Tapping into the Internet can be a bit like trying to sip from a fire hose. You want a low-fat recipe for dinner or a little advice on how to ease the ache in your knees, but when you type in a query, your computer screen suggests 50 Web sites to check out-or 500. You know some of the sites are reliable, and you know some aren't. If only you could tell which is which.
As the editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association recently worried, the Internet often resembles a cocktail party, full of tipsy chatter and noise. Does the medical advice you're from a doctor or other reputable source? Maybe. maybe it comes from a nut in a bathrobe, oi entrepreneur tilting the story to slide right in your pocket and fish out a buck.
That's why we turned to this group of experts doubly credentialed, each of them, in their chosen field and in the online world. Through their books and articles, these seasoned authorities have counseled us in the past. In some cases their wo has changed the way we live. In the pages that follow, they untangle the Web.
Susan Love, M.D.
Known for her down-to-earth style, the maverick breast cancer surgeon revolutionized attitudes about the disease with Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book in 1990. In 1997 she tackled midlife issues with Dr. Susan Love's Hormone Book.
"This is one of the few good menopause sites that aren't completely pro-HRT (hormone replacement therapy). It's a wonderful community for women going through menopause. You can really tell it's driven by women. And lots of good guests lead online discussions: Bob Arnot did one, and Christiane Northrup."
Health and Human Services
"A basic women's health site, but with a little more depth to it. I like their Heart Health Assessment feature: You fill out a survey and get a customized page of information you should read. The site is in both Spanish and English, which I think is really cool:"
"Their Self-Care Advisor (click on Medical Library) is the kind of thing that can be helpful in the middle of the night, when you're wondering if you should bug your doctor. Health Topics A to Z is an extensive encyclopedia."
"Alternatives can be tricky. This site provides solid information on herbs for a variety of women's health concerns, and it's not selling anything. If you don't mind dealing with scientific jargon, http://cpmcnet.columbia.edu/dept/rosenthal/Breastca.html will bring up good research on alternative therapies for breast cancer."
"Very user-friendly, with a lot of information. You can search for clinical trials if you want to be part of a study"
"One of the best cancer sites. Very thorough, and it links you to just about all the cancer information you're likely to need."
Her own site
"The Web contains a lot of information for the woman who's just been diagnosed with breast cancer, but not for survivors. We try to speak to both of those groups, as well as to healthy women in midlife. A sample pathology report can help you translate your own into English. We have pictures of women who have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy and radiation, because if you're trying to decide between options, it makes such a difference to be able to see what you're facing. And you can post a question and get an answer within 48 hours from me and my longtime cronies (three nurses and another breast surgeon)."
Her 1977 Moosewood Cookbook, one of the best-selling cookbooks ever printed, brought meatless meals into the mainstream. In the years since, Katzen has proved that hearthealthy dishes needn't compromise on taste.
The Global Gourmet
"When I go online, I look for much more than recipes, and this site's a real education in food and culture. Some days it concentrates on Turkish food, say, with good, original recipes and commentary by really knowledgeable people. The editor, Kate Heyhoe, is one of the best food writers in the country. I try to visit the site often just to see what she's thinking."
The Kitchen Link
"The Grand Central Station of food sites, with more than 10,000 links. You can search for specific recipes, or select low-fat dishes by going to Healthy Cooking, under Hot Topics. This site is a very important bookmark."
"SOAR is an acronym for searchable online archive of recipes, hosted by the University of California at Berkeley. No one tests the recipes, and you don't know who created them, but the site's massive. Type in any ingredient, and you'll get billions of recipes that include it."
"These are really smart people. They list their favorite recipe sites and pick the best of the recipes from those sites. So you get the very best of a cook's list. And the recipes change often-I like that."
Her own site
"I think of my site as a town square. I put my recipes there, of course, but other things, too. People see me posting in my journal on Sunday night, and they say, 'Ah, Mollie is not just a name on a cookbook.' And they can ask questions, like 'Does anyone know what to do with this weird ingredient?' Or simply, `What should I make for dinner?"
Joe & Teresa Graedon
The 1976 best-seller The People's Pharmacy helped readers use conventional drugs safely. In the years since, pharmacologist Joe Graedon and his wife, Teresa, a medical anthropologist, have brought their expertise to herbs and home remedies.
"This is the site of the American Botanical Council, which publishes the HerbalGram, an excellent, excellent newsletter. It's constantly updated, and it's the best source we've found on what herbs do, how to use them, what you need to be cautious about, and where else to look."
National Institutes of Health
"You may think of the government as antialternative, but this site, for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, has an extensive database of studies on supplements. You get the reference and maybe an abstract; you'll have to go to the library for the full study, or see if the journal is available online. But it's a wonderful bibliography."
"A big problem in alternative health in this country is that you can't count on products containing what they claim to. In Australia, the same legislation that covers drugs also covers herbs. This site, run by an Australian naturopath named Russell Setwright, offers reliable products as well as lots of valuable info."
UW Medicinal Herb Garden
"This site offers a terrific look at herbs in the University of Washington Medicinal Herb Garden. You can find them by the common name or the scientific name. Then it calls up lovely photos of the herb taken right in the garden. There isn't a lot of information, but the site has a link to Medline, the database of medical journals, so you can find the latest research."
Their own site
The information dump on the Internet can be overwhelming. We use a Q&A format, with questions from real people, to put issues in a real-life framework. If someone E-mails us, we also answer questions directly and tell where you can get more information. We've written up the 50 most common herbs, and we also have an archive of newspaper columns. We're planning a home remedy section and a place to report adverse reactions to drugs or supplements."
A former president of the American Dietetic Association, Dodd is a member of an advisory panel that rates Web sites for the Tufts University Nutrition Navigator.
Tufts Nutrition Navigator
"This is a great starting point for Internet neophytes. It has a clear rating system to help you find accurate and informative nutrition sites."
"Comprehensive, unbiased information approved by dietitians you can trust. I like the Nutritional Profile option, because most people have no idea how much they should be eating, and this tool figures out your daily calorie and nutrient needs. I think the food plans are great, too. They come with recipes and a shopping list, and can be personalized so they'll work for you no matter what restrictions you have."
Shape Up America
"Although this site emphasizes exercise, it does have a good weight-loss section. It can personalize your menu the same way Cyberdiet does, and it also provides recipes and a shopping list. I really like the Food and Physical Activity Log (click on Support, then on Motivation Center). I often recommend that my clients use such logs, because having a record of what you're putting into your body and what you're expending can keep you on track."
Mayo Clinic Health Oasis
"The section called Nutrition does a good job of dispelling some common diet myths, such as the one about grapefruit burning fat. But just because you're on a diet doesn't mean you're not concerned with nutrition; the Ask the Mayo Dietitian is a great option if you have a question about soy or isoflavones or something. Virtual Cookbook has lowerfat versions of your favorite recipes, and if you subscribe to the Eating Healthy update, you'll automatically be E-mailed when new recipes are added."
The director of the Center for Physical Fitness at Tufts University, physiologist Nelson showed us that getting strong is one of the best things a woman can do for herself. Strong Women, Strong Bones, published this month, focuses on strength training as a way to stay vital through the years.
"This site is particularly helpful for the unfit woman who wants to get fit. Under the Fitness channel, it has 71 weight-loss tips, all of them realistic. The Fitness Finder can tell you whether you'd do better with trail running or tae kwon do. The Walking Club can help keep you motivated, and a resident expert can advise you. The section on exercise actually shows you what to do in real time. (Click on Your Workout, then on Program Planner.) Full disclosure: I wrote those exercises, so of course I think they're good!"
"With the Activity Calculator, you plug in your weight and the activity you want to do, and it tells you how many calories you'll burn. You can put in anything from race-walking to cooking to croquet. The support groups are great on this site."
"I'm an expert on fitness, but I go here to do searches on particular topics, like shinsplints. Or you can go straight to the Fitness Center, which describes a new exercise every week. You can also read weekly journals kept by people who are working to get in shape. It's always helpful to know that other people are going through the same struggles you are."
"This is a great place to jump-start a fitness program. To be honest, I'm a little nervous about the MorphOver option, which digitally slims down your picture if you scan it in. I think the `virtual you' could be frustratingly unattainable, at least in the short run. But I love the FitClips; they're great videos that demonstrate exercise techniques. And the Custom Program for exercise gives you a free, personalized fitness plan designed by exercise physiologists and trainers. If you want a list of nearby health clubs, click on the Gym Locator."
Finding Health Facts in a Flash
If you're looking into a particular problem, from hangnails to high blood pressure, a few select Web sites may not get you far enough. But a wider Internet search can be overwhelming. Fortunately, with a bit of savvy, you can find what you need fast.
Narrow your view
If you're looking for health or medical information, the all-purpose search engines like Yahoo! or Lycos aren't as helpful as ones that specialize. Healthfinder (www.healthfinder.gov), maintained by the federal government, searches only sites that meet its standards for accuracy and ease of use; HealthWeb (www.healthweb.org), run by a group of health science libraries, does the same. Other engines like Medical Matrix (www.medmatrix.com) and MedHunt (www.hon.ch) will bring you solid information, but it may be dauntingly clinical.
Learn a few tricks
To save time as you start your search; brush up on your computerese. Typing a plus sign in front of a word generally guarantees that the files unearthed will contain that word; typing a minus sign will weed out files containing it. Words such as AND, OR, and NOT similarly adjust your search. If you're looking for an exact phrase, like lower back pain, put it in quotes. On many search engines, the asterisk is a wild card: arth* will pull up both arthritis and arthroscope. It this seems complicated, don't fret: Many search engines will prompt you as you build your query.
A lot of sites were created by people with something to sell. That doesn't necessarily mean they're biased, but it does call for caution. A Health on the Net (HON ) medallion signals that a site has agreed to comply with a code of ethics established by a group of health-care and Internet specialists. Finally, think of online advice as no more authoritative than that in an old-fashioned self-help guide. Check with your doctor before making any major moves. -Evelyn Silence
Which Web sites do you like best? Let us know at www.HealthMag.com. Click on Join a Discussion, then select About HEALTH Magazine.
Copyright Hippocrates Partners Apr 2000
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