If you are watching or reading the news about the coronavirus you’ve gotten no nonsense information from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases or NIAID. What you might not know is that is that NIAID is one of 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institutes of Health or NIH.
The NIH is the world’s largest medical research agency and the website contains a vast amount of health information not just for scientists or researchers, but for everyday consumers, like us.
Many of my friends and neighbors know I am a registered dietitian and that I write about health and aging, so it is not unusual for me to get questions about diet and disease prevention or management. While I taught classes on medical nutrition therapy when I was on faculty at Georgia State, that was a while ago and I haven’t kept up with all the research on diet and disease management. Too often when people ask their doctor for nutrition advice, they get generic advice, such as “eat better and exercise more.” So, what do I tell people? I usually start by telling them that there is a lot of great, free information from reputable websites that they miss when they just google their specific concern. Enter the NIH websites.
What constitutes a reputable website? For me, it is one that provides information that is grounded in science and backed by evidence. Another hallmark of a good health website is one that doesn’t rely on anecdotal testimonies from satisfied customers. Anecdotes make for compelling stories, but they don’t constitute evidence. I also stay away from websites that are trying to sell me something…the profit motive can bias the information.
That leads me to share some of my favorite NIH websites to learn more about the latest prevention and treatment strategies for various disease which affect many Americans. You won’t find flashy supplements that promise to cure you (and take money from your pocket) and you won’t find the magic, easy solution that many look for. You will find sound, credible information. So, when you have questions on (fill in the blank) check out these sites from the NIH:
- When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 the first place I looked for information was the National Cancer Institute .From general information on cancer types, treatment and prognosis to specific cancers, this is a great place to start gathering information, including a list of questions to ask, before you talk to an oncologist.
- For all things eye health, check out the National Eye Institute. As we age, we have more vision changes, from the normal age-related change presbyopia (the reason we need bifocals) to diseases like age-related macular degeneration. To learn about the symptoms, treatment, and latest research to prevent disease, start here. And, there is the good advice to get regular eye exams and give your eyes a break after 20 minutes of screen time.
- The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute covers a variety of disease affecting the cardiovascular system and blood disorders. From A-Fib to Varicose Veins, this is the place to go. And, there is a lot of helpful information on medical devices like pacemakers and CPAP.
- We’ve featured information on the National Institute on Aging in previous posts for information on healthy aging, but there is much more than nutrition on the site. Learn about the advances in geroscience, exploring the intersection of aging, biology, chronic disease, and health. Or get a free copy of Exercise & Physical Activity from Go4Life.
- Arthritis is a common complaint of aging adults and you can learn about treatments at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. You will also find information on bone health and osteoporosis in this Institute.
- I’m often asked about diet for digestive issues and the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases is a good place to start. I’m sharing the link for the diet and nutrition section because there is timely information on diet for irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, gallstones, and many other disorders.
- While there are many for institutes within NIH, and I encourage you to browse the website, the last center I want to mention is the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine . Many of you are interested in alternative treatments and this is good place to start learning about how various alternative treatments can complement traditional medical care. From herbs to acupuncture to Ayurvedic medicine, know the research that supports (or in some cases, refutes) what you think you know.
Sadly, many people are rejecting science today. They complain that scientists are always changing their minds, so they are not trustworthy. But it is the nature of science to continue exploration which can lead to new information, especially with emerging and rapidly evolving diseases, such as COVID-19. The same is true for nutrition and health information, stay on solid ground and get good, unbiased information in your quest for good health.
Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.
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