How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper: A Guide for Non-Scientists

How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper: A Guide for Non-Scientists

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably health and wellness obsessed. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent listening to podcasts, watching Instagram stories, or reading blogs about the latest in health and wellness. 

One phrase that I heard over and over again from leading industry experts was “according to the research” or “according to a study” and honestly, I never quite understood what that meant. My background is not in medicine—in fact I graduated with a degree in Event Management and I don’t know the first thing about clinical studies or how to read research articles.

So, I set out on learning how to properly read a research / scientific article so I could actually understand what “according to the research” meant. I wanted to further my understanding of meaningful clinical research and how to apply it to my own daily practices. Here are a few tips from a non-medical professional on reading and understanding research articles!

RELATED: New to functional medicine? Here’s where to start.

Start your scientific paper search on Google Scholar or PubMed

There are tons of research article databases online, so it’s important to know where to start. My favorite place to start looking for research is Google Scholar or PubMed. These databases are both free to use and have millions of abstracts (more on that later) from research articles to read.

RELATED: What is a health coach and what do they do?

Use specific language to get relevant results

The first thing you’ll do in either Google Scholar or PubMed is start searching for research articles related to the topic of interest. To get the most relevant results, you’ll need to incorporate some medical terminology. For example, instead of searching for “thyroid,” you can search “Hashimoto’s thyroiditis lifestyle interventions” to get targeted results on what you actually want to learn about.

You can also begin typing in a few words related to what you’re looking for and use some of the examples that populate in the search bar to get you started.

RELATED: The best health apps for iPhone and Android.

Understanding the abstract

The abstract is a concise summary of an entire research paper and it’s the first section at the top of the paper. It gives you the high level details about the study performed and its conclusion. If you’re interested in digging in further and the full article is not available on either platform, you can often email the author for the full research paper and many will share the full version with you for free.

The abstract will also share the objective of the study with the reader. It should give you an idea right away if the article is relevant to the information you’re looking for, or if you need to go back to your search results and browse a few others.

Confidence intervals and study size

Many research articles will share with you their confidence intervals (CI) to express their certainty in the validity of their research. From the research I’ve done, not every article shares this number, but it’s an important one to keep track of when available.

The confidence interval can be translated similarly to percentages. For example, if the confidence interval of a particular study is 95 the authors are 95% sure that their research is sound with a 5% margin of error. Here’s a good rule of thumb:

  • 91 = minimum
  • 95 = optimal
  • 97 or higher = best

There are a few factors that have an impact on the CI of a study, like sample size, percentage, and population size. In theory, the more people participating in the study, the higher the likelihood that the results are accurate!

Sample size, or study size is also an important number to keep at the back of your mind. Anywhere you see in a research article, ‘n = #’ that means the number of participants. The higher the better, as it shows that more people are part of the study and the conclusion can likely be applied more broadly to a variety of people.

Study types and which ones should be considered reliable

There are several types of studies and some tend to be more reliable than others. The main types of studies are randomized controlled trials (RTCs), cohort studies, case-control studies and qualitative studies. In fact, this National Institute of Health article breaks down the main types of studies and where they tend to work best. When considering cause-and-effect relationships, RTCs are considered the most reliable.

There aren’t any types of studies that should be considered unreliable—at the end of the day they just provide additional information to you!

Don’t get caught up in the scientific paper’s data

Digging into a research article can quickly become a rabbit hole! Don’t let yourself get too bogged down by the research if you can’t relate to it. You know yourself best; don’t be afraid to trust your own unique experiences and work with your personal healthcare provider to find a plan that works for you.

The Best Healthy Restaurants In the Twin Cities

The Best Healthy Restaurants In the Twin Cities

“I want to go out to eat, but I want to go somewhere with healthier options. Does that even exist?”

Something we hear from patients all the time is that they’re bummed about having to give up Friday nights out on the town or Sunday morning brunch. I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to! 

We’re fortunate to live in a place where the majority of people place a big emphasis on eating good tasting, and good-for-you food. It’s led to a massive increase in these types of restaurants all throughout the metro area. Keep reading to learn about a few of our favorites!

RELATED: 5 herbs you can grow yourself to support your health.

Tao Cafe and Herbery

A beautiful space that combines good food and a retail space for herbs with house-made herbal blends, Tao Cafe and Herbery is located in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, just a short walk away from the Lake of the Isles. Their philosophy as described online is to “support the health and wellness of our community and our earth through our commitment to the Taoist philosophy: Health achieved through a simple, balanced life in harmony with nature.” 

Their menu consists of good food, which is sustainably sourced, low allergenic and organic. Try their coconut curry bowl on a cool, fall day or a super greens smoothie on a warm, summer day!

Key: Organic, Low Allergenic, Sustainably Sourced, Gluten Free Options

RELATED: 5 foods that can boost your mood.

BRIM

Another amazing find in the Uptown neighborhood, BRIM features a menu that is organic and always gluten-free. They highlight their use of only extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil and avocado oil in their menu items—no more asking the kitchen to skip the vegetable oils! Their tagline, “We believe the best food is real food. Mostly plants. Always organic” supports a healthy lifestyle balance while still being able to enjoy Sunday brunch. Next time you’re there, get their Seared Salmon & Dill bowl or the Breakfast Tacos!

Key: GF, Organic, Plant Based

RELATED: How to navigate special events with food sensitivities.

Olivia’s Organic Cafe 

This gem, located in Burnsville, takes better-for-you cuisine to a whole new level. Olivia’s Organic Cafe is a family-owned restaurant inspired by the owner’s daughter who faced her own health challenges and was often left out from being able to enjoy meals outside the home. Her mom, Melanie, has made it her mission to create a space where those who have celiac disease, autoimmune diseases or those who simply want to prioritize whole, real foods can come together.

Their entire menu is gluten-free, dairy-free, organic, and non-GMO, and they prioritize locally sourced ingredients. They’ve got a little bit of everything: breakfast, soups, salads, you name it! We love their wide variety of breakfast foods that taste even better than your average diner food.

Key: GF, DF, Organic, Non-GMO, Locally Sourced Ingredients

Peoples Organic Cafe

An option with multiple locations throughout the metro area, Peoples Organic Cafe focuses on “nutritious and organic food, pure water and healthy beverages.” Their menu features a wide variety of options to cater to those who are gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan! Their focus on using in-season produce allows them to support local farmers and maintain a menu with ingredients that are 100% non-GMO and majority organic.

With locations in Uptown, Edina, Eden Prairie, and Downtown, most anyone can add this to their list of must-try restaurants!

Key: GF, Organic, Non-GMO, Locally Sourced Ingredients, Vegetarian, Vegan

Good Earth

This Twin Cities staple has locations in both Edina and Roseville, making it accessible to the majority of the metro area. Good Earth focuses on supporting local growers and farmers who don’t use factory farming, hormones or antibiotics. There is even a section of their website that highlights some of their suppliers.

They offer options for larger gatherings including event platters for larger groups and family style dinners (at their Edina location) for mid-sized parties! They’re also one of the only better-for-you restaurants that offers heartier, dinner style dishes. We recommend their Good Earth Beef Stroganoff or their Butternut Squash Pizzeta!

Key: Non-GMO, Locally Sourced Ingredients

Agra Culture Kitchen

Last, but certainly not least, Agra Culture Kitchen is a well-established restaurant with locations in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Edina, as well as a cafe located inside of Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). Their inspiration is to be an extension of your own kitchen by offering real, whole foods and a menu that is entirely void of trans fats; hydrogenated oils; artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives; hormones; antibiotics; and refined sugars. They have a variety of options that can cater to almost any dietary philosophy: organic, vegetarian, GF, DF, vegan, and paleo.

We love that you can take a peek at their full menu online and filter by dietary choices or sections of the menu. In 2016, Agra Culture Kitchen introduced a School Lunch Program to partner with local Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools by bringing healthier options into the lunchroom. We love their mission to bring good food to kids in our area!

Key: GF, DF, Organic, Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo

Quick Service Options (Takeout)

And for those who are in need of healthier alternatives but don’t have time to sit down or order out, check out some of these quick-service options:

  • Whole Foods has a great self-serve hot bar featuring a variety of marinated veggies & easy protein options to keep you full all day.
  • Your local co-op likely has a hot bar, or at least grab & go options. Our favorites are Lakewinds and Eastside Food Co-op (just down the street from our office!).
  • Crisp & Green is one of the most widely available chains in the greater metro area, there is a high chance that you’ll be close to a Crisp & Green on your next busy day of errands!
  • Sweetgreen just opened in Edina in the Galleria.

Save this post so that the next time you get to pick the restaurant, you can choose an option that you know will satisfy you but also keep you on track to meet your goals! Did we miss any of your favorite better-for-you options? Share below!

The Best Health Apps for iPhone and Android

The Best Health Apps for iPhone and Android

a woman sits on a couch looking at her phone screen

Remember “there’s an app for that”? That’s essentially me whenever tells me they want to start incorporating practices like choosing foods with whole ingredients or beginning a meditation practice. We’re all spending so much time on our phones every single day and it occurred to me some years ago I could actually use some of that screen time to improve my physical and mental health practices! 

In high school, I would force my mom to spend an extra 30 minutes at the grocery store because I wanted to scan every single food item to learn more about their ingredients. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was finding myself waking up stressed and overwhelmed every single day and became curious about how meditation might be able to help me. When I’m in the market for a new beauty product, I never press the check out button until I’ve fully vetted it using the EWG’s HealthyLiving app!

Information is power, and having resources at my fingertips has empowered me to make the choices that are going to serve me over time. Want to join me? Check out the best health apps for iPhone and Android.

Diet & nutrition

Fooducate is an app that I’ve had on my phone and been using for years. Its biggest functions are to track your food intake, save recipes and search various foods to learn more about the nutritional content.

My favorite feature of Fooducate is the ‘Food Finder’ tool, where you can scan the barcode of a food item to learn more about the nutritional content. 

Fooducate has a grading scale for all of the items in their catalog based on its ingredients, nutritional content and more! I don’t inherently believe in grading food, but it is helpful in the age of greenwashing to shed light on what ingredients might be lurking in a food marketed to a wellness market. Additionally, Fooducate will provide alternatives that have graded higher, which can help make easy swaps in the kitchen!

RELATED: What’s ‘healthy’ for one person might not be for another – why traditional diets don’t work.

Cronometer is a great nutrition and caloric intake tracker. We love Cronometer here at MIMC because we can work in tandem with our patients who need nutrition support right from an app!

Health professionals can create accounts with Cronometer and set metrics for their patients based on caloric intake or macros to fit any goal.

Its easy-to-use platform includes a place to keep track of your water intake, log the supplements you take daily and scan barcodes to add foods easily.

RELATED: 5 tips for mindful eating.

Women’s health

Flo is my preferred cycle tracker, and trust me, I have tried them all. I like Flo’s easy-to-use platform and the ability to see monthly data right from the home screen! Flo will give you reminders about the start of a cycle and ovulation. You can add as much data to the app as you’d like, by inputting symptoms every day of your cycle in categories like mood, symptoms, discharge, sex, and sex drive.

Daysy and Tempdrop are both cycle tracking and ovulation prediction devices that have created their own platforms to store historical data and provide insights on fertility. Tempdrop tracks BBT (basal body temperature) through a monitor worn on the arm while sleeping. It records your temperature first thing in the morning and will alert you when your temperature rises about 1 degree, which signals the start of your ovulation window. 

Daysy tracks ovulation by requiring users to take their temperature via a specific thermometer each morning and it automatically sends the reading straight to the app! Learn more about how to use Daysy and order your own device, our readers receive $15 off their own device using this link!

RELATED: Pregnancy prevention – how to use the natural family planning method.

Lifestyle

HealthyLiving was created by the Environmental Working Group, a social welfare organization whose aim is to educate consumers on the safety of chemicals used in farming and the cosmetics industry. 

Their app’s catalog features over 120,000 products, many of which might be sitting on your shelf at home! You can scan the product you’re curious about and HealthyLiving will give it a score based on the ingredients listed. It breaks down each ingredient by explaining what it is, what its purpose in the product is, and how it might be affecting your health. Similar to other apps we’ve discussed, HealthyLiving will propose cleaner alternatives to help you make easy swaps.

Think Dirty is another popular app created by an independent organization that works to uncover truths about the chemicals used in the cosmetic industry. It performs similarly to the EWG’s app except that its sole focus is on beauty products and does not include any food items.

I personally prefer the HealthyLiving app by the Environmental Working Group. It’s great to cross check products on both apps to see what each organization has to say!

RELATED: How to green your beauty routine.

Sleep Cycle is another app that has been on my phone on and off for nearly a decade! Sleep Cycle works as a sleep tracker through the night and then an alarm in the morning. 

It’s designed to set your alarm off within a 15, 30, or 45 minute window where you’re in the lightest phase of sleep. Rather than trying to bounce out of bed coming off of REM sleep, you can slowly start your day by feeling more awake when your alarm goes off.

The app also keeps track of how quickly you fall asleep after setting your alarm, your movement and noises throughout the night, and how much sleep you’re actually getting compared to how long you’re in bed for.

Sleep health is integral to our overall health and getting up to date insights on where you’re lacking can help set a better nighttime routine!

RELATED: Try these 5 yoga poses to help you fall asleep faster.

Mental health

Headspace is my all-time favorite mediation app. It has a great beginners to meditation course where you complete short 3-10 minute meditations every day for a week. There are meditation series, guided meditations and sleepcasts to help your mind relax at any time of the day! If you run out of free meditations, you can always try their paid subscription to expand the offerings available to you.

BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that provides mental health support directly at your fingertips. With professionals ranging from psychologists, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, to licensed professional therapists, and other credentials, you can receive mental health support at the drop of a hat. We are huge proponents of talk therapy and truly believe every individual can benefit from working with a licensed professional.

There you have it, some of the apps I use to incorporate better physical and mental health practices into my everyday routine! 

Do you use any of these apps? Let us know if you’d like to see part two of health and wellness apps we love!

Ask Me Anything with Director of Clinic Operations Katie Brandt

Ask Me Anything with Director of Clinic Operations Katie Brandt

katie brandt

In this series, you’ll get a chance to ask one of our practitioners alllll the questions on your mind. Today, we’re hearing from our Director of Clinic Operations Katie Brandt. We sourced these initially from Instagram, so keep an eye out for the next round to get your question answered by an MIMC staff member. Plus, check out Dr. Cassie’s AMA hereDr. April’s AMA here, and Dr. Danielle’s AMA here.


What happens in a wellness assessment?


Can I use insurance for my labs?


How do I decide if I should choose membership or a la carte treatment?


What does membership include?


Do you have to be a member?


Do you treat mold?


Continuous Glucose Monitoring: Why It’s Not Just For Diabetes

Continuous Glucose Monitoring: Why It’s Not Just For Diabetes

If there’s one hot topic on the internet right now, it’s blood glucose (otherwise known as blood sugar). What is blood glucose, how does it affect our bodies and how do I know what my blood glucose levels are?

While we’ve talked in the past about sugar and its impact on our hormones, we’ve yet to dive in how to track your blood sugar. Not only that, but how do we interpret the data and use it in a meaningful way?

Enter, continuous glucose monitors, or also commonly referred to as a CGM. CGMs are some of the most up and coming wearable technology in the health and wellness space. They allow you to track fluctuations in your blood glucose levels through insertion of a small sensor under your skin, which measures your interstitial (fluid between your cells) glucose levels. The sensor then transmits that data to either a CGM reader or an app on your phone!

What is a Continuous Glucose Monitor?

If you’ve already heard of CGMs, you’ve likely heard of the Freestyle Libre. The Freestyle Libre is one of the only wearable devices on the market for tracking blood glucose levels. Traditionally, the Freestyle Libre connects to a separate reading device that shows your current blood glucose level. The company that manufactures the Freestyle Libre also has an app, with the downside being that their graph points only show the average glucose level over 15-minute periods. There is currently limited historical data and other data points available on the Freestyle Libre app!

What has really boomed in the last few years are the number of apps that use the Freestyle Libre sensors, but collect and store the data in a unique way. Now, thanks to Nutrisense, Levels, Signos, and other brands you can get real time updates on your blood glucose levels plus long-term data on your fasting glucose, average glucose and more.

How can a CGM be helpful?

Blood glucose levels can affect just about every system in your body: sleep, energy, weight among others. What many people don’t realize is how their everyday lifestyle habits can affect blood glucose levels and may even be working against them.

We’re all unique individuals and no two people have the same health picture. This principal applies to blood glucose as well. Some people may find that certain foods cause more extreme fluctuations their blood sugar than another person eating the same exact food. This is where CGMs become really helpful.

For example, if person A’s goal is to lose weight they need to keep their blood glucose stable to optimize metabolism. If eating sweet potatoes causes this person’s blood glucose to spike above their optimal range and they don’t realize it, they’re inhibiting their body’s ability to maintain metabolism. They might feel hungry soon after eating and feel less full than they would had their blood sugar stayed within range. However, person B might be able to eat sweet potatoes without any major fluctuations in their blood glucose levels. This doesn’t make sweet potatoes a “good” or “bad” food, it just highlights how foods effect every person differently!

Another great way to utilize CGMs is to experiment with not only types of foods, but the order in which you consume them. Research shows that blood glucose levels fluctuate less when you eat your vegetables first, then protein and finally carbs.

My personal experience using a CGM for 8 weeks

I used Nutrisense for my continuous glucose monitor experiment. What drew me to Nutrisense was the wealth of resources they provide to consumers. They have TONS of free, educational content on their blog and podcast. If you are totally new to the world of blood glucose, I would recommend you start there to learn the basics!

Nutrisense also offers one free month of 1:1 support with a registered dietician. I found that especially helpful in the beginning when I was trying to wrap my head around all the different values and sets of data on the app.

Like other companies, your Nutrisense subscription allows you access to the Nutrisense app. The app is your home base to pair and scan your sensor, check your blood glucose and see historic data. Nutrisense also stores a ton of their educational content right on the app so you can continue to learn more while wearing your CGM!

Each month, Nutrisense will ship you two continuous glucose sensors. Sensors are worn for 14 days, and they recommend that you alternate which arm you wear it on. As someone who is needle-prick averse, I can attest that inserting the sensor is not at all painful. It becomes easier and less uncomfortable the more you do it and after the first few times, I hardly felt the prick when putting on a new sensor!

It takes a couple of hours for your sensor to fully calibrate, but after that it was off to the races. The first few days were a big learning curve for me! I spent most of my time in the app exploring and clicking on different sections. That, and scanning my monitor every 15 minutes to see if anything had changed (LOL).

However, as the days went on, I began to see my blood glucose curve ebb and flow after meals, exercise and alcohol. I quickly learned that I’m a person who doesn’t tolerate sweet potatoes, or any kind of potatoes for that matter, very well. I also learned first-hand that alcohol (even a glass of wine or two!) will crash my blood glucose and might be the culprit behind waking up starving at 4 a.m. in the morning.

Another takeaway is the positive effect that exercise has on keeping my blood glucose levels steady. I noticed such a difference in my blood glucose curve after taking even a 10-15 minute walk after eating, especially if I consumed more carbs than usual in that meal.

More than anything, I learned so much about blood glucose. The 1:1 support with the Nutrisense dietician helped me understand my ideal fasting glucose levels, median glucose levels and the range in which my blood glucose should stay.

I can’t promise I won’t ever eat French fries again, but I can say that I have the knowledge to mitigate the blood glucose fluctuations after eating the French fries!

Are CGMs worth the investment?

At the end of the day, I know that continuous glucose monitors provide a lot of individualized insight on how your lifestyle habits are affecting your blood sugar.

If you have zero understanding of blood glucose and the role it plays, I think there are some amazing, free resources at your fingertips to utilize before making the commitment to a wearable device.

If you already have a foundational understanding of blood glucose and its effect on your body and you’re not quite meeting your goals (sleep, energy, weight or otherwise) it’s worth the investment to get even a month or two of personalized data!