Nerdy Moms unite! So you are interested in reading up more on herbs in order to make informed decisions about which ones to use for your family’s health. You’ve read Part 1 of “How a Holistic Mama Interprets Scientific Research,” and you eagerly anticipate Part 2. If that’s the case, then you are about as geeky as I am, and I like you already!
Okay, so I’ve decided to research “Silybum marianum” (Milk Thistle), and I’ve clicked over to PubMed. I type “Silybum marianum liver” into the Search bar (because I’m specifically interested in research that tests the effects of Milk Thistle on the liver), and voila! I am deluged with results. I scan through the headlines with a critical eye, because not every one is pertinent to what I am looking for: listing #1 is about prostate cancer, listing #2 doesn’t even look relevant, listing #3 is about Milk Thistle herbal supplements, and so on.
It’s not until listing #14 that my interest is piqued, because it’s about the effects of Milk Thistle on patients with chronic Hepatitis C, which is exactly what I’m looking for.
So I click on #14, and there’s no need for me to cut and paste that, because you can read the abstract for yourself. Immediately, you’ll note that this research was not done in the United States; rather, it was conducted in Iran, at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. I don’t let that throw me off, because the U.S. does not have a monopoly on smart people. There are plenty of competent researchers in other parts of the world. So I read on.
You’ll notice that there are usually four sections to every one of these abstracts. The Background section tells you what the study was trying to determine, or what question the experiment was trying to answer. What you are looking to understand here is WHY they conducted this study in the first place and what hypotheses they set out to prove or disprove. The Method section tells you HOW they set up the experiment. You’ll want to understand whether this was a sound study – did they properly select their sample, how big was their sample size, did they have a control group, what dosages did the group get, did they control for all the right variables, what measurements did they take, etc. The Results section tells you the results of the measurements that were taken to ascertain whether the herb made a difference – in this case, whether Milk Thistle had any impact on patients with Chronic Hepatitis C. You’ll want to ascertain whether the results were statistically significant…I’ll explain more about that in a later post. Basically, a statistically significant result means that the likelihood of the results occurring randomly is pretty small, less than 5%. And finally, the Conclusions section tells you what the experimenters thought of the results of their experiment, how they interpreted the measurements, and what they recommend as the next steps of research. You’ll want to formulate your own conclusions based on the 3 previous sections above, but it’s good to know what the scientists thought, too.
What did I think of this particular piece of research? To be honest, it was not a good study, in my Holistic Mama opinion – I picked a rather unfortunate example to start off with, but hey, that’s life, right? You don’t always see or read what you want to see or read. In my next post, I’ll tell you WHY IT WASN’T A GOOD STUDY.