If you are anything like me, you tend to like to do things more naturally/holistically/whateveryawannacallit, you spend a lot of time learning about these things, and you like to separate the truth from the fiction.
Problem is, that last part can be tricky. Super tricky.
That’s why when I got this question I knew I had to touch on it here.
I want to know how you do more “extra” research into fertility and health aaand how you sort out the “woo” (i.e. not scientifically-based) health, nutrition, and fertility advice from the stuff that’s has more substance. (For example lots of fertility folks really advocate eating butter and other animal fats but vegan people are just as adamant about not using them…what’s the deal?)
Let me first refresh you on my background so that you can maybe get more of an idea of why I think what I think. I have a traditional degree in nutrition, so I have a science degree more focused on biology/chemistry and obviously most focused on nutrition. So that’s that.
My extra research tends to center around things I am either currently interested in or that others have brought to my attention enough that I decide to dive in. Sources that I like to use include:
- Scientific research (I’ll talk more about this in paragraphs to come).
- Books that I know are scientifically and/or clinically backed.
- Occasionally internet sources, but I have to trust the person, which is semi-unfortunately rare.
The reason I kind of disclaimed the last bullet isn’t because there aren’t a lot of people online writing science-backed stuff, but it’s because there is a hellofalotof bias and it’s very very easy to pull out the science that agrees with you and throw away or discount the rest. It’s amazing what you can decide is true and untrue based on having a belief beforehand, and I don’t consider myself immune from bias, either, though I do strive to be objective.
Let’s talk about the value of scientific studies
But the reason they can support their bias is simple, scientific studies are not infallible. In fact, many are straight up junk. ESPECIALLY when it comes to nutrition. You can literally find a study (probably multiple studies) to prove anything you want to prove. Part of that is due to bias, but part if it is the way nutrition is studied, too. It tends to be very subjective unless you are studying something that is broken into a small enough part it isn’t super applicable to actual diet anymore. For example, studying the effect of a single nutrient on something.
Because of the fact that scientific studies are notoriously jargon-y for those that don’t have a science degree, or possibly even do but in a different field than the particular study they are interested in, most people also can’t understand scientific studies. Since that’s the case, a lot of people read news stories and believe what that story says. Don’t do this. Even if the story is citing the study, I swear at least 99% of the time whoever wrote that story did not read the study, and possibly didn’t even read the abstract.
Here is an example that pops up again and again in the fertility awareness world (despite that fact that it’s quite old now):
This study is talking about waves of follicle development and how they happen multiple times during a cycle, not actual ovulation, which they state only happened during the final follicular growth wave.
If you want to read scientific studies yourself but have no idea how, the best thing to do is to learn more about it. The second best thing is to read the results and discussion sections rather than reading just the abstract. I have found a lot of times the two do not line up. If you aren’t reading the meat of the study you’ll never know if the processes the researchers used are kosher, but many researchers discuss shortcomings of their study in the discussion. For example, small sample sizes, what further research is needed to “prove” anything, and what they might have missed or where their data might be off based on the method they used.
How books can help with research
On to books. I think books are nice because they are written for anyone (well, most books) to understand easily and generally dive in deep to a topic. I often like to find books written by researchers, doctors, and the like. Hopefully, the people writing the books you read for scientific info know how to understand a scientific study! Look in the back of the book and see if there is a reference section with scientific studies listed. Keep in mind, you can also find these studies online and make sure what they are saying in the book corroborates with what the study’s finding are.
In addition, they can have a lot of clinical evidence backing them up. This does differ from scientific studies because it focuses on a single population and often people doing more than one thing at a time that could confound their results, but it is nevertheless valuable information.
Like we went over in the previous section. Scientific studies can be junk, and certainly are not the end all and be all. Except in math you don’t have scientific proof, just reasonable evidence that something is statistically significant. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you interpret science as truth despite that fact, it can be. That’s why it’s good to also take into account your own personal experience (for something like nutrition) and clinical evidence.
Are all of my books full of peer-reviewed studies at the end? No, certainly not. I’ve read multiple herb books and most herbs are extremely lucky if they’ve been deigned valuable enough to get studied. However, I don’t use herbs that have potential side-effects nor do I recommend them for use unless I am giving huge disclaimers to work with somebody very knowledgeable about herbs.
Annnnnd, is non-scientifically backed stuff always bad?
My answer here is no. Honestly, some things don’t get studied because no one wants to pay to fund that study. Some things may get studied but only because someone wants to disprove them and data is messed with or skewed to make the results more favorable (check who the study is funded by, hope for a non-biased source), and kind of obviously, some things just haven’t been gotten around to yet. In these cases, It’s important to decide on relative risks versus benefits of anything you might be thinking of using or doing, figure out where the people you are getting your information from are getting their info (perhaps training from others, years of experience, etc.) and whether you are comfortable with that, and make a personal decision.
When you are trying to figure out if a person or their info is legitimate, here are words to look out for that might be a red flag:
- always (this ALWAYS works)
- only (the ONLY way to eat is X diet)
- 100% (100% of people are helped by Y herb)
- … I’m sure you can think of more.
If anyone is claiming this crap, run away!
This post has become far too long. I hope it helps you in your own world of learning. :)