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The Internet: User Beware

May 1, 2012 by Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian

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By some estimates almost 80% of North Americans use the internet. This amazing resource has changed the way we live, communicate and shop. It has also changed the way we learn and get health information.

Unfortunately, change isn’t always good. With broad access to the internet, where anyone can post anything, we now live in world where we are bombarded with myths and pseudoscience

For example, a friend recently forwarded me an email she received about the dangers of using microwaves. There was a series of pictures of two plants, one which had been fed microwaved (and cooled) water and the other fed purified water.

Over the series of pictures, the plant fed microwaved water withered and died while the other plant thrived. The intended, yet mythological lesson: microwaving altered the water’s “DNA” so that the plant couldn’t use it. The study claimed that this change in “DNA” of the water, when applied to foods eaten by humans, would cause brain damage and other health concerns.

On the surface, this email is alarming and sensational. To the unquestioning reader it would seem unthinkable to continue using a microwave. However, this is when it becomes essential to use a critical and objective eye when evaluating health information.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the source of the information reliable?
  • Does it fit with what we already know about the subject?
  • Is the information relevant to you?
  • Does it even make sense?

In the example I’ve given, the argument for the dangers of microwaves is built on a simplistic (and incorrect) view of how a microwave works and then applied (incorrectly) to a change in the DNA structure of water when water doesn’t even have DNA. Yikes! (DNA is the molecular genetic makeup of living organisms).

The internet is full of very good health information, but there is just as much misinformation. One single study is rarely the basis for a change in practice or opinion; it should only cause us to seek further information.

If you have questions about food and nutrition, ask.  Registered Dietitians have the scientific background to understand the complex interactions of nutrition and the human body. In B.C., Registered Dietitians are available to answer your nutrition questions when you call 8-1-1.

For more information:
Health news: Going beyond the headlines (Mayo Clinic)

Evaluating Web-Based Health Resources (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

Who can you trust online? Competition Bureau Collaborates on International Internet Sweep (Government of Canada)

Don’t Be a Victim of Health Fraud Scams (US Food & Drug Administration)

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