors may have been highly-selective in choosing the participants. Those with the highest risk were excluded, and only those with the lowest risk were used. Thus, the criticism states the results were flawed.)

  • Was the research double-blind and randomized? Double-blind means neither the researchers nor the participants know what type of treatment the participants are receiving. Randomized is as it sounds; patients were randomly placed in one treatment group or another.
  • Was a control group used?—a group that only received standard therapy or a placebo instead of the experimental one.
  • Who sponsored the study? Was it independent research or was it paid for by a pharmaceutical company with a vested interest in the outcome? Please refer back to my post on GRAS. Along with this point, were any of the researchers also receiving payment from the corporation?

Again, the above are just some of the questions that come to my mind whenever I read or hear about research findings.

Have you come up with some you can use the next time your read or hear about research?

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