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The Wellness Letter

The Wellness Letter

By Melissa Pandika

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Because when the Internet is telling you to toss — no, keep — no, toss — your multivitamins, you need a one-stop health-advice site you can understand and trust.

By Melissa Pandika

If you swear by your daily multivitamin, the past few weeks have probably left your head spinning. Despite what you’ve read on some health blogs, news headlines declared that they don’t offer any health benefit. Who should you believe? 

Skip the stress of wading through Google by reading the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Wellness Letter. Their website delivers health advice in plain English, backed by peer-reviewed research and an editorial board of physicians and other health experts. It covers a broad range of topics — from teeth grinding to tai chi — especially those the popular media tends to muddle or for which the science is unsettled. Since launching as a monthly print newsletter in 1984, it’s been rated the #1 health guide by U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post and other leading media outlets. Then, after gaining roughly one million print subscribers, the editors launched an online version last February to reach an even bigger audience. For its next incarnation, the Wellness Letter plans to unveil a blog in June to foster their active online community.  

The Wellness Letter's Pumpking Frittata Recipe

The Wellness Letter’s pumpkin frittata recipe.

In radical Berkeley fashion, the School of Public Health (SPH) launched its newsletter to promote what was then considered a “fringy” concept: wellness. Instead of advising readers on how to treat illnesses, the founders encouraged healthy lifestyle habits to prevent disease. The UC Regents were uneasy about the word, which at the time reeked of New-Age-y pseudoscience. But the SPH insisted, and finally got the green light.

A team of writers drafts easy-to-understand responses to readers’ email questions, referencing the latest medical studies. Once a month, they meet with the editors for five to six hours to discuss each article. It’s a rigorous process that sets the Wellness Letter apart from other online health guides, which often reflect only one person’s opinion and/or lack strong scientific evidence, said editorial board director John Swartzberg. 

The website is vibrant and easy to navigate. Each article covers research findings and a “bottom line” suggesting a course of action.

The website is vibrant and a snap to navigate. Each article covers background on the topic and popular media claims, followed by research findings and a “bottom line” suggesting a course of action. What do readers ask about most? “Healthy eating and supplements,” Swartzberg said. “There are an awful lot of claims made about them where there’s no science to back them up.” Reader favorites in these categories have examined which cholesterol-lowering supplements work and whether fasting is worth the hype, for example. Still wondering about multivitamins? Turns out they might benefit some, like people over 60, “but cannot substitute for a healthy, balanced diet.”

Other online health guides often reflect only one person’s opinion and/or lack strong scientific evidence…

Posts in other categories scrutinize e-cigarettescolonoscopy costs and claims that contraceptives can lower cancer risk. And the editors make sure to report on claims when the science does support them — like how the Mediterranean diet can boost heart health — and share healthy recipes (their pumpkin frittata earned the most Pinterest pins).

If there’s a downside, it’s that the Wellness Letter’s content is updated only once a month, and although readers can share the articles on social media, they can’t post comments until the blog debuts. But Swartzberg promises “a more robust site” in the coming months. “We want to become a one-stop place to ensure people are doing what they need for their health.”

Wellness geeks, time to make room on your bookmarks bar. 

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