Participating in Clinical Diet Studies
Should you participate?
Four years ago, I volunteered to be part of a nutritional study at Yale University. Researchers there were looking at potential biomarkers on the skin’s surface to help more accurately measure fruit and vegetable consumption. I had to keep a daily food diary and go to the study center several times to have researchers shine a special laser underneath my forearms to “read” my fruit and veggie intake. At the end of the four-week study, I was paid $50 for my time.
Participating in the fruit and veggie project helped me examine—and improve—my diet and gave me such a sense of satisfaction about contributing to medical research that I volunteered for two subsequent studies.
I later worked professionally in clinical research, an experience that taught me how important these studies are.
According to the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP), carefully conducted clinical trials are the fastest and safest way to find treatments that work successfully to improve human health.
The up-to-date registry, clinicaltrials.gov, lists nearly 80,000 federally and privately supported research studies that are actively recruiting participants in all 50 states. With studies ranging from autism and celiac disease to eczema and peanut allergy, there may be a clinical trial of interest to you—or one your doctor may offer to you. Researchers also need volunteers who don’t have a medical condition to serve as control (comparison) subjects.
But is a trial for you? Consider these key issues before committing to a study:
Time. Research can take years to complete. Depending on the study, you may be asked to participate with clinic visits, tests, surveys or follow-up phone calls over a period of years. Understand the duration and expectations of the study before you sign up.
Money. You may not be paid to participate in a trial. By not offering compensation, researchers try to ensure that you're not motivated to join the study for financial reasons. In such cases, payment for incidentals, like parking or meals, may be provided but there may be no compensation for your time or for certain procedures. Be sure to check first to clarify all money-related issues.
Risks. Although trials are carefully conducted and monitored for safety, any treatment or procedure can result in a side effect or injury. The consent form you sign before participating should list the potential risks. Read it carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand. You should never feel pressured to participate. Take your time and discuss the study with the investigator in charge, your doctor and your family.
Benefits. Research often helps society more than the individual. You may not receive a direct benefit from being in a study. However, you will get access to dynamic researchers and cutting-edge therapies. In addition, participating encourages you to play an active role in your health. LW
Medical writer Christine Boyd lives in Baltimore.