One of the conveniences of the internet is that it allows anyone to be a publisher; this is also

one of its biggest problems.

Before the internet, there was usually a filter between you and outrageous claims. However, in many cases that filter no longer exists and people are still learning to take internet assertions with a grain of salt.

This is an increasing problem for medical information. Web pages claim, “All disease is created by diet,” or “We have a miracle cure for cancer.”

Most of these statements will be accompanied by an offer to sell you supplements that will supposedly accomplish all this, and more.

Others propose alternative causes for common diseases, for example, that inflammation – rather than fat consumption – is the cause of heart disease, or that immunization is a factor in causing autism. The main proponents of both of these claims have had their medical licenses revoked for competence issues and ethical violations.

Both of these theories ignore proven methods of treating or preventing medical conditions, and result in serious health risks if followed. And, both of the proponents are still making these claims on the Internet.

Unfortunately, such poor advice is cloaked in respectability. Both theories are proposed by doctors, although neither mentions that they have been barred from practicing medicine. And, because they are publicly advertised, they have a hint of truthfulness. After all, there is the commonly-held sentiment that “they wouldn’t be publishing it if it wasn’t true.”

Most people seeking additional information about their health will turn to the internet. However, many web pages should be viewed with skepticism. Search for reviews of their claims, or the name of the person making them, to determine if they hold any kernel of truth at all.

But there are worthwhile sources of health-related material online.

Organizations such as Health Canada and the Mayo Clinic maintain health information websites where detailed information is presented in plain terms.

If you are truly interested in some of the health related material you find, it’s a good idea to talk to a registered health professional. They usually have the most up-to-date and accurate information.

This is not to say that alternative forms of treatment for various conditions are not valid — just be very careful.

There are stringent laws concerning advertising of drugs and medical treatments in broadcast and print media. Unfortunately, these laws do not apply to the internet.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.