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By Leisa Wheeler N.D.
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Doctor Google

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A little while ago I found a funny meme on Facebook and added it to our wall. It said something along the lines of: “Googling your symptoms is the quickest way to convince yourself that you are dying”

This is absolutely, without a doubt, true. In fact I have done it myself. The positive I gained from this experience was the effervescent bubbling of joy and life I felt waking the morning after I was sure a blood clot would kill me in the night. I had a pain in my leg. Yes, it could have been a blood clot. But it could also have been a cramp, spasm, bruise, pinched nerve, bug bite, cork, or any number of other non lethal maladies. But Doctor Google told me it was a blood clot. So I was pretty sure I was going to die.

Googling your symptoms will often bring you to the worse case scenario. I mean, no one is going to write an extensive article on non-life-threatening leg pain due to a simple corked thigh and have it receive millions of hits. According to our awesome Marketing Manager Dahna, the pages that are at the top of your Google search are firstly the sites where people have paid money for them to be viewed first and secondly, those articles Google thinks are the most relevant. This relevance is established according to a few things: how much they pay their SEO manager, how relevant the content is to your search words, how long past readers have stayed on the site, how many times the words used are included in the page. Basically, Google tries to show the most relevant content but it has no idea the accuracy of sources, it simply makes it recommendations by people’s reaction to content.

So this brings us back to the corked thigh/blood clot. Like I said, not many people are going to write, search for or read an article about this simple discomfort, while many more will write, search for and read an article about a young woman dying from a blood clot… Hypochondria is fed and you end up thinking a blood clot is the only possible explanation and you’re going to die.

The lesson from this? Certainly Google your symptoms if you must, but make sure you check with a qualified health care professional. Many health food stores and pharmacies employ fully qualified naturopaths and nutritionists and they are there to give you free advice. Alternatively, call you naturopath and book in for a consultation, if your health concern lasts longer than a short time.

When I first started practicing, my darling cousin came to see me as her naturopath. I love this girl to bits, but unfortunately I instilled in her a very deep and powerful fear of illness when we were young. Yep, she says it is my fault that she also became a hypochondriac (it must be contagious). Anyway, my cousin was suffering from a particular health problem and I recommended a natural supplement to help address this issue. Not trusting her newly qualified cousin, she decided to Google the supplement when she got home to see if it was the right product for her. Unfortunately (for the both of us), there existed a pharmaceutical product with the same name with entirely the opposite effect. Basically, after reading what Dr Google had to say, she thought I was trying to either make her worse or kill her. If she hadn’t been my cousin it is quite possible she would have never come to see me again, and told all her friends what a terrible naturopath I was. Luckily, she called me and we were able to get to the bottom of the confusion. No, the natural supplement was not going to harm her, yes it was specific for her needs, and no, it was not the same one she read about on the internet, although it did have the same name.

The lesson from this? Certainly Google your supplements if you wish, but if you do find some information you don’t believe fits your case (or sounds like it might kill you), call up your prescribing practitioner and discuss it with them. It could all just be a simple misunderstanding.

The same goes for Googling supplements and self prescribing. This is when you Google something for ‘weight loss’, and the whole first page is filled with “real life” testimonials from “real people” swearing by Garcinia Cambogia. If you read the testimonials from different sites you’ll see that they are all very suspiciously identical, despite the fact that this one was “written” by Lara Bingle, and the other one from the editor of Vogue…

A lovely patient of mine recently told me she had been taking a fantastic mineral supplement for years. She told me how it was all natural, and the single tablet provided the body with 75 necessary minerals for health. I Googled (yes, I see the irony) this supplement and found its ingredient list. These necessary minerals included (and I kid you not), Aluminum, Arsenic, Cadmium, Cesium, Fluoride, Lead, Mercury, Platinum, Rhodium, Silicon and Tin. Now most of the toxic heavy metals were only in very small doses, but seriously, who wants to willingly take daily doses of toxic minerals just because they are “plant based”?? I was horrified! As was my patient! When I let her know about these ‘natural’ ingredients she said she’d never take them again. Was it doing her harm? I’ll know for sure if we do a toxic elements profile, or hair mineral analysis and after she is off the supplement for a while. What I can say for certain right now is that it wasn’t doing her any good! No one ever suffers from mercury deficiency. The problem was she had found these online and ordered them from America for personal use. She had never checked with a naturopath, and the regulatory body that monitors the safety of supplements in Australia had nothing to do with this one, as it was bought from overseas.

The lesson from this? If you do fine an amazing natural product online and wish to buy it, please get a qualified health professional like me to check it out for you. I am just as interested as you are in finding amazing products out there, so I will happily investigate quality, dosage, and sources of supplements for you.

Believe it or not, I love Google. It makes life so much easier! But when it comes to heath, please always check with a real live person. It might just save you a whole lot of worry!



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