Monday, January 16, 2017

Medical Overhype: False sense of hope

Can you believe drinking a glass of red wine is equivalent to an hour at the gym? As the public, we all want to believe these findings. But one must wonder, does it not seem too good to be true?

These over exaggerated headlines are misleading and backed by no evidence. I further investigated the original scientific study to understand how it was interpreted. The original paper titled, “Improvements inskeletal muscle strength and cardiac function induced by resveratrol duringexercise training contributed to enhanced exercise performance in rats”, was published in the Journal of Physiology by Dr. Dyck’s research group. In this study, Wistar male rats (N=10) were fed resveratrol during 12 weeks and their activity was assessed by treadmill running performance. From this study, there were improvements in endurance, skeletal muscle force, cardiac function, and oxidative metabolism (Dolinksy et al. 2012).

Now you may ask, how did this study on rats result in the news headline that drinking a glass of wine is equivalent to an hour at the gym? To begin to even answer this question, I read the press releases for this publication. The University of Alberta stated in a press release that a “natural compound (resveratrol) found in nuts, fruits, and red wine can enhance exercise performance and training” based on Dr. Dyck’s published paper. Dr. Dyck is quoted in the press release stating that he believes resveratrol mimics the benefits of exercise. From there Huffington Post (Sitch, 2015) published an article stating that “the health benefits in resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, are similar to those we get from exercise”. Eventually this became national headline news.
John Oliver referred to this issue with scientific reporting as a “game of telephone”, where journalists over sensationalize findings to draw in the public while scientists and clinicians speculate optimistically without all the evidence to back it. This was also described as medical overhype by an article published by Belluz from Vox. The article from Vox brings awareness to how often media uses superlatives to describe scientific findings. In almost half the cases, scientific papers used terms such as “breakthrough”, “cure”, and “transformative”. However, most studies were not approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Almost all the studies that used those superlatives and exaggerated claims did not even conduct studies using human data.  Medical overhype and over exaggeration of scientific findings often comes from universities, scientists, and clinicians themselves. The reason for this may be the attention and the funding for their research area, which can in turn can be misleading for policies, regulators, and the general public. Overall, medical overhype creates a false sense of hope for those who rely of scientific findings for a cure.

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