How to Know if the Latest Health Hack Is Legit or All Hype


Something I just need to say out loud: I recently considered shoving garlic up my nose because TikTok told me it clears congestion. And yeah, it gets worse.…I’m a health journalist and I literally just wrote a book about this stuff (ahem, It’s Probably Nothing: The Stress-Less Guide to Dealing With Health Anxiety, Wellness Fads, and Overhyped Headlines is out now).

I blame HealthTok, wellness influencers, and the occasional rogue MD—all of whom make ~natural~ cures seem so alluring, almost obvious. I mean, why wouldn’t anyone want to try an easier, “cleaner” treatment instead of going through our truly effed health care system only to be dismissed by doctors or left with a ginormous prescription-medicine bill? The problem, though, isn’t just that a lot of wellness fads are a waste of time and money—it’s that they can often steer you away from evidence-based help (medicine, vaccines, a real exam with a real doc) or even make you sick.

So the next time you’re scrolling along and you stop to think, “Why, yes, I would like to stop feeling gassy and bloated—here, take my money!” refer first to these tips from ob-gyn Shieva Ghofrany, MD, and gynecologist and family planning specialist Stacy De-Lin, MD.

If someone tells you to trust them and their #sponcon over the vast majority of (licensed, board-certified) experts, question it. Especially if their “cure” happens to be pricey and available only from them.

Let’s say you’re served an Instagram ad for a probiotic that claims to help you never get sick ever. Cool. Now, start digging. Your goal: Find out whether its active ingredients (see those on the label) do all the things they claim. Head to PubMed and/or Google Scholar—home to the legit studies you need to get answers. Pop one of those active ingredients, like in this case, Lactobacillus acidophilus, into the search bar along with one of the claims, like immunity. If you don’t find a damn thing on what you’re investigating, well, that speaks for itself. Otherwise, be sure that any study you find (1) involved people, not animals or cells in a petri dish, (2) looked at a large, diverse group of folks (not just 10 dudes), and (3) happened within the past decade. If not, the findings might not apply to your body.

Also, any research that has “meta-analysis” or “systematic review” in the title is a very solid source, since those kinds of projects analyze nearly every study that exists on a given topic.

When faced with an iffy wellness fad, consult the organizations and people who specialize in this exact body part or bodily function. So if you’re curious about supplements for raging PMS, see what the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has to say on its site. An even better option is to reach out to a primary care provider (or gyno, derm, RD, whoever) you trust.

When in doubt, reach out to a doctor you trust to break it down.

If it’s not their area of specialty, they can still share what they’ve heard or at least direct you to someone or something that can tell you more about it. Plus, they already know what’s up with your body, so their advice will be a lot more personalized than what you see on the internet.

Fun fact: Anyone can use that term at any time to sell anything because it isn’t regulated. Similarly, just because you don’t need an Rx for raw garlic doesn’t mean sticking it up your nose is risk-free (see: now-inflamed nasal passages, causing even more stuffiness). So before you say, “Eh, it can’t hurt,” remember that it literally can.

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