Health myths dissected by Galway researchers

Health, Beauty and Lifestyle by Denise McNamaa

Did you ever wonder if there was any scientific basis to using a dock leaf to bring relief to a nettle sting? How about spraying lavender on your pillow to help sleep? A project which began in the University of Galway over a year ago to counteract health misinformation during the Covid crisis continues apace, with 4,500 people logging onto the online resource in a bid to get behind healthcare myths.

So far 200 questions have been submitted to and around 60 have been answered or are about it be.

This is no ‘google’ exercise, explains Dr Paula Byrne, the senior post-doctoral researcher who the leads the team of 12 who do the initial reviews on the questions chosen. A further 20 external academics are then engaged to review and check the results. The panel of researchers includes a broad range of specialities – doctors, physios, nurses, midwives, radiographers, psychologists, dentists.

“It will take months rather than weeks to post an answer, depending on the evidence available – there might not be any evidence or there might be a huge amount of evidence, so we prioritise questions we feel most need to be answered,” she explains.

“It’s not just the amount of evidence that has to be assessed. It’s the quality and the studies done, can we rely on it? An important part of our remit is to get people to think critically themselves.

“What we’re looking for are broad studies – if something is to be tested, you need two groups of identical people, one given the thing, the other not – that’s the basis of a proper randomised trial. It has to be a fair comparison, not just given to one group who are assessed.”

The most popular questions centre around sleep, cancer and nutrition and they are posted on the website anonymously to allow people to ask questions they might be embarrassed about.

Pictured: Dr Paula Byrne, senior post-doctoral researcher who is leading the iHealthFacts project.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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