Speaking at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting last week, allergist David Stukus, MD, chair of the ACAAI meeting program committee, told delegates that social media can be dangerous because it gives everyone an equal voice, even those giving out incorrect information.
"The years of training and clinical experience allergists have is given the same weight as unqualified individuals performing their own 'research' using online search engines."
Dr. Stukus says it's not surprising people search online for health information, but that there is are a lot of alternative facts, both deliberate and not and this misinformation, such as 'allergy cures', has a negative impact on the medical decisions these people make.
"You can easily find online promises of 'food allergy cures' even though none exist. These treatments look very appealing, but they haven't been properly tested and people have no way of knowing whether they're good or bad."
He added that at-home food sensitivity kits can encourage people to cut important nutrition out of their diets.
"The same is true for at-home food sensitivity testing. People spend hundreds of dollars to be sent a long list of foods they are reportedly 'sensitive' to, and they're told to avoid the foods. But the results are meaningless."
These at-home remedies and tests can cause people to take medical decisions into their own hands rather than going to a professional fro advice.
The doctor said he understood the temptation to search online but this information should always be discussed with a health expert.
"I'd much rather someone with a food allergy bring me information so we can discuss it rather than starting a treatment without asking my opinion."
"There are common tactics used by people selling products or services that everyone should be aware of when they search online," added Dr. Stukus. "Be suspicious of information falsely claiming to be scientific, as well as cherry picked data, personal anecdotes and paid celebrity endorsements. Echo chambers, where you only hear opinions that echo your own, should also be avoided. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is a myth, regardless of how many likes, shares or retweets it has."
In an aim to balance out some of the nutrition myths on social media, NutraIngredients has set up an Instagram page devoted to myth-busting. Follow us by searching 'NutraIngredients' and let us know if you have a myth you'd like us to debunk: firstname.lastname@example.org