Bald men, beware…
If you believe the latest headlines, a receding hairline means you’ll wind up on a ventilator if you catch COVID-19.
That’s because the media jumped on a study that seemed to show that balding or bald men have a higher risk of getting severe cases of COVID-19.
But the study had one big, glaring mistake…
It didn’t control for age. Here’s the problem with that… Age increases risk for severe COVID-19 cases, with the most deaths happening in folks over 65 (and worse over 85). Hair loss also increases as a natural part of aging. In fact, two out of three men who turn 60 will have some hair loss.
To make matters worse, the study hasn’t even published yet… It was in pre-print status. So it hasn’t gone through the critical peer-review process.
This is just the latest sign that researchers, desperate for federal funding, will put out wild theories about the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They just want money.
Today, I want to review a few things to look for when you see outrageous claims in the media, particularly about your health.
The media just want clicks on its articles. Here at Health & Wealth Bulletin, we try to dive deeper for you. Here’s a list of what we look for whenever we see a new headline…
1. Look at the risk. Another study last week blasted media headlines: Study ties blood type to COVID-19 risk; O may help, A hurt.
This one plays up relative risk while ignoring absolute risk. Relative risk is simply the difference between the groups in a scientific study. In this case, it’s the people infected with COVID-19 with different blood types in this particular study.
Your overall lifetime risk is “absolute risk,” which is usually much lower. In this case, the absolute risk of having a blood type like Type A is minimal.
In fact, former president of the American Society of Hematology (the study of blood), Dr. Roy Silverstein explained it well to CNN: “The absolute difference in risk is very small. The risk reduction may be statistically significant, but it is a small change in actual risk. You never would tell somebody who was Type O that they were at smaller risk of infection,” he said.
2. Look to see if the authors accounted for other factors, like age. During the statistical analysis of a research paper, the authors should include any factors that might influence or affect the outcome. If the researchers include these cofounders, then the results correspond to the tested factor.
For instance in a COVID-19 study (like the one on bald men), you want to account for the factors we already know causes severe cases:
- Age 65-plus
- Congestive heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Current smoker
- Heart arrhythmias
3. Find the mechanism of action. Some studies out there are simply “association” studies. They find correlation, but not causation. In other words, two things might happen at the same time, but there’s no proof that one causes the other.
We’d rather see “mechanism of action” (MOA) studies, which show how a result happens. MOA studies demonstrate the inner workings that prove causation. These are gold standard studies in any medical field. Pay attention to a paper and see if the results say “correlation” or “association.” Another good tip: Look for the gold standard in study designs: randomized clinical trials. These use a test group and a control group to measure outcomes. That’s good for figuring out cause more than any association study.
4. Check where in the process the paper is and where it’s publishing. If it hasn’t gone through peer-review and hasn’t published, be wary. We do occasionally alert our readers to pre-print findings, usually if they’ve appeared at an industry conference. But these are always topics we know – the findings support other research we’ve seen and build on an existing body of knowledge.
COVID-19, however, is still new. That means we don’t have the same background or prior research, so we need to take extra caution when new research emerges. Everyone is trying to jump on that federal funding, so there’s a lot of noise in the research space.
Some journals also have a better reputation for vetting papers. Check a paper’s ranking through sites like SJR’s ranking program.
5. Follow the money. Always check to see what financial interests the authors have and see who funded the study. When we researched olive oil, it was eye-opening to see how many studies received grants from olive oil companies. The same goes for most nutrition studies and drug studies… You want to look for studies that don’t depend on the industry itself.
It’s easy to panic over headlines linking COVID-19 to everything from unusual rashes to hair loss. Don’t let your anxiety run away with you. Use these five tips to critically read the news.
Doc’s note: Whether it comes to your health or your wealth, knowing all the facts is important. And that’s why I hope you’ll tune into a special presentation from my good friend and colleague Dr. Steve Sjuggerud.
This Wednesday, Steve will even show you a brand-new kind of investment opportunity that’s been off-limits to ordinary investors until recently.
We’ve never covered anything like this in Stansberry Research’s 20-year history… Steve will be joined by a panel of experts, including a former winner from the TV show The Apprentice. It’s 100% free to attend.
What We’re Reading…
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 23, 2020