Health Advice From The Internet Isn't Always Reliable, So Be Careful

Have you ever turned to a YouTuber or an Instagram influencer for health tips and medical advice?

Social media has been a monumental medium for the dissemination of such information. But for alongside the facts, there also exists the potential to spread falsehoods.

You may have heard about Australian wellness blogger Belle Gibson, who claimed to cure her terminal cancer by eating healthy and refusing chemotherapy. In 2015, around two years after she rose to prominence, Gibson admitted she lied about her cancer diagnosis.

It is rather frightening to imagine the false hope given to vulnerable people before her exposé. The damage may have been irreversible if someone had rejected conventional treatment, hoping to recreate her success story. While this case seemed to be motivated by profit, one can unintentionally spread misinformation too.

Given how vast and complicated and ever-changing the field of medicine is, it is difficult to translate information in layman terms while still maintaining accuracy. To illustrate, YouTube videos on prostate cancer were examined in a new study by the New York University School of Medicine.

While 75 percent of the videos adequately listed the benefits of various treatments, only 53 percent explained the harms and side effects. Close to a fifth of all videos recommended alternative therapies which have no scientific basis.

"Our study shows that people really need to be wary of many YouTube videos on prostate cancer," said urologist Stacy Loeb, senior investigator of the study.

More than 600,000 videos on prostate cancer were published on the platform, making it impractical to have a fact-checking system in place. Loeb also noted how videos cannot be updated and thus, easily become outdated when scientific guidelines are constantly evolving.

Even prior to treatment, the diagnosis itself can be a bumpy ride. But people are learning to exercise a little more caution these days when googling their symptoms instead of turning into hypochondriacs.

After all, there are only so many times you can fear that your pounding headache is actually a sign of brain cancer according to a random, pop up-infested website. So, while you can do a bit of research here and there, save your trust for reputed sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Dr. Google is already in the exam room whether we like it or not," said Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, a practicing internist and past president of the American College of Physicians. She asks people to be careful around quick-fix remedies that seem too good to be true, much like the misleading health claims made by Gibson. "Information is powerful but is only as good as its source. Make sure the information comes from a trusted source. Be discerning. Ask your doctor for trusted websites."