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Health Help On-Line: Is It Reliable?

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Between 25 and 26 million American adults will turn to the Internet this year for health information. Unfortunately, many will come up empty-handed. Without standards to weed out snake-oil vendors from trustworthy sources, searching for medical advice on the Web can be as ineffective—and dangerous—as fumbling through a medicine cabinet in the dark.

Whether you’re looking to buy a remedy or to learn about a whole healing belief system, be sure to search not just one but many sites, suggests Jackie Wootton, M.Ed., president of the Alternative Medicine Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland, and informatics project director for Columbia University’s Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicine. “Look primarily for nonprofit organizations that offer clear, impartial information resources,” says Wootton. “Dotcom sites are likely to have a vested interest in selling certain products.”

Despite some rotten apples among the bunch, there are some great sites that have proven themselves reliable, safe, and current. Others serve as gateways to finding the information you need by setting you on the right path.

American Botanical Council and Herb Research Foundation

Twenty-six monographs of different herbs appear on this site, along with their uses, average doses, side effects, and contraindications. You will also find a number of good links to other sites.

Alternative Health News Online

This site was set up by a journalist and directs visitors to reliable alternative medicine Web sites. Read the latest health news from Reuters, CNN, and The New York Times and learn about other sites.

Association of Naturopathic Physicians

Besides helping you locate an N.D., this site lists negative drug/herb or drug/food combinations.

HealthWorld Online

This site covers conventional and alternative therapies with links to U.S. government and public health organizations. Type in a specific condition and get advice on alternative approaches.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements

The NIH launched this site last year to offer honest-to-goodness, research-based facts on supplements. Look up any vitamin, mineral, or herb, and the site will search more than 380,000 scientific abstracts. The citations of your choosing get sent to you by e-mail.

NOAH (New York Online Access to Health)

A team of medical librarians, including those at the New York Academy of Medicine and the New York Public Library, have assembled this site from different on-line resources. It covers the basic alternative healing modalities, as well as many conditions.

Tufts University Nutrition Navigator

Use this as your guide to finding other sites that dispense information on the health category of your choosing. The Navigator rates sites by accuracy, depth of information, frequency of updates, and user friendliness.