First Class Research Receives Second Class Coverage

First Class Research Receives Second Class Coverage
Networks make erroneous and incomplete reports on Womens Health Study.

by  Megan Alvarez
July 6, 2005

     Is vitamin E helpful in reducing cardiovascular disease and cancer among women?

     It depends on which TV news show you watch.

     A new study funded by the National Institutes for Health was released on July 5, 2005, describing the effects of Vitamin E and aspirin on women in preventing heart disease and cancer. The Womens Health Study was covered by all three major networks, but the stories themselves provided varying degrees of accuracy.

     According to NIH, the July 5, 2005, CBS Evening News report wasnt accurate. Reporter Elizabeth Kaledin said aspirin has been found to reduce the risk of stroke in women and is helpful for women who have already had a first heart attack. But when it comes to cancer, it did not reduce risk. And vitamin E was equally disappointing. She went on to report, The study says women over 65 had fewer heart attacks and strokes on vitamin E.

     Thats not what NIH reported in its press release on the study. Rather, it clearly stated, women 65 and older taking Vitamin E had a 26 percent decrease in heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths, but not strokes.

     The next morning, CBSs Early Show on July 6, 2005, included an interview with Dr. Emily Senay, who put things into perspective. Senay said, Vitamin E supplements do not prevent heart disease or cancer and that low dose aspirin therapy does not prevent cancer. Senay emphasized that this study tested low doses of aspirin, and that high doses may yield different results. She also said that women taking Vitamin E should consult a doctor.

     ABCs Good Morning America featured an onscreen image of Vitamin E and aspirin tablets, but then said nothing about Vitamin E. Robin Roberts briefly said, Low doses of aspirin may have little effect protecting women against cancer. Her report failed to mention Vitamin E, which was the focus of the NIH release.

     NBC covered the story on the NBC Nightly News, as Brian Williams reported entirely negative results, saying, a new study out finds low doses of aspirin do not help prevent cancer in women. He went on to say, It also found Vitamin E to be ineffective in warding off heart disease.

     CBS did the best coverage when consulting with Dr. Senay. However, that was the same network that brought viewers the erroneous report by Elizabeth Kaledin that women over 65 had fewer heart attacks and strokes on Vitamin E. NBCs Brian Williams brief report was hardly enough to provide women with any helpful information and neglected any benefit that might come from Vitamin E to women over 65. ABCs report was the least informative. It provided no information on the effects of Vitamin E, while only providing limited coverage of aspirin.

     Here are the actual results as reported by the National Institutes of Health. The study was conducted between 1992 and 2004 on 39,876 healthy women age 45 and older who were randomly assigned to receive 600 IU of Vitamin E or a placebo and low-dose aspirin or placebo on alternate days. The women were followed for an average of 10.1 years.

     The study said that Aspirin results published last March found no benefit of aspirin (100 mg every other day) in preventing first heart attacks or death from cardiovascular causes in women but did find a reduced risk of stroke overall, as well as reduced risk of both stroke and heart attack in women aged 65 and older.

     The results for vitamin E were mixed. Overall, the study found that Vitamin E supplements do not protect healthy women against heart attacks and stroke and there was no effect of Vitamin E on total cancer or on the most common cancers in women breast, lung, and colon cancers.

     Total deaths among the women were unaffected by Vitamin E, but there was a 24 percent reduction in cardiovascular deaths among all women taking the vitamin. Women 65 and older taking vitamin E had a 26 percent decrease in heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths, but not strokes. A lead investigator said of these findings, These intriguing findings deserve further study. But they were not part of the primary aim of the study to look at the effect of vitamin E on overall cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular death.

     For more information:
NIH Press Release on the Womens Health Study