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Vitamin B12 Linked to Lower Alzheimer’s Risk


2 Star

Vitamin B12 Linked to Lower Alzheimer’s Risk

Our Review Summary

The story should have highlighted the fact that the study is very small and the results may not be applicable to a general population. Furthermore, the story appears to be taken from a press release and did not include any quotes from independent experts who likely would have added valuable insight and perspective. 

And was there an editor involved?  Who let words like picomolar and micromolar go by without explanation or definition? 


Why This Matters

This is an important story because Alzheimer’s dementia is common and there currently are no ways to prevent this disease.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions B12 supplements, but does not discuss their cost. Even if inexpensive, we think cost is important.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory
According to the story, each picomolar increase of B12 in the blood results in a 2% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and each micromolar increase in blood homocysteine raised the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 16%. First, it would have been helpful to define picomolar and micromolar for a general news audience.  It also would be helpful if these results were presented in absolute terms. We offer a primer on this topic.  In addition, the researchers did not measure total serum B12 in blood, but rather its active component, holotranscobalamin. The story could have been clearer on this.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable
Vitamin B12 is not known to be associated with any potential harm.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory
While it was clear from the story that further research is needed on the role of B12 in Alzheimer’s disease, it could have provided additional information about the evidence. For example, it would be helpful to know that the study duration was 7 years and that the researchers accounted for confounders such as age, sex, body mass index, and smoking status. Furthermore, only 17 people in the study developed Alzheimer’s disease, making it difficult to draw definite conclusions. The story should have also pointed out that the results may not be generalizable to people outside Finland. These are far more than merely academic questions; these are issues that consumers need to understand in order to evaluate the evidence – and the newsworthiness of the study.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable
Not applicable because the story really doesn’t discuss the seriousness or prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory
This story did not use any independent sources.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory
There is a large body of literature investigating the role of diet and supplements in Alzheimer’s disease. The story could have briefly mentioned this. It doesn’t require much time or space to do so.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

The story mentioned vitamin B12 supplements and it describes some common dietary sources of vitamin B12.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

It’s clear from the story that other studies have investigated the efficacy of vitamin B12 in preventing memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease with mixed results.  

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory
This piece, including all quotes, appears to be rely heavily on the American Academy of Neurology’s press release. We look for independent vetting of claims.

Total Score: 2 of 8 Satisfactory


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