From chapter 3.1 of Living Young Longer (2016)

In previous articles (Scientific Research: What You Need to Know – Article 1 of 4 and Scientific Research: Studies vs. Quality – Article 2 of 4), we reviewed the process of scientific research by describing the different types of studies and quality standards. Despite the fact that these are interesting points, what defines a scientific result as being positive or negative? This article will give you a better understanding of how the results of a scientific study are analyzed.

Guaranteed positive results?

You might think it makes sense to presume that when a product has been tested in a clinical study, it is bound to be effective. Unfortunately, this is not a guarantee. The important thing is to take into account the quality of the study as well as the results obtained. The advice of a healthcare professional is often the best way to judge the suitability of a product approved or not through clinical demonstrations. For example, the benefit demonstrated may not be applicable to your situation (age, history, etc.), or may not be important enough to be clinically significant even if the result is statistically valid (a drop of 3 units in blood pressure is not the same therapeutic value as a drop of 3 units for cholesterol levels).

Benefits and/or risks

When it comes to analyzing the health benefits of a product, it is very important to rely on the risk/benefit balance. You are probably wondering what exactly this balance is. Well, the latter makes it possible to assess whether the risk factor is lower than the demonstrated benefits. In other words, for the use of a product to be justified, the benefits it provides must be greater than the risks associated with it. Typically, regulatory agencies will use this ratio to determine the level of scientific proof needed to consider a health benefit to be significant and of commercial value.

Obviously, the target clientele is taken into consideration during this assessment as well as the potential exposure to risk. Consider a product that would help lower blood pressure as an example. Its effects should be considerable for people who need to lower their blood pressure, and negligible for healthy people who have good blood pressure (here, for example, an ingredient that could be found in fruit juice which could be consumed by both groups).

If we look more at the potential exposure to risk, it should be noted that all possible forms of use of the product must be taken into account. A good example to illustrate this would be almonds and the cyanide they contain, also called hydrocyanic acid. We know that cyanide is considered a toxic element. Rest assured! Before this causes a risk of poisoning, you would have to ingest several kilos of almonds. We can therefore say that the risks associated with its consumption are much lower than the level of potential toxicity (several kilos), regardless of the food ingested (chocolate, pastries, almond drink, etc.). So even though almonds contain cyanide, which is considered a toxic compound, they are considered safe to health and even very beneficial.

Another extreme example that we can use is chemotherapy. These treatments are very toxic, but since the potential benefit (risk/benefit) is the maintenance of life, the benefits are indisputable. It is therefore justified to use these treatments.

As you can see, this risk/benefit ratio takes into account both the fact that the benefit must be significant and the risk must be acceptable while considering the importance of the benefit.

Low risk = no danger…?

In the presence of a low risk, it may be interesting to take into account demonstrations of health benefits of a lesser magnitude. Always keep in mind that what is taken for granted does not always mean it is safe. It is always recommended to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. Also, if your state of health requires therapeutic intervention, it is essential to consult a doctor for their opinion.

Assessment of health benefits

Now that we’ve covered the risk portion, let’s now look at the benefits. Here are some relevant questions that may be for consideration:

  • Is it enough to know the mechanism of action of a food, a plant extract and/or a product?
  • Can we attach significant importance to a product that has been used for thousands of years such as that of Traditional Chinese Medicine?
  • What is the interest of several studies for a single product, compared to several studies on different extracts from the same plant from several companies?

In the next and last article in the series on scientific research, we will try to share the answers to these questions while presenting you the 5 categories related to demonstrations of health benefits which are as follows:

  1. History of consumption;
  2. Scientific literature;
  3. Identification of a mechanism of action;
  4. Preclinical demonstrations;
  5. The results in humans.


Other suggested items:




  • 26-01-2015 (Therapeutic Research Faculty (Ed). Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database)
  • Confusion in the Supplement Aisle: How to Help Consumers Select Dietary Supplements.
  • passeportsanté.net: 01-12-2014
    • Notre méthodologie
  • ; Université de Toulouse
  • Enna, S.J., Norton, Stata. 2012. Herbal supplements and the brain: understanding their health benefits and hazards. Pearson Education, Inc. Publishing as FT Press. ISBN 978-0-13-282497-2. 273 pp.