Perhaps you were watching late night cable TV and an infomercial came on describing the latest medical product that has been “scientifically” proven. But what do they mean when they say “scientifically proven” or “studies have shown” or some other catch phrase? I would encourage you to consider a few things before you order the latest new revolutionary product. First, were studies done and if so who did the study or studies? To say something was “scientifically studied” or “has been tested” is not enough. Was it an independent group that did the study, or a reputable agency that verified the testing? You might view a claim of safety for a car differently if the company certifying the car’s safety is owned by the company that made the car. I am not saying they would intentional deceive you, but there is bound to be pressure to “come up with right answers.” Second, what kind of study was done? There are many different types of studies and none of them are perfect. Polls are a type of scientific study, but we have certainly had a lot of debate about their accuracy. In evaluating a medication, the “gold-standard” is a randomized control trial and specifically a double-blind cross over study. In this trial, a group of randomly selected subjects are randomly divided into 2 groups. One will receive the active treatment (medication in question.) The other a placebo (treatment made to look like the medication, but without any activity.) Both the person receiving the treatment and the personnel administering the treatment are unaware of which is which. At some point in the study, the two groups switch. Those receiving the placebo get the active treatment. Those receiving the active treatment now received the placebo. Treatment results and side effects are measured and compared. This gives us the best picture of expected results of the medication, and the expected side effects. Not surprisingly, these trials are expensive and difficult to do accurately. They are not the only kind of studies that are valuable. For some things, it is not possible to do that kind of trial. But offering only testimonials (statement of a person’s experience with a medication), limits the ability to independently verify the results. Third, how big was the effect that was found? Without diving into “standard deviations” and “p” values, it is helpful to know how big the benefit from the medication was. If the medication is designed to let a person with weak legs walk further, were the subjects able to walk 2 miles further or 3 steps further? While both medications could claim, “We allow people with leg weakness to walk further,” there is a big difference between three steps and two miles. So who has time to look up all this information? Nobody. That is why we have to rely on independent groups like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), USPTSF (US Preventative Services Task Force) and independent evidence-based literature in publications and websites to guide us. So the next time you listen to an infomercial or read an advertisement for a new medical product, you may want to dig a little deeper. Before you part with your hard earned cash, ask questions. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is even more important to ask for the proof and who verified it.