11 Aug Think you have a health condition impacted by your cycle?
There generally isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t receive an email from a Hormonology fan who asks me to do a bit of research for her on a certain health condition that’s related to her cycle.
It makes sense since I know where to look for studies as a longtime women’s health journalist.
And, having more information about research related to your condition can help you find a different type of treatment that works better, has fewer side effects or can show you how to replace pricey medications with diet and lifestyle changes.
While I’m happy to help with research when I can, I think it’s more important that you have the tools you need to do your own research. This way, you can seek out the exact information you want when you want. You don’t have to wait for me or anyone else to do it for you.
Then, you can take that information to your healthcare provider for more details or to help tailor your treatment.
So, I’d like to introduce you to 3 ways to find research related to your condition.
1. Track down the studies
Did you know that the surprising, intriguing and absolutely useful health news you hear about in magazines, online and on TV are just a teeny tiny percentage of the number of surprising, intriguing and absolutely useful studies that are published in medical journals every month?
I should know. I scour these medical journals on a near-daily basis for magazine articles I write–and I’m continually amazed at how much useful knowledge is hidden in them.
(PS: As a reminder, that’s how Hormonology was born. In 1999, I was the first person to go through all these medical journals and piece together all the suprising, intriguing and absolutely useful hormone studies that were hidden in them!)
So, how can you find the studies that relate to your condition?
These two websites offer millions of published studies to review. They’re geared toward professionals in the research and medical fields so you’ll find that they’re written with a lot of medical and research jargon. However, don’t be scared off by that. In many cases, the study’s “abstract” (which is a summary) can give you the gist of what the research is about–and the final sentence or two is typically the study’s conclusion, which bottom-lines the results for you.
Use the “advanced search” features on these websites to home in on the exact condition you want to research so you don’t end up with thousands of studies to pore over in your search results.
Sort by date to find the latest studies or by relevance to find the studies that pertain most closely to your search.
Then, take the studies you want to learn more about to your health care provider who can read it and give you more explanation.
2. Get the full study free
Annoying, but true: In some cases, you can access the full study (which goes into more detail about how it was conducted, the results and the conclusion) for free–but, in many other cases, you’ll have to pay for access, which is approximately $40 per study for 24 hours depending on the journal in which it was published.
Tip: When I buy access to a study, I copy it onto my hard drive so I have it permanently. As long as you don’t share the study publicly, this is fine.
You may also be able to rent a study for a lesser amount–usually about $6–through links provided by the journal in which the study was published. However, you usually won’t be able to save it to your hard drive.
Since I use a lot of full studies for my job as a freelance women’s health journalist–and do not get reimbursed for downloads–I would go broke having to buy them all. So, I’ve found a couple of ways to get many of these full studies for free. And, I’m going to share them with you so you can save a bit of cash, too.
I first head to ResearchGate. This is a website where many authors of studies have uploaded the full versions, making them available at no cost.
If the study I want isn’t here, then I go to PDFSearchEngine. Here, you can do a search for the study’s title (put the title in quotes to limit the results) and if the study author or someone else has uploaded it somewhere (say, to their personal website), you’ll find it in the search results.
Tip: Search for more than just pdf versions–try Word and txt searches on this website, too, in case the study was uploaded in a different format.
Also, check out your local library, which may have subscriptions to the journals you need, which you can access with a library card.
3. Find the press release
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the enormous number of studies or the medical or research jargon they use, then visit Eurekalert.org and ScienceDaily.com. These websites describe research using plain English that most folks can easily understand. That’s because they’re press releases that are written by publicists from the journal that published the study or the university where one of the study’s researchers is employed.
Unfortunately, because these are press releases, it means you’re only reading about studies that publicists felt would garner publicity–not the wide breadth of research that’s available.
Still, there are lots of studies to read about on this site that are easily understandable, which makes it a valuable place to do your research.
Before you start doing research…
Be aware that while there are a lot of great, well-researched studies on these websites, some aren’t as well-designed, making them less reliable. Here’s a quick run-down of what kind of studies are considered more trustworthy than others:
Generally speaking, randomized placebo-controlled trials are considered the most reliable because the participants are randomly chosen to receive a treatment or a placebo, which allows researchers to evaluate the treatment results more accurately. And, double-blind randomized placebo-controlled studies are even better since this means the researchers are unaware of who received the active treatment and the placebo, reducing the potential for bias.
Correlation studies (where researchers find an association but not a direct cause) and retrospective studies (where participants are counted on to recall certain factors about their lives from months, even years ago, like their diet or how much they exercised) are considered less reliable. But, many times, they’re still a good starting point if you’re looking for more information.
Studies that examine effects on a large number of people are considered more reliable than those examining just a few.
And, any study that’s been funded by a business that benefits from the results of the research (for instance, food manufacturers or cosmeceutical companies, which are cosmetics that have some kind of health-boosting benefit) are low on the totem pole of trust since they obviously have a stake in a positive outcome. You’ll usually know when a study has been funded by a company because there’s typically a declaration about conflict of interest somewhere in the study and press release.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m personally not a fan of animal studies because I deem them inhumane. Aside from that, while researchers have advanced human health in many ways using this type of research, in general, many scientists agree that testing on animals won’t guarantee the same results on humans. So, these types of studies are also considered low on the reliability scale. But, again, they’re considered a good starting point if you’re looking for more information.
All this said, it’s expensive to conduct well-designed human studies. So, it’s worth keeping an open mind when looking at research. One small, correlational or animal study could end up helping you find a solution to a health problem you’ve been seeking.
Important: Never discontinue your medication or health treatment based on what you’ve read in a study before consulting with your healthcare provider. Do not take any vitamins, supplements or herbs before consulting with your healthcare provider since these can interact with medications you’re already taking.
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