Health products often trade on a slew of so-called scientifically backed claims. But Phil Graham’s here to tell everything you need to know so you’re always getting full value for money and not falling for bad science. He is a competitive bodybuilder, nutritionist and qualified sports scientist.
The real science behind scientific claims
We’re expected to believe that if a food, supplement or training product has the words ‘scientific research’ attached to it, then it must be credible. Well, good science is hard to come by, sadly, and pseudoscience can dominate. Meaning much of your time, money and effort could be going to waste.
Fortunately, you can educate yourself on how to use the good science in your decision making so you don’t fall prey to potentially fraudulent products and practices.
A relatively recent headline claimed high-protein diets are “as bad for health as smoking.” The observations were based on limited diabetes-related mortality data; in other words, a small group of unhealthy individuals. You can’t apply data like that to the general population, and this is an example of how the media sensationalises science to create sales.
Science doesn’t aim to provide a simple yes or no answer. Instead, its aim is to supply a greater degree of certainty as to whether a particular approach is worthwhile pursuing.
Authority doesn’t mean credibility
But before you assume all of it is good, you also need to be told about bad science. This is a claim, belief or practice incorrectly presented as scientific, but which doesn’t adhere to a valid scientific method or cannot be reliably tested. Often you’ll see extravagant claims from doctors who are tied to a product. Proper referencing doesn’t include testimonials that use overcomplicated scientific terms. Unfortunately, people buy into this because they associate science with credibility. And remember, just because someone’s in great shape doesn’t necessarily justify him or her as a credible source of knowledge. Always ask yourself if their advice is the best and safest for the average drug-free exerciser. Also, if a product doesn’t work, ask for a refund.
Finding good science in the fitness industry can be hard so here are the buzzwords that’ll help you source credible information for your decision making.
Collaborations of studies relating to a specific field. They highlight new findings while suggesting what other research is needed to gather further evidence.
Meta analysis and systematic reviews:
Findings are based on an overview of multiple studies in one area. This trumps looking at one study alone.
Studies are subject to strict review by experts in the relevant field before being published in a book or journal. They’ve been critically evaluated to highlight erroneous data and suggest what further research is needed.
These can give you insight into the practical aspect of following an approach, and highlight issues that may interfere with the end result.
Once you’ve considered your personal goals, obtain the best possible evidence based on the above and then verify it with a qualified expert.
Stay sceptical of bad science – it’s everywhere. Use good science to form the basis of your decision making, and personal experience to refi ne your approach.
The big question
Before considering a claim as fact, ask the following questions:
1. Has the research been cherrypicked? Don’t rely on just one study: are the suggested findings consistent with other research?
2. Who sanctioned the research? Was the company selling the product behind it all?
3. Was the population assessed relevant to you? If not, look for another study.
4. Just because someone is interested in a specific field doesn’t classify him or her as an expert. They may not be qualified to advise you.
This article was first seen in TRAIN magazine, issue 26 Page 32