February 17, 2013
While continuing to study the relationship between common human activities–coffee drinking, smoking and frequent hot tub use, for example, is a good thing, splashing eye-catching headlines across a page that completely refute what we in the academic medical community absolutely KNOW to be true, is not. For men and couples out there who are trying to find reputable sources of information on what they can do to increase fertility, these so-called studies can be downright misleading, discouraging and worse may lead a patient down the opposite path from the one they want to take in the first place.
I’ve addressed some of the most important things men can do on their own to increase their chances for reproduction and these tips are based on actual, scientific, quantifiable and peer-reviewed research. You can find them here: 10 Fertility Tips for Men. But today, I’d like to advise the public on how to view and interpret studies. Basically, this is a “what to look for” and “what to beware of” list of tips for the smart consumer who really wants to cut through the “hype” and get to the heart of what matters in male fertility.
What to Look For:
1. Where the Information Comes From.
Peer-reviewed journal articles are the most respected sources of medical research information and authenticity. This is because the research work has been reviewed by other qualified members of the author’s profession.
2. Number of Study Subjects.
With this number, more is better. If the sample size for a study is too small, it really can’t be considered relevant to a larger population of people.
3. Type of Subject.
If you’re looking to this study for information on how to improve your own health, then you want to make sure the people (subjects) being studied have things in common with you. If the study you’re reviewing is based on the male infertility of men living in a rural third-world village, for example, then it may not be a study you can glean complete or useful information from for yourself.
4. Type of Study:
The best scientific studies look at outcomes. These are harder studies to perform, but they are the most meaningful in terms of the information they produce.
It’s a fancy word that conveys an important point. Is the study you’re reviewing based on a positive result from a single trial? That may be exciting, but it isn’t definitive. A definitive study looks at how repeatable the findings are over time. The same positive result across multiple studies is what you should look for.
What to Beware Of:
1. Media Hype.
Remember that reporters are journalists. They aren’t medical experts. When exciting findings get released in the media, make sure you pay close attention to whether or not these findings are “preliminary.” A study can have a long road ahead of it in definitively proving a certain finding if it’s only in its preliminary stages.
2. Conflict-of-Interest Study Sponsors:
Although there are many governmental regulations that guard the public against this, beware of studies that are sponsored (paid for) by the people, businesses or agencies that the outcome has the potential to positively affect from a financial perspective. When you’re looking to a study for health guidance, you want to make sure the findings are as unbiased as possible.
3. Expert Opinion Studies:
If a study’s findings are based on one physician’s account of his/her own patient population, then this it isn’t really a study. It’s an opinion based on experience. This isn’t to say that the opinion doesn’t have merit; it simply means that it hasn’t been put through the rigors of what is required of scientific medical studies and may not be applicable to a larger population of people.
4. Single Case Studies or Testimonials: These are your typical “Miracle Treatment” “Only Treatment Available to Cure XYZ” statements by people or businesses that haven’t put their claims to test in a controlled-study environment. Most of the general public can spot these shaky marketing ploys a mile away, but I’ve seen too many desperate couples who are trying to conceive fall prey to them. Bottom line: if it sounds too-good-to-be-true, it probably is.
So the next time you hear a report indicating that a certain new product, procedure or activity is the cure for or cause of male infertility, use these tips to help you decide how valid the claims are and how applicable they are to your situation. And always consult your trusted physician before acting upon any information you’ve heard, seen or read in a study.