"When patients ask me about Web resources, I'm always nervous because there's a lot of incorrect information out there, or it's industry sponsored," cautions Alice Domar, PhD, founder of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, which specializes in integrative medicine. And indeed, studies funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others have found that information on health websites is often inaccurate or incomplete.
The good news is that there is valuable information if you know where to look; even the professionals troll the Internet to learn about cutting-edge studies or unorthodox treatments. "The Web is wonderful for finding news that's not so mainstream," says Christiane Northrup, MD, the ob-gyn who wrote Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. "Alternative viewpoints can be just as useful in treating illness, only we don't hear about them as often."
Northrup told us she recently used the Web to research the latest science on vitamin D and fish oil, which inspired us to reach out to other prominent health professionals for their picks for the best women's health websites.
Here's what we found:
The issue: General health
The expert: Mehmet Oz, MD, host of the Dr. Oz Show and coauthor of the best-selling You: The Owner's Manual series
The pick: "For one-stop women's health advice, I recommend HealthyWomen.org. Experts are available to answer questions, and you can read about women with similar concerns. It's a great place to start researching health issues; they offer a bunch of useful fact sheets on topics like diabetes and aging that you can download."
The issue: Prescription meds and supplements
The expert: Kristen Binaso, a pharmacist and spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association
The pick: The most reliable information on prescription drugs is at the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health's MedlinePlus site [nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus]. You'll find drug interactions, the latest black box warnings about serious adverse effects, and extensive information on supplements, including efficacy."
The best websites for heart health, mental health, infertility and disease risk
The expert: Lynne Shuster, MD, founding director of the Women's Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic
The pick: "WomenHeart.org is the website of the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, founded by three women who had heart attacks in their 40s. The site provides a wide range of information that is unique to women with heart conditions, and it's carefully reviewed by a committed team of heart disease experts."
The issue: Mental health
The expert: Robert Klitzman, MD, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the author of When Doctors Become Patients
The pick: "A lot of mental health sites focus solely on depression, but WebMD.com gives good background on everything from stress management to ADHD. The site, however, could do a slightly better job of making it clear that in many instances the best treatment for mental health disorders may be talk therapy, by itself or combined with medication."
The issue: Infertility
The expert: Alice Domar, PhD, founder of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and author of Conquering Infertility
The pick: "For unbiased, comprehensive, and up-to-date information on infertility, the best site is Resolve.org. It combines medical information, tips, and strategies for coping with the emotional impact of infertility, plus information on all family-building options. It has links to local resources and state-by-state insurance coverage."
The issue: Disease risk
The expert: Tara Parker-Pope, author of the New York Times "Well" blog
The pick: "YourDiseaseRisk.com is a guide for assessing your chances of developing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and stroke. You answer questions and it gives you an indication of where you fall on the spectrum. It was created by a Harvard doctor, and it's based on all the scientific evidence out there."
The best websites for cancer, menopause, pediatric health and fitness
The expert: Paula A. Johnson, MD, chief of the division of Women's Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital
The pick: "I really like WomensHealth.gov, a website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It's broad, with a lot of factual information, but it also has a lot of vetted links. Unlike many other sites, it will steer you to trustworthy places. Think of it as a gateway to the best cancer resources on the Web."
The issue: Menopause
The expert: Susan Love, MD, president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and author of Dr. Susan Love's Menopause & Hormone Book
The pick: "For support and community, I have always liked Power-Surge.com. The message boards tend to be good, and the site does a better job of describing women's experiences than anything else out there. I caution people, though, that the site uncritically recommends bioidentical hormones even though the safety data doesn't exist yet."
The issue: Pediatric health
The expert: Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine
The pick: "HealthyChildren.org was just launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is a well-developed health-oriented site that's there to give you advice on raising your child and also to calm your mind about medical concerns. It talks directly to parents, not below them or over their heads."
The issue: Fitness
The expert: Bob Greene, exercise physiologist, trainer to Oprah, and founder of TheBestLife.com
The pick: "The American Council on Exercise has added an extensive library of exercises to their site, ACEFitness.org. Click on the Get Fit tab and you'll find many moves for every muscle group. The instructions are easy to follow and the information is free."
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