Errors in Medical Research – Which “Findings” Should You Trust?

Does garlic lower bad cholestrol?
Does hormone replacement reduce the risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women?
Does eating a big breakfast cut your total daily calories?
Do statins help people with no history of heart disease?
Is it a good thing to have a blood test for vitamin D?
Does vitamin E prevent cardiovascular disease?
Does early cancer detection through PSA tests save lives?

In a recent article in Newsweek, author Sharon Begley discusses Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis’ discovery that “scientific” findings in the affirmative on all of these questions, and an unsettling large quantity of other medical research findings, have all later been proved to be wrong. Dr. Ioannidis, now chief of Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center, started to make his discovery while at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

At NIH Ioannidis reportedly had an epiphany. “Positive” drug trials, which find that a treatment is effective, and “negative” trials, in which a drug fails, take the same amount of time to conduct. “But negative trials took an extra two to four years to be published,” he noticed. “Negative results sit in a file drawer, or the trial keeps going in hopes the results turn positive.” With billions of dollars invested in development of a pharmaceutical, companies have a strong incentive not to declare a new drug ineffective. As a result of the lag in publishing negative studies, patients receive a treatment that is actually ineffective. That made Dr. Ioannidis wonder, how many biomedical studies are wrong? He later conducted further rigorous testing of medical research, with similar results.

Read more enlightening discussion on errors in medical research » Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine Is Wrong – Newsweek

Not all medical research is wrong, though. Some conventional health wisdom has stood the test of time and has been substantiated by repeated research. Among the findings cited as correct: “Smoking kills, being morbidly obese or severely underweight makes you more likely to die before your time, processed meat raises the risk of some cancers, and controlling blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke.”

The conclusion for consumers: “…medical wisdom that has stood the test of time—and large, randomized, controlled trials—is more likely to be right than the latest news flash about a single food or drug.”

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