Misinformation is everywhere. Here’s how to navigate it.
If you use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or TikTok regularly, you’ve probably encountered health advice. But not everything you read or hear online is true, even if it’s widely shared.
Here’s how to evaluate the health information you see online, like claims that a particular dietary supplement or food will relieve symptoms or cure disease.
Questions to ask yourself
When you encounter health advice online, ask yourself these questions:
- Who’s saying this? Is it a reputable source, like a health system, a government health agency or a licensed medical professional?
- Does it seem too good to be true? Do they promise big results for a small effort? Do they say it’s a miracle cure? Miracle health discoveries are rare, and if your doctor doesn’t tell you about it, it’s probably too good to be true!
- Are they trying to sell me a product or service, like a dietary supplement, a membership or a training class? Make sure they have your best interest in mind and aren’t just trying to earn a commission on the sale.
Be particularly careful when the health claim comes to you via TikTok or another short video clip. Video needs to tell a simple story, but health information can be complex, and some parts of the story — like risks or potential side effects — might have been left out.
Popular social media health trends to watch out for
Now that you know what questions to ask yourself, look out for these common trends as you browse the internet.
All kinds of dietary supplements are on the market, and you’ll find claims online that some of them will help with weight loss, lowering cholesterol and more. They might be marked as “natural,” “herbal,” “alternative” or “homeopathic” remedies. Some might even be sold in your pharmacy.
But unlike prescription medications, supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and most supplement claims haven’t been tested. Supplements may also interact with other medications or make your other medications less effective. So don’t start taking a supplement without first talking to your pharmacist or care team.
Miracle foods and miracle diets
Even if an online source tells you a particular food or diet will change your life, there’s a good chance it won’t. The source may not be giving you the whole story.
For instance, a well-known Australian naturopath gained internet popularity by claiming garlic can be used as an antibiotic. While garlic has antimicrobial properties, eating it — even a lot of it — won’t cure bacterial infections. And not properly treating an infection can have serious effects on your health.
When in doubt, turn to your healthcare provider
Online sources can be invaluable in helping you alleviate common symptoms and safely treat simple conditions at home. But your healthcare provider is your best source of reliable medical information. You can count on your doctor, your pharmacist and the rest of your care team — they’re always available to confirm things you read or hear online.